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Tourism Prince Rupert to manage visitor info centre, but council cuts grant by $36,000 to fund library

The visitor information centre, formerly located in the Museum of Northern B.C., is now under the umbrella of Tourism Prince Rupert.

City council made the decision during an in-camera session on Feb. 11 and announced the decision during the following public meeting, and the news was welcomed by Tourism Prince Rupert (TPR) chair Scott Farwell.

"It is an exciting opportunity for us and something we're looking forward to ... I think it is a critical link between the marketing and the engagement with visitors in the community," he said.

While TPR is planning to have one anchor location for the visitor info centre, which will house all the brochures and have someone present to answer calls and emails, Farwell said the board is looking to expand the centre beyond one site.

"What we presented to council is having visitor kiosks at various points in the community that hold brochures and information about what is happening in town. I imagine it would be at key entry points and places where large groups of tourists gather," he said, noting businesses would be able to participate as kiosks.

"I envision staff in these locations would have additional training as tourism ambassadors and I think that would assist visitors and get more stakeholder engagement."

While the change means TPR will be receiving the $70,000 the museum formerly received to administer the visitor information centre, council also decided on Tuesday to cut the operating grant for the group by $36,000.

TPR had requested $65,000 in addition to the required $160,000 in hotel taxes, but council understood the hotel tax would be closer to $200,000. Based on that, council felt comfortable reducing the TPR operating grant and increasing the grant to the Prince Rupert Public Library to $558,000 from the current $522,000.

"Even though the money is coming off the grant, they are getting more hotel tax ... and I think they can use the money from that and the visitor information centre to make their plans work," said Coun. Anna Ashley.

"I don't believe they are going to have less money, I believe they are going to have more because all of the hotel tax goes to Tourism Prince Rupert," added Coun. Joy Thorkelson.

The motion to take the money from TPR was opposed by councillors Gina Garon and Judy Carlick-Pearson, who felt funding TPR was important to growing the industry. Farwell cautioned about using the figures from this year to plan future funding for the group.

"We are going to see approximately $200,000 in hotel tax in 2013, and I guess that is the benchmark, but were not as confident about that as some of the councillors .... one concern is that a lot of the year-over-year increase is related to industrial interest in the community and the challenge is that could end tomorrow," he said, noting the reduction will have an impact in future planning.

"We're disappointed we lost the funding. We just put together our plan and budget for 2014 and 2015. Over the next few days I will be talking with the board and with Northern B.C. Tourism about possibly scaling that back."

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