Tourism sector talks improvement, resident tension
|By Joseph Quigley - Staff Writer | May 24, 2019
Haliburton's tourism sector debated how to best overcome their challenges in the highlands through a destination survey and workshop May 15.
The consulting agency NEXTFactor polled the sector about the strengths and weaknesses of county tourism. They conducted the survey over the past two months, culminating in a working session with respondents at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129 Haliburton.
The company has done the survey at destinations worldwide, with Haliburton having the smallest population of any locale ever to take part.
County of Haliburton director of tourism Amanda Virtanen said there was strong uptake, with 82 responses.
She added the results - which identified communications infrastructurue, mobility, access and hospital culture as issues - were not surprising.
“We’re already aware of a number of the opportunities and gaps we have in our area,” Virtanen said. “But what I think it does is validate and get the group for the entire community to focus.”
The survey asked respondents about aspects of tourism they find important and how well they think Haliburton is performing. Those results were then compared to surveys in other destinations. The Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization funded the project.
The county performed well and above average in areas such as branding, industry support and tourism partnerships.
Municipal officials participated in the discussion. Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt highlighted the need to improve the hospitality culture, which she said has been discussed repeatedly at these types of meetings.
“There’s some really [terrible] customer service in Haliburton County,” Moffatt said. “It needs to get fixed. Chamber won’t address it, county can’t address it, BIA, everybody’s nervous. Nobody wants to be the one to go into a store and say, ‘hey … your staff are terrible and you need to smarten them up.’”
Workshop attendees then talked about the resentment some people born-and-raised in the county feel toward seasonal residents and tourists.
Minden Hills economic development, destination and marketing officer Emily Stonehouse said there needs to be a change of perspective.
“We actually need to shift the whole mindset of including our local audience, encouraging the fact that tourism is an economy here,” she said. Virtanen said she is preparing a report for county council on the workshop.
The next step will be a destination development plan, aimed at improving highlands tourism.
She said it could be a way to help address the divide between full-time residents and the seasonal population.
“If we work on a destination development plan that involves the community and gets more input in the community, maybe they’ll feel more included in where tourism is going.”
Virtanen said if the plan goes ahead, it will be explored for the 2020 budget and take 10-12 months to develop.
Haliburton Highlands Brewing vice president Michael Schiedel-Webb took part in the workshop and said it is positive the sector is focused on making the community better as a whole.
“People generally seem to be on the same page, understanding we have to work together to make everything a little better for everybody,” Schiedel-Webb said.