As the Niagara-on-the-Lake tourism strategy committee continues to flesh out a vision for the town’s tourism sector, some key issues to tackle have emerged — such as improving NOTL’s transportation services.
Rebecca Godfrey, a consultant from Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE), presented several short-term priorities for the committee to consider.
Communication with residents, parking issues, better signage and transportation services were all listed in bold in Godfrey’s presentation.
Resident Frances Stocker, a retired library worker, sent a letter to the committee outlining her vision of a tourism industry with a robust transportation network that allows visitors to keep their vehicles out of Old Town.
Tourism is important to the town, Stocker wrote in her letter, but, “We don’t want to kill the golden goose.”
“It brings a vibrancy and a life to the community,” she said.
The town’s transportation master plan is under review, she added in her letter, and this could be “our last opportunity to develop a successful transportation plan for visitors and residents alike.”
The committee didn’t discuss Stocker’s letter at its Oct. 16 meeting as it was submitted after the group finished consulting the public on its tourism plan.
However, Coun. Wendy Cheropita told The Lake Report that Stocker’s feedback was “very consistent” with what the committee has heard from residents, the business community and tourism businesses.
“The weaknesses that came out loud and clear, consistently, were lack of parking and traffic congestion,” she said. “Those two things will absolutely be addressed during this tourism strategy.”
Stocker suggested the town use shuttle services to move visitors from their accommodations to the town’s major attractions.
She also said the town could set up a park-and-ride station in Glendale, so people could leave their cars behind when taking trips to Old Town.
Parking near the heritage district could come at a “premium price,” she said, and parking in the heritage district could be restricted to delivery trucks and people with disabilities.
However, Stocker cautioned against “short-term solutions,” such as parking garages in Old Town or widening arterial roads.
She suggested the committee should pursue strategies that “reduce the number of cars coming from the QEW into NOTL.”
“I am very keen to make sure that we have a future focused transportation model,” she said in an interview.
On the other priorities for NOTL’s tourism sector, committee adviser Minerva Ward suggested the town should also focus on improving its collection of visitor data, which could help the town improve its tourism services.
Good communication could help to “change attitudes” for residents who are opposed to tourism, Cheropita added.
“There’s a lot of people in our town who are like that,” said committee member Erica Lepp.
Lepp and Cheropita both said the town needed to better educate its residents on the benefits the tourism industry brings.
Tim Jennings, the Shaw Festival’s CEO, said there is an “oversaturation point” in the tourism industry that nobody wants to hit, and the tourism plan should not compromise the town’s heritage assets.