Niagara-on-the-Lake will begin developing a tourism strategy, with a nod from council to hire a consultant to help with the process.
Staff don’t have the tourism expertise, councillors heard last week, and an outside professional is needed to bring all the various groups, including residents, to the table.
With the local tourism industry devastated by the impact of COVID-19, the town needs to plan where it wants be in 20 years, with respect to tourism, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero, at last week’s marathon 12-hour council meeting that continued over two nights.
It will include what is needed for infrastructure, marketing, transportation, the waterfront, heritage, the natural environment and residents’ ideas for sustainable tourism, she said, listing some of the many different groups formed to deal with those issues.
She and interim CAO Sheldon Randall said they envision two stages, one that would require a consultant who would work with stakeholders and consolidate feedback, and another who would be tasked with creating the strategy to achieve their goals.
There was some concern from councillors that it might be too soon to plan a strategy, with so much unknown about what the post-pandemic future will hold, but all agreed it would be for the long term, and needs to be started now.
Coun. Allan Bisback called it a “great opportunity” to work with support from the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, and, quoting from a recent chamber presentation, “a third party to navigate an unbiased process.”
Coun. Gary Burroughs said he hopes development of the strategy will make use of the expertise of the town’s “very good tourism operators.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita, a consultant who has worked extensively with wineries and tourism, agreed with developing a strategy that sets out a vision of who the town wants to attract, when, where they will come from, how to market the destination, how to provide the services to accommodate visitors, and how to pay for them and the infrastructure that will be required.
Randall compared the development of a tourism strategy with the recent review of the town’s official plan, as far as the scope of the public engagement required.
Although dealing with the pandemic means money is tight, councillors agreed with advice from town treasurer Kyle Freeborn that the first consultant could be financed by the $30,000 in the 2020 budget for a heritage rebate consultant, which was not needed, and the second stage of developing the strategy, which will be more costly, could be included in the 2021 budget.
Eduardo Lafforgue, president of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, said he was happy to see the development of a tourism strategy, which he had asked for, approved.
“It’s most important that we cannot have two different strategies,” he said. There are aspects of the strategy where the chamber can provide its expertise, and other aspects, such as infrastructure for transportation and parking, which are the Town’s responsibility.
It should include not only the tourism stakeholders but the community at large, including St. Davids, Virgil, Queenston, the Old Town and Glendale. “Each stakeholder has a role to play, and this includes infrastructures, transportation, destination management and marketing, services, etc. The strategy must create socio-cultural value for the community and visitors, economic value for business and investors, and environmental value. Parks Canada plays a key role in our attractiveness,” he said.
“I welcome the idea, and I’m excited to see it happen, but all of Niagara-on-the-Lake has to be represented,” said Lafforgue.
“To achieve this balance we need to work together. I hope that a third party mediator and a competent team of consultants will deliver the strategy that all NOTL deserves.”