By John Francis
Tobermory Chamber of Commerce held its Annual Fall General Meeting on October 9 at Leeside Restaurant. It was a farewell celebration for hosts Janet and Terry Heffernan who will be leaving Leeside at the end of this season.
There was an excellent turnout and no shortage of things to discuss. Chamber President Neda Sarbakhsh introduced Parks Canada’s new (returning) Superintendent, John Haselmayer, who announced he was delighted to return to the community and his musical collaborators. Superintendent Haselmayer introduced Visitor Experience Manager Ethan Meleg; he will be handling public and media relations for the park. Meleg immediately faced a barrage of questions. How do we get access to Emmett Lake when Halfway Log Dump parking lot is full? They turn everybody away, even those who don’t want to go to Halfway Log Dump. “Is there a secret handshake?” Haselmayer and Meleg responded “That’s a good point; we’ll talk about it internally this winter.”
Paid parking in Tobermory was discussed at length. Sarbakhsh kicked off the discussion by observing that parking prices are too high in the shoulder seasons. Others pointed out that tourists object to paying for parking and with no tangible project to point to, business folk have a hard time defending it. People wouldn’t mind paying if they could see what they are paying for. The final comment was a suggestion that Tobermory needs to let the tourists know what their parking revenues will do.
Griffin Salen of Blue Heron Company told the gathering that Little Current gets 30-50 cruise ships per year and Tobermory gets none. It’s not because we’re out ot their way: “every one of them goes by here twice”. Salen looked around the room and asked how business folk would feel about having another 200-400 people walking around the village on weekdays in the shoulder season. In 2019 it was “Little Current 40, Tobermory 0”. There were two tour boats in Little Current this morning, Ashley Salen pointed out. “How do we do that?” asked Sarbakhsh. Discussion continued; some businesses see little benefit from cruise ship passengers whereas the boat tour and excursion businesses do very well indeed. Could the business community work together to improve what is on offer for cruise passengers? Could packages be organized for them? Should the Chamber make overtures to the cruise companies on behalf of the business community?
Rick Salen pointed out that an extended shoulder season means longer work terms for everybody working in Tobermory’s tourism sector, which would be a clear benefit to the whole community. Tracey Edwards of Tobermory Wave Adventures summed up the sentiment of the room: Tobermory has a lot to offer cruise passengers. The community’s businesses need to organize themselves and present a tailored package to each cruise line.
Expect more developments on this story as the winter progresses.