By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County will likely be closingits tourist information centre on Highway 35.
It's just a matter of when.
Members of the county's tourism committeereceived a report on the future of the centre from tourism director AmandaVirtanen during a Jan. 13 committee meeting.
The county has leased the building whichis owned by the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce and located along thehighway in Minden for several years.
Its future has been discussed in recentyears alternatives including an offer from the Haliburton Forest of a logbuilding. However that option would have required the purchase of property.While the Highway 35 property that houses the county's EMS base was consideredit was determined the location was not suitable.
Options in the report received Wednesdayincluded carrying on with the status quo seeking a new location within thenext year or calling it quits with the information centre as of May 1 movingthe county's tourist information clerk to the municipality's office building onNewcastle Street.
The centre is used by visitors to getdirections and pick up maps and brochures.
Foot traffic at the centre has droppedVirtanen said at least partially due to the public's ability to find tourisminformation online.
Last year there were 3700 visitors to thebuilding 30 per cent of whom Virtanen said were there solely to use thewashroom.
The cost to operate the facility –exclusive of the salary of the tourism information clerk – was approximately$61200. That included the wages of summer students the lease and otheroperating costs.
Excluding the visitors who came just to usethe washroom Virtanen said this meant the cost for each customer engagement atthe centre last year was $23.58 versus the .0003 cent per customer cost ofeach digital consumer impression the county makes online.
“Would we ever spend $62000 on an ad thatreaches 3000 people?” Virtanen put it to committee members.
Noting that other small communities havebeen closing visitor information centres Virtanen said distribution of guidesand maps could be done out of the county office as well as the county'slibrary branches.
She said the county's Haliburton HighlandsRoots clothing line is already sold on the Internet and could also be sold atlocations of partner businesses and organizations throughout the county.
Virtanen noted that part of herdepartment's mandate is to “create demand for the Haliburton Highlands” andthat people who do enter the info centre are here already.
Most councillors seemed supportive of closingthe centre.
“Certainly I think we're moving into the21st century” said Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey noting that most peoplenow do their travel research online and that people who enter the centre arealready in the community. “It's just not serving its purpose anymore.”
Fearrey said an elaborate visitors' centreif it was feasible would be another matter but he didn't see much point inkeeping the small facility open.
“You're becoming a victim of your ownsuccess” Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin told Virtanen indicating thedigital shift the county has taken since she came on board nearly three years agomeant that fewer people had use for the centre.
Like many Devolin said he now finds allthe travel and tourist information he requires online.
“I don't go in to any of those kiosks”Devolin said.
It was the same story for AlgonquinHighlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt.
“Anymore I don't go into them” she said.
Moffatt did note however that the countyneeded to be careful not to alienate seniors who may not be computer-savvy andnoted that the county building does not provide ample parking.
Highlands East Deputy-reeve Suzanne Partridgesaid when she is travelling “The only reason I use the visitor centre is forthe washroom.”
“Tim Hortons are everywhere” Fearrey said.
“I travel extensively and I use them allthe time” said committee member Bruce Ballentine who stressed that people atleast needed a kiosk where they could pick up information.
Devolin suggested having self-serve kiosksalong highways although Moffatt pointed out such kiosks were once operated bythe now-defunct Haliburton Highlands Trails and Tours Network.
Moffatt said the concept was outdated andstressed that even self-serve kiosks required staff to stock them withmaterial. She noted they are also susceptible to vandalism.
Ultimately the committee voted to forgoany recommendation and defer the conversation to a full meeting of countycouncil Jan. 27.