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Chamber and city in tourism battle

CEO says tourism vital to economic development

By: By Peter Boer

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 02, 2013 06:00 am

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The decision not to offer tourism services through the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce comes down to money, said Mayor Nolan Crouse.

The city has decided to move all of its tourism brochures from the building on St. Albert Trail to the lobby of St. Albert Place. City manager Patrick Draper told council some staff at St. Albert Place have expressed interest in training to offer some other tourism services.

But while it would be convenient to have the chamber perform that function, Crouse said it all boils down to funding.

“We always balance the dilemma of costs and I think, in an ideal world, we would spend money with somebody involved in straight tourism and staffing this,” Crouse said.

The chamber had offered to staff that function from its space now that Business and Tourism, which was responsible for it, has moved into the economic development building downtown.

President and CEO Lynda Moffat said the move would hurt the city’s economic development prospects.

“We spent all this time and money and energy developing our brand, hoping to differentiate ourselves from other communities so we can bring people here and for what?” Moffat said. “There needs to be the tourist information centre to draw them in.”

The chamber was looking to enter into a service agreement, but was looking at cost-effective ways to staff a tourism desk. Even with the province likely eliminating STEP grant funding typically used to hire summer students, she said using volunteers would have kept costs low and the chamber would have opened the desk evenings and on weekends.

She noted many other Alberta municipalities staff tourist information centres, which are often run through a chamber of commerce.

“Probably if you polled every community in the province of Alberta or B.C., or anywhere else, the chambers of commerce are the ones that carry on the tourism function for the community and they do it with a service agreement with the municipality,” Moffat said. “We’re the odd guy out with other chambers because we don’t get involved in tourism.”

Some members of council have suggested most tourists use the Internet now to get their information, but Moffat described that idea as naive.

“I think the most computer-savvy user of the Internet still would stop at a tourist centre to see what’s going on, talk to people about where the restaurants are,” Moffat said.

The chamber will have more space available now that Business and Tourism is moving out. It is negotiating a new lease with the city. Council amended the proposed lease slightly Monday night to ensure the chamber uses the city’s brand on the building, that it removes a large cargo container that had been used for city storage and placed a cap of $11 per square foot on what the chamber can charge for a sublease.

The sublease cap was driven by council’s desire to move the St. Albert Housing Society into the building in the hopes of saving money on rent. The society had reported to council last month that such a move would cost more than it currently pays at NABI.

Moffat said the chamber can live with those conditions, noting it is heavily involved in the city’s branding. She said it does have to raise more revenue to pay for the larger space.

“We understand where council is coming from.” Moffat said. “We have a very definite need to supplement our revenue sources.”

She said the chamber is willing to provide administrative and office services for a monthly fee on top of the $11 cap.


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