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Tourism issue clarified for Erin councillors

by Mike Robinson

ERIN - If it works, use it, was the simple but short message David Peacock gave recently to Erin councillors.

Peacock is the executive director of the province’s Regional Tourism Organization 4 (RTO4), which  includes Waterloo Region plus Wellington, Perth and Huron Counties.

He told council he wished to clear up any misunderstandings that have developed over the past few months regarding the role of the tourism associations and the Hills of the Headwaters tourism group.

Peacock explained he was there on two fronts - to talk about RTO4 and to clear up the interesting mystery of a conversation between himself and town manager Lisa Hass. He met with Hass on July 27 regarding the RTO4 and RTO6 situation after the province changed tourism region designations.

On Aug. 9, Hass enquired when Peacock could come to council.  On Oct. 17, he emailed Hass asking what was the issue with Hills of the Headwaters. He said both he and Sharon Kennedy of RT06 were interested in meeting council.

He told council about the RTO4 group and the partnerships it is building.

“Two years ago, Ontario was split into 13 tourism regions; each one was charged with coming up with a strategic plan and a model for growing tourism in their respective region,” Peacock said.

He added RTO4 has been planning for nearly two years and is at the point where it will have a strategic plan to help this region grow.

“The goal in RTO4 in 2012-2013 is to grow tourism receipts by 25% within three fiscal years,” he said.

In order to achieve that, Peacock said there will be a focus on packaging the region - “to create a tourism product that is easy to buy and is easy to sell.”

He explained that packaging is done on a  region-wide basis. The other issue is the creation of a region wide reservation system which would include digital registration for all tourism partners across the region, including hotels, attractions and events.

“It would be a non-fee service for the first two years - until it is established.”

Peacock said that approach gives front line destinations particularly a chance to for digital commerce and point of sale through the internet.

“We see the future of tourism lying in the bundling and packaging of goods and services, and this is our way of getting to the on ramp.”

He added communications is a key focus driving traffic to the RT04 sites and its partner sites.

Peacock said one of the key areas is the area’s heritage towns. Peacock said, “The fact is that we have appealing small towns against a rich and picturesque rural area.”

He foresees being able to incorporate those features into usable itineraries for visitors. Peacock sees another area of growth being the Grand River - with recreational activities such as biking and fly fishing.

He saw promotion of recreational activities having a direct impact to communities such as Erin. He said culture is a big demand sector for tourism in the region.

Peacock said the RTO4 region works closely with its partners in Wellington County to coordinate resources. There is a budget of roughly $500,000 to promote the region.

He sees opportunity for promotions between the regions.

“We’re very pleased to have Erin in RTO4 and see it as part of the rich agricultural and rural heritage of the province.”

Councillor John Brennan said he was interested in the funding. “This has sort of been the crux of my dilemma. I know the province has come forward with immediate funding to get the programs up and going, but what do you see as the longer term funding for the RTO groups?”

Peacock said at this point one item being discussed is a regional tourism tax that would be placed against accommodations, such as hotels.

“As you may be aware, that has been challenged at numerous levels of government.”

Peacock believes the bigger issue is if the RTOs are a viable tool to promote tourism in a region.

While long term funding appears to be available, Peacock said there is government funding commitments until 2013.

Brennan asked if regional tourism levies would be directed at individual tourism businesses or toward marketing groups such as Hills of the Headwaters.

Peacock said the regional tourism levy is not set up yet, but his understanding is it would be directed at accommodation businesses.

Mayor Lou Maieron asked, “Can we have our cake and eat it too?” referring to if the town can remain in RTO4 and still participate in Hills of the Headwaters. “We have a historic connection with Hills of the Headwaters.”

He said Peacock had mentioned the Grand River watershed, while the Credit River is a significant part of Erin.

Maieron added the town’s connection with Hills of the Headwaters predates the regional tourism groups.

“How do we proceed?”

Peacock said “There are no limitations on how you market yourselves.”

Maieron said Erin provides financial support to the Hills of the Headwater and asked if in the future it would have to provide similar support to RTO4.

Peacock said Erin’s financial contribution to RTO4 is covered through the Ministry of Tourism. He said the bottom line is if Erin’s relationship with Hills of the Headwaters is beneficial.

Councillor Barb Tocher said it has become abundantly clear through various correspondence “there is absolutely nothing wrong with the town of Erin remaining as part of RTO4 and continuing its association with Hills of the Headwaters.”

She added, “If council deems we are getting a good bang for our buck, then that association should continue.”

Maieron said the issue has been debated at council for the past three months, waiting to be able to ask Peacock.

Peacock said, “All the resources we have to bear to promote Wellington County will not be negatively affected by an association with Hills of the Headwaters.

“You would still receive the full support of RTO4.”

January 6, 2012

 
 

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