Minerva Ward, the next president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, will take over the position March 7, and is already becoming acquainted with her new job.
Ward spent a couple of hours in what she calls “a quick handover” in Niagara-on-the-Lake Thursday with former president Eduardo Lafforgue, whose resignation took effect Monday. He has left to take the job of director of tourism for the Yukon Territory.
As one of the members of the selection committee, Lafforgue said he has great confidence that Ward is the right person for the job, and he is delighted she will be taking it on.
Ironically, Ward’s most recent job was as the Government of the Northwest Territories’ regional tourism development officer — she spent three years living and working in the Arctic.
She says the attraction of this offer was both the job and location — the job ties in with her tourism background, which includes economic development, destination marketing, and everything she had done in her career to date, and where she wants to go with it in the future.
“And of course, I couldn’t ask for a better location — a mature tourism destination in what is known as the prettiest town in Canada, for good reason.”
It will be also be a challenging time, she adds, with the arrival of the Municipal Accommodation Tax, a subject of some controversy that will have to be worked out, and the destination marketing development aimed at moving businesses out of COVID recovery and into the future — but she is here to meet that challenge.
After 18 years of honing destination management, marketing, and tourism development skills, her experience is varied, beginning in her birth place of St. Lucia at the Air & Sea Port Authority, where she managed one of St Lucia’s cruise terminals which included retail shops, restaurants, and a cultural animation centre (a visitor experience facility using animation technology).
She has also worked for the five-star luxury resort Sandals Grande St Lucia Beach Resort & Spa, she’s owned and operated her own real estate company specializing in the sale and rental of luxury homes, and was the project consultant for residential developments concepts, business, and marketing plans.
Although St. Lucia is beautiful, with a thriving tourism industry, it is also very small, she says. She has family in Toronto, which was partly behind her decision to come to Canada, “but I also wanted to see what the rest of the world is doing, beyond my little island.”
In 2012, Ward moved to Canada and worked for the Tourism Human Resource Association of B.C., where she implemented a multi-channel marketing plan for careers in the province’s tourism industry. She managed the redevelopment of the career’s portal of the website, developed the social media strategy, and all the marketing tools to promote the province as a place to live, work, and play. She also served on several advisory boards including the provincial Ministry of Education, South Fraser School District, and Vancouver School Board.
Following her work in B.C. she moved to the Northwest Territories, readying the eight communities in the region for the influx of tourists that came with the opening of the new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, the only public road in North America to the Arctic Ocean in North America.
The structure of the Chamber and Tourism NOTL, two entities run by one board, is different from anything she’s seen, she says, but makes sense in a mature tourism destination, “where tourism is a touchpoint for so many businesses in NOTL, whether directly or indirectly. Tourism is an advantage for all businesses,” she says, whether agricultural, professional business services or any industry — they all benefit from tourism.
Although she stresses she is not coming to town with any “preconceived judgements,” she is also aware of the balancing act necessary between support for tourists and residents in any mature tourism destination — typically, as a tourism industry grows and more people come to town, and there is an increasing physical impact on residents, that has to be increasingly measured and managed, including their understanding of the value of tourism, its impact on property values, and the availability of services and amenities it presents.
“The value of tourism is closely tied to why people want to live there,” she says. As desirability increases, so do property values and amenities. The number of visitors increasing is important, without the town being “overun,” she says. “There has to be value, and there has to be quality. But I’m saying all this before I even get to NOTL, so I’m saying it without judgement until I start my role and begin understanding the sentiment and vision of where tourism will go.”
That leads Ward to the topic of the development of a tourism strategy, which she knows is a hot topic in NOTL, and a process she is excited to be part of.
“A tourism strategy is so important, and I would love to be a driver, with the town.” She sees it as a roadmap to allow the town to be “active rather than reactive” as the tourism industry continues to grow, “so everyone is on the same page with the strategy — the industry and residents.”
Ward holds a master’s degree in tourism and hospitality management and a bachelor’s degree in tourism management, both from the University of the West Indies, in Jamaica and the Bahamas respectively. She holds a certificate in digital communications from Simon Fraser University, and leadership development from the University of Alberta. She is pursuing her economic development accreditation from the University of Waterloo.