Sooke tourism group faces funding black hole

Operating budget, community involvement will be part of ongoing discussions with District of Sooke

The Sooke Region Tourism Association is entering a transition period as the District of Sooke District reconsiders its service agreements.

Any expected changes to the volunteer-based organization will come under the district’s new way of looking at how it funds community organizations. It receives $23,000 annually from the district.

This year, SRTA won’t need to apply, as it’s in its final year of the service agreement, said Mayor Maja Tait.

Each year, the association submits a report to the district describing what it accomplished.

“[It’s] meeting the terms of the agreement,” Tait said, adding a “better connection” needs to be established between the tourism association, the district, council and the community.

“Typically, whenever there’s an agreement like this in place, a council member will have a nonvoting position at this board.That way connects the two groups, and then councillors can report to the rest of council when we do our updates,” Taitsaid.

Sooke Region Tourism Association’s purpose is to market and promote local tourism, such as attractions, businesses andservices, and extend Sooke’s appealing image into other markets.

But the organization hasn’t had the smoothest ride in recent years.

In February 2016, the group’s president, Jonathan Heerema, and two other board members quit weeks before the annualgeneral meeting. In an interview with the Sooke News Mirror, Heerema said he reached his “expiration point” and it wastime to hand over the reins to someone else.

Only, no one stepped up to the podium, at least until its current president, Ryan Chamberland, quietly grabbed the wheel inan attempt to steer the organization back on course.

“I’m trying to revamp SRTA and get more involvement from the community. Sooke holds a special place in my heart,”Chamberland said, who owns and operates Vancouver Island Lodge, a fishing lodge and charter business in Sooke. To him,it just felt like the right thing to do.

“I don’t really have time for it, but I’m making time, because I care about Sooke and I wouldn’t be around today withoutSooke.”

Going forward, Chamberland said the only way SRTA will evolve in a positive way is to work together.

“If we’re going to solve anything in our town, the community has to be able to have positive conversations with community groups, like the [Sooke Region] Chamber of Commerce, like SRTA, and with council, the mayor and the chief administrative officer,” he said. “What the town needs to do is have more round table discussions and really get the players of this community involved.”

Given SRTA’s achievements so far, though, Tait recognized everyone can only do so much.

“They’re volunteers and doing the best that they can under the circumstances,” she said.


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