Eduardo Lafforgue, president and CEO of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, is leaving his position to take the job of director of tourism for the Yukon Territory.
His resignation as chamber head, which includes the Convention Bureau (Tourism NOTL), is effective Feb. 28.
His announcement takes many by surprise, as he enters his third year working on behalf of local businesses and the tourism industry.
A hiring committee has been appointed and a search for a new president and CEO will be conducted. The chamber will continue with ongoing programs, Friday’s announcement said. Paul MacIntyre, chair of the board, assisted by the board members and Nicole Cripps, director of events, will handle day-to-day operations until a new president and CEO joins the organization.
Those who know Lafforgue’s background might not find it too unexpected that he is moving on — he has lived, worked and travelled around the world, beginning at a young age. He has a master’s degree in architecture, but with travel such a big part of his life, he has always had a deep interest in tourism that has influenced his career choices.
At this stage, he says, when the call came from the Yukon government offering him the job of tourism director, he felt he had to seize the opportunity.
He explains that a little more than a year ago, he was on a conference call that talked about tourism recovery across Canada, and he presented some of his ideas. Then a short time later, he learned the Yukon government was looking for a tourism director, when the human resources department reached out to him and suggested he apply. He had a phone conversation with them, and was told to apply online.
“At the time, I didn’t. It was too complicated,” he says of the process for applying.
It was also at the time that a fire destroyed the house where he and his wife were living in the Old Town, and they were preoccupied with all that was going on at that point in their lives.
Then, another phone call, after he’d put it out of his mind.
“In the end,” he added, “they said they were looking locally, and nothing happened. I completely forgot about it.”
On Jan. 11, he got a call again, from human resources asking if he was still interested — he was surprised by the call, assuming they had hired someone else. “It was completely unexpected,” he says.”
When they offered him the job, he said he needed time to think about it, and they gave him two days to decide.
“They made me an offer,” he says. “That made me feel so young,” he laughs. “It seemed like it was a job for younger people, but it was offering all the things I want to do.”
“If Biden can run for president at the age of 78, I can try something new at my age,” he jokes.
Biden has more than a decade on Lafforgue, but he explains a large part of his motivation for taking the Yukon job is the knowledge that “there might not be too many more opportunities like this for me. That is really the reason. It’s an opportunity to do something different, something I’m really looking forward to. And it’s now or never.”
He will be located in Whitehorse, and although he’s never been there, he says, “it looks beautiful in photographs. It also looks very cold, and very impressive surrounded by nature, the mountains, the lakes.”
He is also looking forward to the challenge of promoting a very different kind of tourism — Europeans visit in the summer, tourists come from Japan in the winter.
And his wife Anik, an artist, is also excited to go.
“She’s even more crazy than I am,” he jokes.
He takes on the position in Yukon on March 1, but the move isn’t a challenge for the couple who have moved often, to locations all over the world.
“This is not the first time in our lives where we’ve made this kind of move. We have a certain experience for it. And the support of my wife is key. It wouldn’t happen without her.”
And it’s not just to go with him on this next adventure, but to help move the house, although this time, he says, they will keep a home in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
After the fire last year, they rented a house, and just recently put an offer on purchasing a home. That closed Jan. 10, and it was Jan. 11 the call came from the Yukon.
Their plan is to keep their new house and leave furniture behind, so they can come back for visits.
Lafforgue says he feels very confident he is leaving the local tourism industry in good hands, with MacIntyre, the chair of the board, vice-chair Liberina Colaneri, and treasurer Tim Jennings, CEO of the Shaw Festival, taking over and looking for a new Chamber president.
Since his early days in NOTL, he says, “We’ve come a long way, and we have a fantastic board, with extraordinary, very talented people. They will make the right choice of a replacement for me. I’m not worried at all. Niagara-on-the-Lake, as a short-haul destination, is poised to be one of the first to recover.”
Lafforgue says he is very grateful for all those who reached out to him once the news of his resignation was announced.
“So many kind words, absolutely fantastic emails. It’s been very touching to hear all these testimonies, very, very touching.”
In the announcement of Lafforgue’s resignation, MacIntyre said “Eduardo and I share a love and respect for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s exceptional success in tourism development, and the unique brand equity of its individual partners. We both recognize the need to move forward in collaboration with all our partners and stakeholders. I am grateful for what Eduardo has brought to the table during his time with us, setting us in the right direction and managing us through the tourism crisis of the last two years. I wish him luck in his exciting new role.”
Town CAO Marnie Cluckie also had words of praise and thanks for Lafforgue’s time at the chamber.
“I extend my heartfelt thanks to Eduardo for his leadership, passion and commitment to the success of tourism in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Town staff appreciates the connections that Eduardo has made at all levels of the organization and his collaborative style. He will be sincerely missed for his energy, passion, vision, and strategic thinking. I have no doubt he will be a tremendous asset to his new organization as he has been for the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber and Tourism NOTL,” said Cluckie.
“We have been through some incredibly difficult years,” says Lafforgue. “I am proud of the work the team has done, and I am grateful to have been a part of it. I thank Paul MacIntyre, treasurer Tim Jennings, the board and our town CAO, Marnie Cluckie and her staff, for their continued support.”