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Regional district looking to increase tourism

The Strathcona Regional District is moving forward with a new tourism strategy that would market all of the region’s communities under the same service.

The board chose last Thursday to go with a tourism function that involves the regional district taking on some of the workload while paying existing organizations to carry out the rest.

Russ Hotsenpiller, chief administrative officer for the regional district, said the hybrid approach – to do some things and fund others – makes the most sense.

“The hybrid option may present a reasonable approach as it would allow the regional district to exert a regional influence in such areas as strategic planning, branding and market collaboration while seeking economies of scale and building relationships with various service partners (stakeholders) and service providers,” Hotsenpiller wrote in a report to council.

The hybrid approach is one of four options the regional district has to choose from.

The first is to do nothing, the second is to do it all, while the third is to simply enable others to carry out the work.

Hotsenpiller said based on the regional district’s limited capacity, it would be difficult for the regional district to undertake all of the work on its own and it is critical to build on the successes of already established tourism services.

The hybrid approach will be further analyzed, including financial implications and revenue sources, and a report will go back to the board before anything is put into motion.

At Thursday’s meeting, Area D Director Brenda Leigh asked if there will be an opt out option for certain regions.

Hotsenpiller said there will be once the regional district moves into the third phase of the project.

Consulting firm Mahon Jones Associates has been working with the regional district to determine the feasibility of a regional tourism service

Consultant Mary Mahon-Jones told regional district directors last month that the project does have merit.

“The regions to the north and south of Strathcona are taking a regional approach to tourism, leaving Strathcona at a competitive disadvantage,” Mahon-Jones said. “You guys are in the middle so you’ve got to do something to bump that up.”

Lezlie Smith, who worked with Mahon-Jones on the study, said area hotels conveyed to her that it’s been difficult to attract tourists year round.

“Occupancy is very seasonal, it’s at 46.4 per cent, which is very low and that affects employment,” Smith said. “Employees get laid off. Average room rates are well below what they should be. They have not been able to increase them above $114. Tourism demand has not returned to pre-2008 levels.”

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