By Steve Hubrecht

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The Columbia Valley Tourism Marketing Society (CVTMS) and the Invermere-Panorama Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) recently announced that, starting next year, half of the region’s online accommodations platform (OAP) tax revenue will go to housing initiatives in the valley.

The OAP funds, which are also known as the short-term rental (STR) tax, are collected by the provincial government on all legally run and registered STR operations, such as those on Airbnb and VRBO. The province gives the OAP money back to the regions and municipalities it is collected from, often through those areas’ destination marketing organizations, with the stipulation that it be spent on tourism programs, marketing and projects. A few years ago, changes in regulations allowed the money to also be spent on affordable housing initiatives.

And earlier this spring, that’s exactly what the CVTMS and Invermere-Panorama DMO collectively decided to do, effective February 2024, when the organizations will funnel 50 per cent of their OAP funds to housing.

CVTMS executive director Jessica Fairhart explained that this funding underscores how tourism (and the non-resident spending it brings in) is an economic driver in the Columbia Valley, both directly and indirectly. 

“It’s great we’re able to support housing initiatives in the Columbia Valley. The housing issue is not unique to our area, but it certainly does affect the Columbia Valley. It affects residents, and it affects employment, which in turn affects the tourism industry,” Fairhart told the Pioneer.

That 50 per cent will likely amount to about $50,000 a year, which Fairhart noted is “a significant amount” when it comes to affordable housing initiatives.

Invermere Mayor Al Miller said the lack of affordable housing in the Columbia Valley negatively impacts all communities, as well as tourism-oriented businesses and operations, and that consequently the District of Invermere supports the CVTMS and Invermere-Panorama DMO’s decision.

“Visitors from near and far visit the Columbia Valley to find more of themselves and experience our natural and breathtaking experiences. As residents of the region, we are incredibly fortunate to call the Valley home, and this investment in our community represents the ongoing commitment of the tourism industry as an economic contributor and community partner moving forward,” said Fairhart.