Tourism funds stretched too thin, says a councillor

Kalamalka Lookout, located on Kalamalka Lakeview Dr. off of Hwy 97, is speckled with litter and marked by graffiti.

How to maximize Vernon's tourism potential and where to get the coin to do it is stirring up debate at Vernon city hall.

For about three years, Vernon has had access to Additional Hotel Room Tax (AHRT) funds which are collected by local hotels and then given back to the city on a quarterly basis to be used for external marketing geared at attracting tourists. Coun. Mary-Jo O'Keefe believes the funds are becoming a go-to source for projects that might not fit within the realm of external marketing.

Kalamalka Lake Lookout is one of those initiatives. The Society for the Protection of Kalamalka Lake (SPKL) wants to upgrade the lookout which overlooks what National Geographic has recognized as one of the world's most beautiful lakes.

"Unfortunately, along with the beautiful vistas, visitors are treated to graffiti, litter, a leaning sign from 1967, and very often driver training semi's and overflowing garbage receptacles," wrote David Facey, SPKL director, in a letter to council.

Some of the hoped for improvements are picnic tables, benches, additional garbage bins, solar powered overhead lighting, and new signage.

While some councillors believe the initiative warrants funding from the AHRT, O'Keefe disagrees.

"As politicians, we look at this pot of money (AHRT) and say, tourism's a pretty big umbrella, so why don't we put Kal Lookout under that, why don't we put Winter Carnival under that?" O'Keefe tells InfoTel News. "But the fact is, when we went and asked the hoteliers for money, we told them it was to augment external marketing."

O'Keefe says a comprehensive marketing plan, including television and print ads, would be a more appropriate target for the money. She says now that Vernon finally has specific funding to do something like that, the money might be stretched too thin among other projects to make it happen.

"Personally, I think Vernon has never maximized its tourism potential," O'Keefe says. "We are completely surrounded by the Monashee mountains and amazing lakes, more so than any other community in the Okanagan, and yet we've never managed to mount a campaign that enunciates that."

Even though the lookout is located outside the city, Coun. Patrick Nicol believes it is a fitting project for AHRT money.

He said the does city allocate AHRT funds to events happening outside its limits.  "(The lookout) is an event that happens on a daily basis," he said.

Coun. Catherine Lord agreed the lookout is a valuable spot with certain tourism benefits.

"It's the south entrance to the city, a lot of people go through there," she said, adding first impressions really count.

O'Keefe says it's not that the lookout doesn't have value, it's that it doesn't belong in external marketing.

"I resent it when we finally have a little pot of money that should be used for (external marketing) and we erode it in every other way," O'Keefe said. 

In the end, council decided not to fund the upgrades at Kal Lookout, but said the Greater Vernon Advisory Commitee might be able to help. 

—Charlotte Helston

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