The Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce has a new president.
The chamber announced last Thursday that Minerva Ward will replace Eduardo Lafforgue as the head of the organization. She is expected to begin March 7.
Right now she says it’s a busy time for her, as she makes her move to Niagara, but she’s already looking at what her first goals will be as the new president.
She said there will be the obvious learning curve as she feels the pulse of NOTL, but one thing she’s sure of is that part of her plan is to create an official tourism strategy for the town — one that strikes a healthy balance between needs of residents, businesses and tourists.
“We want to ensure that when people come they have a fantastic experience in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but we also want to make sure that there’s strong, positive resident sentiment, that tourism is not seen as disruptive to the local residents, but it works in harmony.”
Ward has an extensive background in tourism management.
She started her career in St. Lucia, where she ran a cruise terminal and visitor centre.
She left that work to start a real estate business, focusing on luxury homes and vacation rental properties.
Ward also has worked for Sandals Resorts in St. Lucia and eventually made the move to Canada in 2012, taking a role with the Tourism Human Resources Association in British Columbia. She also served on several advisory boards, including the British Columbia Ministry of Education.
Recently, she spent more than three years living and working in the Arctic as regional tourism development officer for the Northwest Territories.
She said she’s keen to start learning about NOTL and suspects her experience working with cruises might be an asset for the town.
Asked if her experience might help guide the town in handling buses of tourists, she said she hasn’t got that far into finding out about the town just yet.
“I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth by commenting,” she said.
“I think my first priority will be really understanding the dynamics of what has happened, what is happening,” she said.
She wants to focus on working with “stakeholders” like the Town of NOTL and tourism businesses to develop strategies that benefit the town as a whole.
“Just understanding, listening and trying to find creative solutions to having all those pieces come together.”
She said not knowing exactly what she’s walking into yet means the overall tourism strategy will be an important first step.
“One of the big things is that there’s no tourism strategy for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s tourism. And in speaking to the organization, it seems there’s been some history there in who’s responsible for that,” she said.
“I don’t want to say that there has not been (forward planning). I don’t know. I haven’t been in deep enough to make that (decision). I give credit to all the workers who came before me. But I would need to understand what that looks like and create that roadmap for where we want tourism to go for the next five, 10, 15, 20 years.”
To find out what the plan of attack should be, she said she’ll be asking a lot of questions.
“How do we get residents involved, increase resident sentiment? How do we maximize the economic opportunities, while still respecting the carrying capacity of the destination? And what is the carrying capacity of NOTL? What in terms of physical numbers and in terms of the social and psychological impacts on residents?” she said, noting that “I seem to gather that there may be some residents' sentiment that (aren’t thrilled about tourism).”
Looking at the short-term rental industry and the long list of problems it can create is on her radar, she said.
She said all of the problems, concerns and solutions should be “properly articulated” in the tourism strategy that’s to come.