A survey on tourism and how Niagara-on-the-Lake residents feel about it was presented to council Monday night, with results that were so overwhelmingly positive councillors were told to keep doing what they’re doing.
Tim Jennings, executive director and CEO of the Shaw Festival, introduced leading research firm Abacus Data founder David
Coletto to councillors, explaining Coletto’s research is “cited by the New York Times, the CBC, CTV, and CP24, to name a few.”
The survey was undertaken by a group of the town’s major tourism businesses, Jennings said, “including the Shaw Festival, Niagara’s Finest Hotels, and Peller and Arterra wines.”
They had become concerned about “a new, negative narrative that had begun to develop last year about the nature of, and our local residents’ relationship to, our longstanding and diverse tourism ecology.”
They believed, he added, “that any such negative view must be from a vocal minority, but felt we needed wider and recent data to be sure of that, and better understand the current moment.”
They also consider it an “immediate imperative to ensure our tourism ecology re-emerge and regenerate quickly and vibrantly from the pandemic,” he said, “so we jointly contracted Abacus to help us understand the true sentiments out there in the community, and to help us each make our own forward-looking business decisions, knowing the town’s tourism plan will, rightly, take time and require wide stakeholder input to be properly developed.”
The results, he said, “will speak for themselves, and happily, show that our residents believe strongly in the importance of tourism to their lifestyle, economic well-being, sustainability, the diversity and inclusivity of our community, and in building a brighter future for the town.”
The purpose of this survey, Coletto explained to councillors, was to understand how residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the wider Niagara Region feel about their quality of life, the impact that tourism has on their life and the broader communities, and whether they feel their community can be both a tourism destination and a great place to live.
A random telephone survey reached 300 NOTL residents, while an online survey went to 500 Niagara Region residents, he explained.
The results, Coletto summarized, are that while some residents want to see the town focus on improving parking and traffic congestion, “there is little evidence that many residents want to see tourism curtailed. In fact, as is clear in the results, tourism is seen as essential to the character and quality of life in the town. Without tourism, NOTL wouldn’t be what it is – a great place to live.”
Coletto, an Ottawa resident, joked that the results were so positive he might have to reconsider some of his life plans.
NOTL residents believe tourism is essential to both the economic and social life of the town and region, and 85 per cent of those living in NOTL believe the town can be a great place to live while also attracting a lot of tourists, he said.
“Almost all residents believe NOTL is a great place to live, and believe it is so because of tourism.”
Those living in NOTL are “more positive about their experience living in the community” than those living in the wider Niagara Region, the survey showed.
Almost all residents say they are happy with the number of parks and green space, the sense of peace and quiet, and the number of attractions and amenities. “There is little evidence that many residents are unhappy with these core attributes of their community.”
When asked which issues the town should prioritize, improving parking was at the top of the list, with 21 per cent citing it a priority, and next, at 15 per cent, was reducing traffic congestion.
The overall message, the survey showed, is “don’t change or limit what makes NOTL a great place to both live and visit.”
“You’re doing a great job in creating a place people want to live in,” he told councillors. “My advice is don’t change what you’re doing.”
To explain why councillors receive complaints and negative emails about tourism, Coletto said, “the general rule is you typically only hear from people with an axe to grind, or who have problems.”
While those people are not to be ignored, he added, “they may not be representative of the broader community.”
The survey “overwhelming concluded” if councillors are hearing from residents who are unhappy with tourism, “they’re not anywhere near the majority.”
If all of a sudden things were to change and people didn’t have all the amenities they’ve grown to expect, he said, councillors “would begetting a lot more calls.”
The issues people did say they have is dealing with growth, and with housing issues, “and these are issues everywhere,” he said.
Councillors voted to send the survey report to staff, to be included during future discussions of the tourism strategy.