End of the line for Tourism White Rock

City of White Rock ceases funding in favour of a regional tourism strategy.

The visitor centre on Marine Drive will remain open.

The visitor centre on Marine Drive will remain open.

Tourism White Rock will close its doors at the end of the year, following a council decision Monday to adopt a new tourism strategy.

The initiative is the result of several months of consultation with the city’s tourism task force, city staff and a marketing consultant, and will see the city take over the delivery of tourism services, focus on regional marketing approaches and halt funding to Tourism White Rock, effective Dec. 31.

In attendance Monday evening was Tourism White Rock’s executive director Betina Albornoz – as well as some board members – who listened to a report and subsequent council discussion and vote, before leaving council chambers. Albornoz would not comment Monday evening, and calls were not returned by Peace Arch News press deadline Tuesday, however a news release was issued that morning confirming that the Tourism White Rock Association will be dissolved effective Jan. 1, 2016.

“This new model is a major shift towards placing greater levels of commitment, responsibility and accountability where it belongs: with key local stakeholders that directly, and greatly, benefit from a prosperous local White Rock tourism economy,” Albornoz wrote in the release, calling her seven years working in the community an “amazing, inspiring journey.”

The report recommends the city close the uptown visitor centre – the current headquarters of Tourism White Rock at 1459B Johnston Rd. – and pursue grants to maintain the operation of the visitor kiosk on West Beach.

Under the new model, an 11-member tourism advisory committee – yet to be named – will recommend an annual tourism marketing plan, for approval and funding by the city, according to Suzanne Denbak, a consultant with Cadence Strategies.

“To implement that plan once it’s been approved, contracted service providers would be engaged through a selection process for both destination marketing services and the operation of the White Rock visitor centres,” Denbak said.

Denbak said the plan would reduce administrative costs, provide better transparency and help to “re-engage key partners who have withdrawn funding over the past few years.” Shifting focus to a more regional tourism approach, with co-operative partnerships among multiple communities, is a trend Destination BC is gravitating towards, Denbak said.

In addition to a $175,000 commitment from the city, she said funding may be secured from the White Rock Business Improvement Association, the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce, corporate sponsorship and Destination BC and Service Canada grants.

In March, during a public hearing on the city’s 2015-’19 draft financial plan, Albornoz warned that if the city couldn’t commit more funding it would be “the end of Tourism White Rock as we know it.”

The city had budgeted $79,800 for 2015 – half of what was provided in 2014 – and Mayor Wayne Baldwin told Albornoz the projected operating costs of $300,000 were “a bit excessive.”

Albornoz said the city had contributed about $700,000 since Tourism White Rock launched in 2008, while the association had raised $1.6 million through grants and sponsorships, something she described as “a fantastic return.”

A month later, Albornoz confirmed the cancellation of a summer trolley service, noting the need to “scale down” operations.

In voting on Monday’s recommendations – which included establishment of the tourism advisory committee – Coun. David Chesney was the lone opposition vote. (Coun. Helen Fathers was absent.)

“Quite obviously, we’re going to blow up White Rock Tourism and start afresh, it would appear that seems to be the direction that you’re recommending,” Chesney said to Denbak and the city’s director of recreation and cultural services, Eric Stepura.

Others on council took the opportunity to thank Albornoz for the “fantastic job” she did at the helm of White Rock Tourism.

“She’s done truly an outstanding job, she brought a lot of fire and energy to the role,” Baldwin said. “Betina, thank you so much for all that you’ve done. Great job.”

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