The Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce now promotes local businesses, but is unusual in that it has a separate entity, Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake, set up as a subsidiary of the chamber to manage tourism.
But that might not always be the case, chamber president Eduardo Lafforgue told council Monday.
Lafforgue was at a council workshop to talk about the role and the structure of the two distinct services, which are run by one board of directors and funded by one budget, but have recently been separated, at least symbolically, by the creation of two logos.
Board chair Paul MacIntyre, of Vintage Hotels, explained the structure of the chamber and its staff, with many of the board members attending the workshop. He also commended the “massive volunteer support we get on so many levels, that truly makes this town tick.”
MacIntyre spoke of the importance of the brand of NOTL created by Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake, “one of the most successful brands in Canada,” but warned, “it could go sideways very quickly, especially if it’s not managed correctly.”
Lafforgue explained the five primary functions of the chamber: to act as a spokesman of the business community; to offer specific products and services that benefit members; to support an environment in which businesses can flourish; to work for business development; and to provide educational opportunities and assist businesses with the latest marketing techniques.
Understanding the role of Tourism Niagara-on-the-Lake is extremely important, he said. He explained its purpose as a destination management organization with a goal of formulating sustainable strategies for marketing NOTL, and enhancing NOTL’s tourism economic impact and its contribution to the community.
Board vice-chair Andrew Niven spoke of the services and events provided by the chamber, including its new website, launched last month; the tourism office on Queen Street open seven days a week; the Fort George bus parking lot with its visitor information centre; and hosting national and international delegations.
He also listed the many events produced by the chamber for visitors and locals, including the Royal Winter Fair, new this year, which reached out to 18,000 visitors.
Lafforgue spoke of the weekly newsletter issued by the chamber, and a new, monthly business report to foster and facilitate networking between businesses, and other initiatives to promote the town.
He briefly touched on the budget of the chamber, which will ask for $118,000 from the Town for 2020, the same as 2019, although the budget has not yet been finalized, he said.
The chamber has served its business members for the last 40 years — it didn’t pop up from nowhere, he said — it has been leading, influencing, servicing and supporting local businesses for four decades.
He is working on a new strategy, “who we are, and what we want to become,” which will be presented to the chamber board in January, he said.
He too talked about the successful brand of NOTL, leveraging the brand equity for the future, and the importance of working with partnerships, including the municipality, on economic development.
“Working together makes business sense, and community sense, of course.”
In response to questions about “co-mingling” between the chamber and Tourism NOTL, he reminded councillors there are two distinct logos. The “dancing together” is a result of the legal structure, he said. Having the two entities sharing the same ideals has saved a lot of money and allowed a lot to be accomplished, he added.
But they are “getting to next steps. We need to grow.” The pressure, he said, is not only from visitors but from residents as well.
The chamber needs to continue to promote local businesses, and Tourism NOTL has to move beyond that, in its role of promoting NOTL as a destination for tourists, he said.
In response to a question about the increase in the bus parking fees, Lafforgue said the complaints have been numerous, and some of them loud and “harsh.” The number of buses coming to town has increased, but the number of people on the buses is down.
MacIntyre jumped in to talk about tourism as a whole, and said while it’s down by about six per cent on Queen Street, it’s difficult to say what is occurring across the town — different hotels are having different experiences.
Coun. Clare Cameron asked Lafforgue, “what you can offer residents” who complain about the impact of tourism, and how some of their concerns could be alleviated.
He can offer increased communication, he said, to know what they are saying, but knowing, “we can’t satisfy everybody.”
He also addressed her question about whether the Town might one day take over the job of managing tourism, saying that would be up to the chamber board.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero suggested she would be more comfortable if the chamber and tourism management were two separate entities.
“I’m glad many members of the board are here today,” Lafforgue said.
“We are now one. As long as the board doesn’t vote differently, today we are one.”