By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

The district of Invermere will be giving its Online Accommodation Platform (OAP) tax revenue funds to the local Mountain Valley Destination Marketing Organization (DMO).

Invermere with Panorama Mountain Resort is one of 14 officially designated resort municipalities in B.C. that, through the provincial Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) program, receive some of the tax revenue that the provincial government collects on sales of short-term accommodation in these resort municipalities. In recent year, the MRDT program has expanded to include the new OAP tax revenue, which comes specifically from online websites/platforms facilitating short-term rentals (STRs), including sites such as Airbnb, Vrbo, etc. and encompassing the stereotypical private resident-run basement suite rental as well as commercial accommodators who happen to use these sites to list their more traditional commercial short-term accommodation.

The MRDT money given to municipalities comes with strict stipulations on how it can be spent, and up until two years ago, all the approved uses related directly or indirectly to promoting or enhancing tourism in a given municipality. However, starting in 2018, when the province began collecting and distributing the OAP tax revenue, resort municipalities have been allowed, if they so choose, to spend the OAP portion of their MRDT funds on affordable housing. Provincial officials outlined at the time that the reasoning for this change in allowed use was that STRs, such as those offered on Airbnb and Vrbo, have the potential to drastically alter the long-term rental market in a given resort municipality; a trend that theoretically could be at least partially offset by increased funding for affordable housing. Officials left the resort municipalities the discretion to choose where to allocate those funds.

As of this year, nine of the 13 other official B.C. resort municipalities, aside from Invermere-Panorama, have allocated their OAP funds to their local DMOs (although two of these nine had done so with qualifications), while four distributed it to affordable housing. The four resort municipalities funnelling their OAP money to affordable housing include Tofino, Ucluelet, Whistler and Revelstoke. One of the two resort municipalities allocating OAP money to DMOs with qualification is Radium Hot Springs, who is directing the money to tourism now, but is keeping its options open in the future.

Invermere council members discussed the matter earlier this month, at their Tuesday, Oct. 13 meeting. Talk on the issue was prompted by a letter from the valley’s Mountain Valley DMO, asking council to release the last two years’ worth of OAP funds (almost $60,000) to it. Ultimately council agreed to allocate the funding to the DMO for two years, and then revisit the issue.

“In Invermere and Panorama, a lot of the STRs have shifted to online booking platforms, but not all of these are residential units. There’s a lot of traditional commercial STRs that have shifted to these platforms,” said councillor Gerry Taft, adding that these traditional accommodators are an important part of the economy and have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. “So this request (from the Mountain Valley DMO) is a fair request in that respect.”

Council members briefly batted around the idea of splitting the OAP money between the DMO and affordable housing, but in the end, agreed that it would be too difficult to determine what kind of split was equitable.

“Right now, if we allocate the money to affordable housing, it’s not clear exactly what or to who we would be giving that money,” said councillor Greg Anderson. “In two years, the Invermere Housing Task Force (which was set up earlier this year) should have some recommendations, so if we revisit this in two years, we could have something specific to direct the money to. I’m comfortable with giving the money to the DMO for two years, and then revisiting it.”