For Eduardo Lafforgue, a life spent living and travelling across the world has prepared him to take on the role of president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce.
In succeeding Janice Thomson, who held the position for the past 18 years, Lafforgue is clear that his focus will be on the community, and the assets that are the essence of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Lafforgue was born in Argentina, but his family moved to Mexico, where he was educated in French at the Lycee Franco Mexicano. Lafforgue’s high school education was completed at a school in England. He then studied architecture at university in Mexico, before earning a Master’s Degree in Spain.
He points out that travel was always a part of his life. He remembers climbing the fence from his boarding school with a backpack when things got to be a bit too confining. As well, his travels to China as a student at the tail end of the “cultural revolution” in 1975 are documented in his book, Mao’s Late Show.
His first foray to Canada was to Laval University, in 1974. Later, he married Anick, who was born in Mexico. Her family owned property near Saint-Sauveur, Quebec, where the young couple often spent time.
His background in architecture informs his experience in and his love for tourism. While still in school, he was hired on as part of a team designing a hotel in Mexico. This piqued his interest. After graduating, he asked a professor for some tips on how to be involved in more hotel projects. Lafforgue remembers that professor telling him, “you don’t choose, life will guide you.”
Looking back, that statement seems to be quite prophetic.
After that experience on the design team, he picked up another hotel, then got connected to a huge hotel chain that brought him to the US. He later became the Commercial Director of Architectural Products for a French-Canadian company that also manufactured hockey sticks for Wayne Gretzky. Following that, he was the Vice President of the Commercial Division of Quebec’s Caisse de Depot, where he was involved in many hotel developments.
In 2004, he took on the role of vice-president of acquisitions with Intrawest. The natural evolution of his career through all these stops led to him forming a consulting company. In this capacity, his expertise expanded to encompass not just hotels but also tourism planning on a regional level. He ended up working with organizations in Morocco, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Spain and the Caribbean. Just prior to his being hired in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he spent nine months as the CEO of the Headwaters Tourism district.
Lafforgue says the Headwaters (Caledon, Orangeville etc.) “is an extraordinarily beautiful area, rural, very natural. It has heritage, but it’s a rural area. Here, we are rural as well, but we are much more urban in many senses, with our heritage linked to culture with a big “C”. The Shaw Festival and our wineries make a huge impact on what we are – a mature, established destination.”
“Tourism,” says Lafforgue, “starts with the community. That’s what generates authenticity. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, the community and its values are what we are. We have diversified assets, heritage, culture, hotels, culinary, and it’s a fantastic place to live in.”
History, of course, is a big part of the appeal in the town. Though Lafforgue has worked with areas in which the history goes back almost a thousand years, he values Niagara-on-the-Lake’s importance to Canada. “Two hundred years is quite something,” he says. “If I had to choose a place that represents what Canada is all about, I would choose Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
He recognizes NOTL is not an isolated community. Though he says “we have our own identity,” which is essential to maintain, we must work together with the other communities and stakeholders in Niagara in order to grow.”
Lafforgue says Thomson did a “fantastic job protecting the essence that is this town.” Looking forward, though, one of his first priorities is to work on a strategic social media marketing plan for the Chamber. As well, though he affirms that Chamber membership is healthy, he thinks there is room to increase membership, “that will make us stronger, and allow us to reach further than just the tourism side.”
In addition, he hopes to get to work building up programs that will benefit all the stakeholders, not just those in the tourism sector, but also, those who think they are outside of that value chain.
As an example, he points out that in a visit to a local gas station, he asked the attendant if he felt he was part of the tourism industry in the town. He wasn’t surprised to get a negative answer, and that’s something he would like to see change.
Now in the position for a couple of months, Lafforgue has spent much of his time meeting people and learning their insights, while growing accustomed to the mechanisms of the Chamber of Commerce. As well, he recently spoke about his vision for the Chamber at a Rotary Club meeting.
Over the next few weeks, he plans to sit down with members of the local Bed and Breakfast Association as well as other stakeholders in all areas of the town. “It’s important to remember that there is heritage in all areas of Niagara-on-the-Lake, not just the Old Town. Queenston, St. Davids, Virgil, Glendale —they are all part of the essence.”