By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 14 2016
As Haliburton County prepares to close itstourist information centre along Highway 35 in Minden later this year it lookslike tourism staff will be heading out into the community hitting events armedwith information as the municipality employs a new strategy.
At the recommendation of the county'stourism director councillors decided earlier this year they would close thecentre a space the municipality leases from the Haliburton Highlands Chamberof Commerce at the end of 2016.
A report from tourism director AmandaVirtanen showed that in 2015 there were 3700 visitors to centre 30 per centof whom were there solely to use the washroom. Excluding the salary of thecounty's tourism clerk – who will continue in her position and work from thecounty office on Newcastle Street – the centre cost $61200 to operate for theyear.
“Would we ever spend $62000 on an adthat reaches 3000 people?” was the way Virtanen put it to tourism committeemembers noting that other small communities have been closing visitorinformation centres and that distribution of guides and maps could be done outof the county office as well as the county's library branches and localbusinesses.
Many people she noted now find thistourist information online.
In the ensuing months members of thetourism committee have been having conversations about how to fill the voidsome believe will be left by the closure of the centre.
In a June report Virtanen suggestedalternatives including electronic kiosks however some committee members werehesitant citing concerns around vandalism and the loss of human interaction.
“I'm now presenting a slight variation ofwhat I've presented in the past” Virtanen told tourism committee membersduring an Oct. 12 meeting noting the concerns around losing the human touchwhen interacting with visitors. “So we are going to go to them with a humanbeing rather than having them come to us. We're going to start to fishingwhere the fish are.”
The idea is that tourism staff dressedin the county's #MyHaliburtonHighlands Roots clothing collection will head outto locations armed with collapsing sandwich boards iPads brochures andothers resources to inform people what's happening in the community and answerany questions they may have.
“It's not a huge leap for our team tobecome event-rovers” Virtanen said.
She stressed staff will attend events andlocations where people are spending leisure time and therefore more apt to payattention. So staff will not be stationed outside grocery stores or hardwarestores where consumers are on a mission but rather somewhere like KawarthaDairy where people are waiting in line.
They will also be stationed at localfarmers markets various festivals dog sledding events etc.
“They will be at events where people arewandering” Virtanen said. “Hike Haliburton would be great for this. They willalso get a traffic counter and that will help measure success.”
There was some skepticism among committeemembers.
“I think there's a paramount problem thatwe are creating” said committee member and local accommodator Sally Moorereferring to the loss of the washroom along Highway 35. “I'm wondering whatwe're doing to resolve that.”
“I think we can get around that” saidAlgonquin Highlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt. “There are enoughplaces to go to the washroom.”
Moffatt also questioned whether it wasreally the municipality's job to to ensure there was a public washroom inMinden and noted there are not washrooms at other entry points to the county.
“The visitor centre located in Mindendoes not serve the entire county and yet the entire county pays for it” shesaid.
Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolinindicated there are publicly available washrooms within Minden and within afew years would be new modern ones if things go according to plan.
Moore was also concerned that the newapproach seemed to focus on weekends and said she worried it would mean missingweekday traffic.
“Days of the week are less important thanwhen the events are” Virtanen said.
Moore also said there were businessowners who would like their businesses to act as gateway stops sort of defacto visitor centres where tourism information could be available.
Virtanen pointed out that the county'sdestination guide the only tourism material produced by the municipalityitself is widely available throughout the community.
“I don't think there's a single businesswhere you can't find it” she said.
“I struggle to understand that anyonewould be arriving the Highlands blank” Moffatt said adding she thought atthis point in time most people had done their research online before arrivingin the community.
In the end committee members weresupportive of trying out the new concept.
“There's some merit to it” said Dysartet al Reeve Murray Fearrey. “I just can't get my head around how it's going towork.”
“Go out on a limb shake it up see howit works” said Moffatt.
Virtanen also gave committee members alook at the 2017 branding and marketing plan which will include continuing tobuild the #MyHaliburtonHighlands brand as well as incorporate new promotionalideas such as postage stamps and specially created emojis for use in textmessages.
Virtanen is also planning to takeadvantage of Facebook's live video function create an “ask a local” videoseries and for the county to make use of other social media platforms such asInstagram and Periscope.