July 16, 2008

Tourism turmoil an opportunity for Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

The high cost of travel could bring more visitors to Erin, as people look for economical ways to take a break from city living.

We've always attracted tourists seeking a rural community atmosphere, but more can be expected as high gas prices make people think twice about driving to more distant Ontario locations such as Muskoka.

Lisa Brusse, Executive Director of the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association, has done an informal survey of tourist-related businesses in the district, which includes Erin, Orangeville, Caledon, Dufferin, Shelburne and Mono.

“We’re hearing that things are quite strong, with more day-trippers than weekend visitors,” she said. “There has been no decrease due to gas prices.”

With airlines and Via Rail adding fuel surcharges, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada predicts consumers will travel more strategically, with vacations taken closer to home.

Some destinations, such as the Forks of the Credit, already have a fairly high profile. The tourism association gets visitors to explore further by providing maps, profiling local shops, restaurants, natural attractions and accommodations, and developing customized tours through its website: www.thehillsofheadwaters.com. Promotional material is distributed through outlets like The Toronto Star.

"Erin village and Hillsburgh are very good pulls," said Cynthia Percival, Tourism & Membership Services Coordinator for Headwaters. ''There are many well-established businesses, but they can't afford major marketing on their own."

Once day-trippers get to Erin, some end up talking to Lindsay McCaslin. She is staffing the Visitor Information Kiosk on Main Street (across from the ValuMart parking lot), which is operated by Headwaters, in partnership with the Town of Erin and the Erin Economic Development Committee.

''There are lots of Toronto people," she said. "They want to know about places to eat or nice shops, and there are many requests for trail maps."

She said there are also a good number of Erin people dropping in to find out about local events.

High gas prices also give us another good reason to shop, dine and have fun locally. We can save money and boost the Erin economy at the same time. When we get out of our cars to stroll downtown, we stand a better chance of seeing familiar faces and learning more about the community.

Some visitors plan to hike or cycle here, and not spend much money, but making them feel welcome is important for boosting our image.

“Many people want to go and experience things that are free,” said Percival.

A prime example is the Bruce Trail, which can be accessed nearby in Belfountain and Halton Hills. It enables hikers to enjoy the Niagara Escarpment, which is designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve.

The pattern for tourist traffic to the Headwaters area is mainly north-south, rather than east-west, with Hwy. 10 being the primary route north, said Percival.

Unfortunately, on that highway, there are no signs pointing the way to Erin. There are directional signs for Inglewood and Belfountain, and promotional signs for various Caledon businesses and Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.

Soon there will be more traffic on that route, since Hwy. 410 is being extended to bypass Brampton and join Hwy. 10.

As northbound drivers approach Caledon village, they'll see a sign pointing them north to Owen Sound, or west on Charleston Sideroad (124) towards Guelph. It would be better if they could also learn that north leads to Orangeville and west leads to Erin.

I don't know how much difference it would make, but it would certainly make the town's location known to more people. It's hard to be a destination when they don't know where you are.

Now might be an opportune time to have such a sign erected, since road construction is taking place in Caledon village and the existing sign is in poor condition.

The Town of Erin can send a request for such a sign to the Area Traffic Manager at the Ministry of Transportation in Downsview. They'll determine if it qualifies under their sign policy.

But sign or no sign, and regardless of the price of gas, Erin seems to be getting lots of visitors.

As they cruise the countryside looking for ways to spend their disposable income, let’s be extra friendly to them.

No comments: