Publisher’s Column: Tourism and Economic Development — Who’s In Charge Here?Publisher’s Column:

By John Francis

Full disclosure: I’m on the Tobermory Chamber of Commerce Executive again, for the fifth or sixth time in thirty-seven years of membership. I’m speaking on my own behalf, not representing the Chamber of Commerce.

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Kim Clarke of RTO7 (Regional Tourism Organization, District 7, Simcoe-Grey-Bruce) gave an excellent if bewildering report to MNBP Council on June 26 (see news story page 6).

One fascinating pattern it revealed is that visitors at Lion’s Head are demographically different from visitors at Tobermory and the National Parks.

The report is 292 pages and can be found in the Agenda for Council’s June 26 Meeting. If you have a serious interest in tourism, it would be worth devoting a few hours to that report. Otherwise, just read the last page, (reprinted here for your convenience):


• Look for opportunities to build mid-week, paid experiences that encourage overnight stays.

• Use visitors’ confidence in the Parks Canada brand to bring them here, but leverage that to encourage them to visit other parts of the Peninsula. Start with the visitors to Cyprus Lake.

• Continue to promote the ‘Visit Responsibly’ messaging. Many of the visitors who are already coming here should respond well to it.

• Continue to promote to the GTA, Southwestern Ontario and locally in the Grey Bruce Region.

• Start conversations with the business community about extending the season one week at a time. The Yurts staying open is a great start and great way to pull people up the Peninsula in the winter, but they need support from the other businesses to provide amenities to visitors.

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Councillor Smokey Golden was impressed by the presentation but reminded Staff, Council and RTO7 that while tourism is MNBP’s #1 economic driver, “we are not the manager”. She asked pointedly if this report was being presented to the Chamber of Commerce. Well, no, Kim Clarke replied; she hadn’t been asked.

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It’s not that I disagree with Councillor Golden’s point — the municipality does not have anybody tasked with economic development or tourism management, nor does it have a budget for them. I’ve been watching Council closely for more than a decade and I am continuously impressed with how much our municipality accomplishes on the tiny budget our low tax rates provide.

But I think that it is unreasonable to expect the chamber of commerce to take this on. “Tobermory Chamber of Commerce” has an impressive sound to it, but there’s not much behind the façade. Everybody’s much too busy trying desperately to earn a living.

The executives (other than semi-retired me) are mostly working eighty or a hundred hours a week from April to October, running their businesses. They don’t have time to read the RTO7 report, let alone conjure up a plan to implement its recommendations.

This is not new — Tobermory Chamber of Commerce has been like this since before I joined it, in 1986. Anybody who has time to spare in the summer probably isn’t earning a living from tourism (or at all).

So why doesn’t the Chamber of Commerce hire somebody to take on these responsibilities? Good question, glad you asked it. 

Where would they get the money?

From membership dues? Eighty or a hundred businesses at a few hundred bucks each — gets you a part-time employee at best. And you need them to run the information booths at Tobermory and Ferndale, handle payroll, take minutes of executive meetings and answer the mail and…

Raise the membership fees? We tried that about 25 years ago. People let their memberships lapse and we ended up with even less money.

So, yes — “Let the Chamber of Commerce handle it” has a nice ring to it, but it won’t play in the real world.

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The big question: who’s in charge here? The municipality won’t take responsibility and the Chamber of Commerce can’t.

The obvious answer is: we need to hire someone to handle this. Probably more than one person.

Should they work for the municipality? Or the Chamber of Commerce? Or a third party organization endowed for this purpose? Personally I don’t really care which. We just need to do it.

Take the money out of MAT revenues — put somebody in charge of destination management and give them a budget to do the job properly.