It’s ready-set-go for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s new tourism strategy.
After being delayed by the previous council, which wanted to focus instead on the town’s official plan, the new town council is moving forward with its tourism plan and will hire a private consultant to help develop and execute the plan.
Coun. Wendy Cheropita was the lone holdout when council voted on getting moving on the plan.
She was concerned the town was putting the cart before the proverbial horse by hiring the consultant before it had a tourism committee to consult with.
“I think it’s really important to engage the tourism industry right from the very beginning,” she said.
“It may delay things by as much as two months,” she added.
Still, she was happy to be “moving forward with the tourism strategy” after three years of delays.
Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa told The Lake Report in an interview he wasn’t concerned about the timing.
He said the committee will be in place in time to work with consultant CBRE on the plan and that the decision “wasn’t as sensitive as it could have been.”
Cheropita worries though town staff will direct the consultant, develop a plan and conduct research all “done in a silo without any collaboration.”
Bruce Gitelman, a spokesperson for Residents for Sustainable Tourism, was more concerned about how well residents would be represented in this process.
“The purpose of having a strategy of tourism is to come up with the best solution for the town. The purpose is not to come up with the best solution for the tourism industry,” Gitelman said in an interview.
He hopes tourism groups won’t be over-represented on the tourism committee.
The next step is for staff to meet with the consultant and discuss “particulars regarding the project,” says a staff report.
According to the report, CBRE will bring a work plan and an industry engagement plan to council early this year.
The direction of the tourism strategy depends on the “marching orders” the consultant receives from staff, said Lyle Hall, a semi-retired private consultant in the tourism sector.
Hall said it is important for the town to decide “what type of tourist it wants” and to make sure it “has the infrastructure in place to support that type of tourist.”
Cheropita said the town should place an emphasis on “premium experiences.”
“It’s about quality and the quality of the experiences,” she added.
Gitelman expressed the same sentiment.
“A premium experience is more than a 20-minute toilet stop on the way to Niagara Falls,” he said.
Too many short-stay tourists contribute to a growth of souvenir shops and a decline in resident-centric businesses like laundromats, bakeries and butcher shops, he said.
CBRE was hired as the town’s consultant on this project after a brief selection process.
It began in earnest in late November after staff learned the town was eligible for a $100,000 grant to help pay for costs associated with the plan.
Cheropita told The Lake Report in a phone interview that normally it takes six weeks to gather proposals from consultants like CBRE and to then select the best one for the job.
The town had to complete the process in under two weeks to be eligible for the grant, though.
She said that was a little unusual, but Hall was not concerned.
“I wouldn’t be at all worried about the consultants submitting their material,” he said.
He added that it took “no time at all” for consultants to put project proposals together and submit them for consideration.