The city and Tourism Barrie are set to sign a new four-year deal to share municipal accommodation tax (MAT) revenues and assign administration of the fees.
City councillors gave initial approval to the deal Monday night and council will consider final approval at its Sept. 30 meeting.
Coun. Gary Harvey, the city’s representative with Tourism Barrie, made the argument for a four-year agreement expiring Oct, 31, 2025, instead of a three-year deal with a one-year option.
“Tourism Barrie is investing in marketing campaigns,” he said. “To assist in the COVID recovery plans, that requires significant upfront costs and contractual agreements with third-party service providers that reach well beyond October 2021.”
The Ward 7 councillor rattled off a number of Tourism Barrie expenses — among them $120,000 for a consultant to co-develop a sports tourism and sports event plan for Barrie, $70,000 to upgrade Tourism Barrie’s five website platforms in 2022 and 2023, because of changes in technology, consultant fees for the Sadlon Arena expansion analysis costing $30,000, Barrie’s application for the Canadian Curling brier, in March 2023, and Tourism Barrie committed $50,000 to that effort and it must repay $60,000 of a small business loan that has kept the organization afloat during the economic downturn.
Harvey also mentioned that Tourism Barrie laid off one employee, the current three staff members all took 20 per cent pay cuts, to help keep the organization afloat during the pandemic, and that one employee took a four-month leave of absence.
“Tourism Barrie experienced a 58 per cent drop in revenue from 2019 due to the pandemic, and it requires a few years for the tourism industry to recover to pre-COVID levels,” he said.
“The tourism sector is going to be key as we recover from this economic crash, to be a key economic driver,” said Coun. Keenan Aylwin.
Harvey also said that MAT revenues remain 38 per cent below 2019 levels.
MAT is a four per cent levy on room rates at hotels, motels and AirBnBs. Total MAT revenues for hotels and AirBnBs totalled $1.2 million in 2019, dropped to almost $665,000 in 2020, and were nearly $250,000 from January to June 2021.
Tourism Barrie will continue to be the collection agent, on behalf of the City of Barrie, as the city’s ‘tourism entity’ to receive 50 per cent of the MAT. The annual administrative fee provided to Tourism Barrie to collect the MAT would be a flat rate fee of $35,000 annually, rather than a two percent MAT administration service fee capped at $25,000.
Staff would also produce a list of downtown projects to be funded from the city’s 50 per cent portion of MAT and report back.
City staff had recommended a three-year deal, not four, because it better aligned with implementation of tourism master plan as well as Tourism Barrie’s strategic plans.
Councillors also approved a motion Monday night to receive the tourism master plan implementation program and have staff report back on its progress as part of performance measurement and budgeting.
The tourism master plan was approved by council, in principle, in November 2020, but the pandemic has stalled its progress.
Its implementation plan contains several key recommendations, including a specific sport-tourism strategy and investing in cultural and live events, such as theatre, music and festivals.
The tourism master plan recommends a specific sport-tourism strategy, noting the current mix of sport facilities in Barrie provides a good base for community use and some provincial competitions. It recommends investing in the further development of year-round outdoor assets for experiences such as nature and hiking trails, parks, cycling, and snow-related events.
The implementation plan also recommends establishing a tourism position within the city to work jointly with Tourism Barrie, to integrate strategic tourism with internal functions — including arts and culture development, special events, recreation, etc.
Another recommendation is that all of MAT revenue goes toward tourism, with half to Tourism Barrie and half to the creation of a Barrie tourism development fund.
The tourism master plan is designed to leverage and support the growth of existing tourism in this area, integrate sports, nature and business tourism, and provide direction on growing the sector overall. It also identifies specific strategies on how tourism could support the city’s economic development objectives, including the attraction and retention of talent and investment, diversifying economic sectors, and growing creative industries and knowledge-based sectors.
Also called the visitor economy, tourism includes all overnight and day visitors to a destination from leisure, business and sports segments, as well as the activities and expenditures involved in supplying products and services for these visitors by both the private and public sectors — transportation, food service, attractions, events and retail.
The tourism master plan was created following a series of meetings and visits with more than 80 key stakeholders. Tourism Barrie was part of the plan’s steering committee, which also included the Barrie Hotel Association, the Downtown BIA and city parks and recreation department staff.