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Sunday, December 4, 2022
NOTLers are happy with tourism, survey finds

Short-term rentals are near the top of residents' concerns

A random phone poll of 300 Niagara-on-the-Lake residents found 85 per cent feel the town can simultaneously be a great place to live and a great place for tourism. 

Regulations around short-term rentals and the municipal accommodation tax ranked high on the list of issues residents want town council to tackle.

In data gathered by Abacus and presented to town councillors Monday night, NOTL’s tourism entities sought to emphasize that tourism as a whole is supported by residents.

“There’s been an undercurrent of information that maybe residents aren’t as happy with tourism in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it’s not something we’ve heard in the past,” Lais Hotel Properties Ltd. executive Paul MacIntyre said at the Prince of Wales where the survey was presented to members of NOTL’s tourism industry.

“So, what we wanted to do was get a feel if that’s true, where we can help and how we can be a part of it.”

As well, the survey showed that, of the 300 residents polled across town, 84 per cent consider they have a good or excellent quality of life.

“As someone whose done research in larger cities and smaller communities across the province and the country, I do say that these are really positive numbers and it's rare to see such overwhelming spirit and excitement about where people live,” said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data and a professor at Carleton University.

The top four reasons cited for the high quality of life were the amount of greenspace, the sense of peace and quiet, the number of amenities and local infrastructure.

Coletto tied in the number of amenities directly with tourism, as did many respondents of the survey as 89 per cent of respondents said tourism is responsible for the number of things to do.

Respondents also said tourism is essential for the town's economy, sustainability and infrastructure.

Of the 300 answers received, 11 per cent of residents said their quality of life has diminished in the past two years due to new residents moving into town.

“Every community that’s growing deals with these same challenges,” Coletto said in his presentation to council.

Tourism was tied for third place as the main reason for a decrease in quality of life, along with “elected officials,” both cited by three per cent of respondents.

“Tourism is often the easiest manifestation of those challenges,” Coletto said.

The second-most mentioned problem was “development projects.”

Roughly 14 per cent of respondents said tourism and a high quality of life are not compatible. 

The number one reason, cited by six per cent of all respondents, is that tourism negatively affects residential communities.

The next two most cited answers were congestion and developments caused by tourism.

Readers may recall a series on short-term rentals published by The Lake Report earlier this year which focused on the problems rentals can cause in neighbourhoods.

Coincidentally, three of the top 12 answers from residents when asked what town council should be focusing on related to short-term rental regulations.

Prioritizing the municipal accommodation tax was cited by four per cent of respondents, regulating Airbnb was cited by three per cent and a straight reduction of short-term rentals by two per cent.

That equates to nine per cent of all respondents, making short-term rentals and tourism accommodations the number three issue residents think the town should be dealing with.

Cited by four per cent of residents was also a reduction of tourism in general, which was balanced out by three per cent of residents saying there should be more tourism.

The top two concerns were parking issues (21 per cent of respondents) and congestion (15 per cent).

“It’s clear from this research that Niagara-on-the-Lake residents want to see the town focus on improving parking and traffic congestion. That’s something they’d like you to think about as you deal with your tourism plan,” Coletto said.

Responding to a question from Coun. Gary Burroughs, Coletto said the survey was conducted randomly via telephone interviews with residents. 

Short of breaking into one of his lectures about polling at Carleton, random sampling is the most accurate way to represent the views of a general public, he said.

Coletto explained why the negative aspects of an issue are what the people in charge will hear the most about.

“Nobody’s calling up Rogers to tell them how wonderful their wireless plan is or how fast their internet service is,” Coletto said.

“They’re typically calling because there’s a problem.”

While it is important not to dismiss residents' concerns just because they are in the minority, it is also essential to understand what the silent majority may be feeling, he said.

As the town moves forward with its tourism strategy it’s vital that hard data be used to determine a course of action, MacIntyre said.

“It allows us to make very clear decisions that aren’t artificially driven. They’re factually driven.”

Chamber of Commerce president Minerva Ward said the survey findings were not a surprise.

“It basically confirms what we already knew: that there’s a strong positive sentiment about tourism,” Ward said at the Prince of Wales on Tuesday.

But Ward said just because a large number of residents do not have concerns about tourism does not mean those who do have concerns should be cast aside.

“The complaints about tourism, I don’t think they should be ignored. I think we need to listen and see what the issue is — It may not be about tourism, it may be about something else we can fix.”

The survey was organized by several notable NOTL tourism entities, including the Shaw Festival, Niagara’s Finest Hotels, Peller Estate Winery and Arterra Wines, said Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw as he introduced Coletto.

Jennings said one of the imperatives of putting together the survey was to ensure “our tourism ecology re-emerges and regenerates quickly and vibrantly from the pandemic.”

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she never believed there was a deep divide among residents who do and don’t like tourism, but felt a relevant question for residents would have been about how they would like to see tourism managed.

Coletto said no such question was included and suggested residents probably wouldn’t know the best ways to manage tourism. The information from the survey should be a tool for councillors to determine an approach, he added.

An online survey by Abacus of 500 people across Niagara Region yielded similar results regarding attitudes about tourism, infrastructure and economic issues, although the NOTL residents generally had a more positive opinion of where they live and differed on what they thought the government should be adressing.

Council voted to send the survey results to town staff to be included in the decision-making process for the tourism strategy.