We Complain About Clueless Visitors – But Highest-ranked Google Searches Yield Bad Information

By John Francis

I walked around Tobermory quite a bit on the Saturday and Sunday of Labour Day Weekend. I wanted to see how crowded things would get and see firsthand where the logistical and safety problems were most acute.

A young man approached me. He pointed to his car, parked beside a No Parking sign and asked “will I get towed if I park there?” I chose to answer him honestly — no. It’ll be fine. Bylaw Enforcement are ‘way too busy to even notice.

He explained that they had driven around for ten minutes looking for a parking space and couldn’t find one. “How do we get out to Flowerpot Island?”
he asked. I told him that I was pretty sure all the boats were booked. “Then what can we do?” he asked. I couldn’t think of anything encouraging to say. Everything in Tobermory was either booked in advance or lined up halfway around the block.

“What were you expecting?” I asked. “Well, we checked Tobermory out on Google,” he replied. He and his two buddies had driven up from London for the day. I asked them if they knew about the riverfront parks and 30 km of cycling trails in London. They didn’t. I’m guessing they would have had a lot more fun if they’d stayed home.

It’s easy to dismiss them as clueless citiots but I wondered if it was fair.

So I Googled “Tobermory Ontario” and “Lion’s Head Ontario”.

The information base for Lion’s Head was uneven but offered some current content. 

The top-ranked site, www.thebrucepeninsula.com, begins with a row of pictures from Tobermory, followed by a couple of paragraphs describing Lion’s Head in terms of scenery and serenity. But then it gets down to business and offers up-to-date information about parking and hiking.

#2 is Visitlionshead.ca, which rhapsodizes: “a secret nook on the famous Bruce Peninsula, Lions Head is a little town perfect for people looking to forget about the rest of the world.” This is followed by a bunch of out-of-date pictures and ads for defunct businesses. Not helpful.

#3 is a page for Lion’s Head Provincial Park. A linked page informs the reader: “Lion’s Head has been experiencing an increase in visitation. Due to limited capacity and limited parking, visitors should plan accordingly and make alternate arrangements in the event that the parking lot is full. Parking is not permitted on municipal roadsides. Visitors must park in a designated parking spot and obey all signage, or they risk receiving a parking ticket or fine, or even having their vehicle towed.”

So: not much excuse for arriving uninformed at Lion’s Head.

But the information base for Tobermory is shocking.

The top ranked site on Google is the Tobermory Chamber of Commerce site, Tobermory.com which informs readers that “The Tobermory landscape offers visitors an unparalleled experience”. It promises gorgeous shorelines and pristine waters. It does not say anything about crowds or reserving ahead or COVID.

#2 is the Tobermory page on Bruce County’s Explore the Bruce. “Where water and land meet sky. With its 1,000-year old pines and pristine turquoise waters, you’ll see why it’s the 8th Wonder of Canada.” Nothing about waiting lines or reservations — they didn’t even bother to find out that the old trees are cedars, not pines. No 2020 updates at all.

#3 is Wikipedia, a sparse and factual information piece about the village.

#4 is visittobermory.ca which calls Tobermory “A Crown Jewel Vacation Spot”. Among other things, it encourages you to shop at A Mermaid’s Secret and Circle Arts, both of which are closed, as are several of the recommended restaurants.

#5 is thebrucepeninsula.com which promises that “Bruce Peninsula Tobermory offers visitors fresh, clean air, gorgeous scenery, tranquil waters, and the darkest sky’s in southern Ontario.”

#6 is TripAdvisor.ca which promises “The 15 Best Things to Do In Tobermory”. Of those fifteen, two are closed, ten are either reserved ahead or full most of the time and turning people away and the remaining two — Dunks Bay and Big Tub lighthouse — are grossly overcrowded.

TripAdvisor and Yelp both offer excellent reviews for several long-defunct restaurants.

Are you noticing a pattern here? Can we blame people for arriving in Tobermory without a clue about what to expect?

A lot of people blame this problem on national park advertising, but Parks Canada hasn’t advertised in years. Facebook, Instagram and Youtube all offer unrealistic images and promises for Tobermory and the national parks. Our local tourism websites do nothing to dispel the misinformation.

We need to prepare visitors for reality. We have no control over Facebook and Youtube but we can fix Tobermory.com and Explore the Bruce. They need to offer much more realistic information.

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The only publication I could find that gave realistic information about Tobermory is Tobermory Press’ own Daytrip Companion. Full disclosure: the Daytrip is primarily a print publication and does not show up in the first hundred links on Google for Tobermory — our bad.