Niagara-on-the-Lake council has named two of its own to the town’s new tourism strategy committee.
After some back and forth Tuesday night over how much representation residents need on a committee set up to oversee the new tourism strategy, Couns. Wendy Cheropita and Maria Mavridis were appointed.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor had questions about the resident representation on the committee after a consultant presented a five-step plan to turn NOTL’s future tourism strategy into a reality.
“A significant portion of the impact of it will be on the residents,” O’Connor pointed out.
Rebecca Godfrey, presenting on behalf of consulting firm CBRE, suggested that people who work in tourism should make up 50 to 60 per cent of the committee.
Tourism stakeholders will ultimately be responsible for implementing the plan, Godfrey said.
Godfrey and Kathy Weiss, the town’s liaison on the project, recommended a committee structure of five industry representatives, two residents, one councillor and one person from Tourism NOTL, the town’s destination marketing organization.
“I like the committee representation,” Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said. “I don’t want to tinker around with that.”
He said he was confident council could represent the needs of all residents on the committee.
Cheropita agreed, adding that residents would be consulted throughout the process.
Council rejected O’Connor’s suggestion to add one more resident to the committee.
Instead it opted to include two councillors and four industry representatives.
Cheropita cited her previous experience with the tourism sector and Ontario wine industry as qualifying her to sit on the committee.
“I am not attached in any way to any business opportunity through tourism at the moment,” she said. “I think I can come at it from an objective point of view.”
Mavridis operates two restaurants in Old Town on behalf of her parents, but said she was confident in her ability to remain objective.
“My family does own a small business but I do believe I can still be objective and clear on decisions for the entire community,” she said.
With the two councillors appointed, the next steps will be to select the other members.
In their presentation to council, the consultants broke down their plan of attack in five phases.
“Our first phase is really the longest,” said Godfrey.
At this point they’ll be consulting with residents and members of the tourism community, assessing the existing tourism infrastructure and looking for areas needing improvement.
Godfrey presented a few different tools to engage people in the consultation process.
She and her team plan to interview at least 20 “operators and community groups.”
The consultants will be preparing two public surveys – one for residents and one for visitors.
They are also planning to hold two separate focus groups for residents and industry workers.
In the second phase they plan to assess the future impact of tourism on the town’s economy.
In the third phase, the planners will work with the committee to “distill down” the town’s “strategic priorities,” Godfrey said.
In the fourth phase, the consultants will come up with a written plan and draft a strategy to be reviewed by the council.
The plan will then be finalized and presented to council in the fifth phase.
Godfrey said it should be complete by the end of the year.