It’s obvious residents are anxious to get out, to enjoy what’s left of the summer, and to do so safely.
Eduardo Lafforgue, president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, is hoping they will do that in their own backyard, and reclaim not only the main street they may not have visited recently, but all that is being offered locally.
“This is the time, across the country and around the world, when residents want to go out, stay safe and stay close to home, rediscovering what’s around them. And in NOTL, there is so much to discover,” he says.
At the same time, businesses are relying on local support, and doing everything they can to offer services residents will enjoy, Lafforgue adds.
Once Niagara entered Stage 3, most businesses were permitted to open, with limited seating, and safety protocols that have been costly. Faced with the loss of “traditional visitors,” such as the national and international tourists who stay at hotels and visit the Shaw Festival, businesses continue to put their best foot forward and offer top-quality and innovative services. “They stress quality, while doing something special, such as deliveries or takeout, to make it work for locals. They are putting a huge extra effort towards service.”
Lafforgue recounts a visit to the Ravine Vineyard and Estate Winery patio with his family recently.
“They made us feel very welcome, and they were doing everything they could to create a perfect experience for the people of NOTL. Our server was wearing a mask, but I just had to look at her eyes to know she was smiling, that she was happy to be back, happy to serve. And I was delighted to feel them putting their guests’ experience above everything else.”
The chamber has developed two committees to help local businesses as they move forward through the next stages of recovery, aided by a federal grant for Tourism NOTL, the destination marketing organization of the Chamber of Commerce.
Some of it has been spent on marketing Niagara-on-the-Lake to the wider community, including the GTA. It’s intended to draw the “local market: hyperlocal, local, regional and provincial,” Lafforgue explains, and the first exciting step was to take part in a Globe and Mail Ontario tourism feature, telling visitors they will be welcome in town, and at local businesses which are following all the protocols and guidelines to keep everybody safe.
“All over the world governments are supporting destination marketing organizations to market around us, to discover and rediscover our own backyards,” says Lafforgue.
“We want people to discover the treasures they will find here.”
The tag line they have come up with for marketing Niagara-on-the-Lake is Find Your Moment.
But hyperlocal means starting with residents, and the message for locals, he says, is “if you haven’t seen what’s going on in your restaurants and your wineries and shops, find out. Find your moment.”
One of the recovery committees is focused on marketing, with local experts: April Brunet, vice-president of marketing for Vintage Hotels; Valerie Taylor, marketing director of the Shaw Festival; Andrea Kaiser, chair of the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake; Carly Rupcic, marketing advisor for Ivanhoe Cambridge (Outlet Collection at Niagara); Julie Lepp, marketing director of White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa; and Angela Redekopp, vice-president of Greaves Jam. They are putting together a marketing program for NOTL and dedicating a lot of time to advising on how best to help with the recovery period.
The other committee is the NOTL Tourism Working Group, with 17 members from different sectors of NOTL, working in an operational and management advisory capacity, says Lafforgue.
“What we want to do is position NOTL as a choice destination. Take your time. Walk, bike, have extraordinary culinary experiences, enjoy tastings at wineries. Businesses are showcasing the best of what is here,” says Lafforgue.
Last month, surveys were taken to gauge the success of road closures, with questions directed at visitors and residents. Judging by the results, he says, residents are rediscovering their own backyard.
“We are meeting our visitors with warmth and professionalism. Niagara-on-the-Lake is genuinely committed to providing the warmest and most positive experience possible. Visitors and residents will see smiling faces behind the ubiquitous masks, and feel the eagerness to serve with joy and resolve,” says Lafforgue.
“Tourism in NOTL is run by great hoteliers, restaurateurs, retailers, musicians, actors – women and men who possess the intrinsic quality to put their guests’ experience above all else.”
The pandemic has not changed that, cannot change that, he adds. “We haven’t lost it.”