As published in The Erin Advocate
If Erin wants to generate more tourist dollars, maybe it should borrow Caledon’s new Tourism Study. By replacing the word Caledon with Erin, we would be well on our way to our very own tourism strategy.
As Erin’s former CAO Frank Miele once said, “We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, especially when resources are very, very minimal.”
I’m just kidding about copying the report, of course. But since the Town of Erin is probably not ready to hire a consultant to create a local tourism plan, maybe our new council and anyone thinking about serving on the Economic Development Committee could get a few ideas by visiting www.caledon.ca/tourismstudy.
Caledon spent $40,000 on this project, with $15,000 covered by a provincial grant from the Rural Economic Development Program. Caledon has a population of 60,000, compared to Erin’s 11,000, and spends money on projects that we could never dream of.
Still, tourism could be chosen as one of our priorities. With Bob Cheetham being hired recently as Erin’s first Economic Development professional, we can expect a more organized approach on various initiatives.
It’s fine to support and get some help from larger entities including Wellington County, Hills of Headwaters Tourism, and the provincial agencies for our area, Central Counties Tourism and Huron-Perth-Waterloo-Wellington.
But we can’t expect them to do our job for us – aggressively promoting Erin and figuring out how to make it a more attractive destination for people. If council sets tourism enhancement as an important goal, it should be worthy of some investment.
The Caledon study says the Town should enable an “appropriate scale of tourism by enabling the natural evolution of tourism opportunities principally through private capital”.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, every 1,000 visitors is expected to generate $108,000 in visitor spending and $38,000 in labour income, generating one additional job.
The study recommends full collaboration and consultation with tourism organizations, conservation authorities, business operators, land owners and community members. It promotes “Geo-Tourism” that enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture and heritage.
It seeks a balance between benefits for existing residents and tourists, and promotes a strategy of measuring visitation, maximizing opportunities for each season of the year and a focus not just on the number of visits, but on their economic yield. The key to higher yield is more overnight stays.
Municipal leadership is recommended in promotion and marketing of local assets, targeted provision of incentives, signage, wayfinding and visitor information within the town and infrastructure development, maintenance and enhancement. When deciding how to spend the capital budget, the tourism value of the project should be a factor.
Specific initiatives can include development of festivals, art events, sports events, culinary events and farm events, the attraction of specific groups such as cyclists, hikers, horse riders, and promotion of more “fixed roof accommodation” (Bed & Breakfast and Motel/Hotel units). The rehabilitation of gravel pits is also important.
Erin should also look at the extensive work done by nearby Towns in the area of trails. I may be somewhat biased on this point after being involved with the Erin Trails Committee, but there is no doubt that a well-developed network of public trails would be a valuable asset for residents, visitors, prospective residents and prospective business investors.
Caledon is supporting development of a Credit Valley Heritage Tourism Trail. Erin could do the same, looking to see what attractions can be promoted on the West Credit River as part of this inter-regional project.
Erin has a huge potential to develop public land and trails in the interests of local business, heritage, recreation and education – not to mention protection and enjoyment of our natural environment. Let’s look at what our neighbours are doing and get in the game.