06:07:20 pm on
Monday 22 Jul 2024

The County Vision
David Simmonds

Source: ontarioparks.com

The long-awaited Destination Development Strategy Report for the County landed before Committee of the Whole last week for comment. There is a lot to chew on in the Report. Here are a few examples.

How many more tourists?

How many more tourists can the County accommodate? Can it host them with a smile? Can it discourage some types of tourists, while encouraging others? How much should it spend on tourism management?

The report starts from the premise that the County is the victim of its own success. So many people come here to visit that the resources to manage them aren’t all in place. We suffer from over tourism.

Everybody knows it. The survey evidence supports it. By how much we are over-touristed, it doesn’t say.

 At the same time, we can’t agree on the importance of tourism to the local economy. The Report states that tourism accounts for thirty-two per cent of jobs within the County and “drives local economic growth and holds opportunities for economic expansion.” About $190 million is spent in the County by tourists, although, as one Councillor pointed out, very little of that goes into the County’s revenue stream.

The Report also cites anecdotal examples of rudeness and disrespect shown towards visitors, which would seem unwise given the importance of tourism. There are also those, of whom the less said the better, that say the best tourism is no tourism: that taxes don’t need to go up; that the County was as fine as it was fifty years ago.

The immediate villain of the over-tourism problem is the day tripper, who spends an average of $74 while in the County, compared to the overnighter, who drops an average of $406 during am average 3.1 day stay. The day tripper, who drives a long way to go the beach has had no guarantee, until this year, that he or she will be allowed on it. Now, he can pick up the phone early in the day and secure a reservation even though he lives three hours away and won’t get to the Sandbanks (above) till after noon.

Negative effect of beach access tool.

This new access tool will have a negative effect on County residents. They will lose the early bird advantage that living a short drive away in the County offers. Where the unwanted day trippers will turn to next is when the Sandbanks  fills is a problem for Premier Doug Ford.

The Report suggests the County go after “socially-conscious travellers, who prioritize ethical, sustainable experiences … whether they be outdoor activities, arts and culture events, [or] dining out.” It also recommends that the County go after niche markets in corporate, luxury and wellness travel. For these markets the report suggests a ‘leave it better than you found it’ ethos, referred to as “regenerative tourism.”

The recommends diversification of tourist sites within the County. It also notes that gentrification, which creates an affordability problem, drives lower income workers and all the interesting people away, so you eventually risk becoming one bland middle-income suburb, with understaffed services. Those things will drive tourists away as well, says the report. 

On top of the problems noted in the Report, the County is carrying a net debt of over $31 million and the province, not the County, controls the Sandbanks. Not ideal territory from which to launch a major spending initiative 

The big takeaway from the report is that the County needs to manage its tourism in a deliberate way. Left to its own devices, the tourism market will further strain already strained facilities. This requires the commitment of more resources to tourism management, especially now that the Municipal Accommodation Tax is beginning to kick in revenue. 

Councillor Jamie Forrester noted, at the meeting, that “One of the best parks with the best beaches in all of Ontario is going to be embedded in a large-scale development. Where is our vision on that?” Although he raised his point in the context of the possible building of bypass roads in Wellington and Picton, the Councillor raises the right question.

The  Official Plan, of the County, which came into effect on 8 July, is filled with vision. The Destination Development Strategy Report contains a basket of recommendations for action. What Council needs to do, as Councillor Forrester was suggesting, is bridge between the two alternatives and devise three-to-five-year tourism goals as well as a budget that enables those goals to be met. That gives the subject purpose and accountability. 

Taking a chance.

If only I’d phoned Parks Ontario before sitting down to write this piece, I’d be off to the beach with my guaranteed admission ticket. Now, I’ll just have to take my chances. Maybe things were better 50 years ago.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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