Tourism Strategy

The lead image in the Draft Tourism Strategy report by Mellor Murray Consulting. The report was presented to Saugeen Shores Council October 28.

Hub Staff

The much anticipated Tourism Strategy report was made to Saugeen Shores Council during the October 28 Committee of Whole. The presentation was presented by Aileen Murray of Mellor Murray Consulting and Ken Lambert from KWL Advisory, and was prepared in collaboration with the KWL Advisory, Saugeen Shores Chamber of Commerce, RTO7 (Regional Tourism Organization 7, Bruce Grey Simcoe) and the Town of Saugeen Shores.

The pair explained the process and findings from the study. Their team reviewed existing tourism policies, Town planning documents and held a stakeholders focus group. They also examined governance models and tourism trends regionally and globally as part of their research and analysis phase.

A community survey was conducted to further their strategic planning process. “I have to say, it was unprecedented for me to deal with the volume,” admitted Murray. “We had 1,126 respondents for the tourism survey, so we certainly heard from the community,” she said.

The survey results determined the top three attractions of Saugeen Shores as beach activities, culinary experiences and local events. In terms of threats to local tourism, almost a third of the responses pointed to overcrowding.

“They really were talking about some experiences that they had seen in neighbouring communities,” relayed Murray. “They referenced places like Sauble Beach and Tobermory and the overwhelming numbers that have come into those communities and how it had negatively impacted visitor experiences,” she said.

When Murray discussed the strategic priorities, she identified governance as a prerogative moving forward in terms of who will manage tourism in Saugeen Shores and interface with the tourism operators and providers.

Expanding the tourism season was next on the list followed by sustainability of the tourism assets including local businesses. Rental accommodations, VFRs followed by new marketing prractices finished the list. VFRs are defined as travellers with the primary purpose to visit friends or relatives living in the area.

“Tourism marketing has evolved significantly,” reported Murray.

The information gathered in the research and analysis phase led to the formation of a vision, a mission, six goals and 39 actions. Murray quoted the vision, “Saugeen Shores is a preferred all-season tourist destination. The tourism sector is an important contributor to the Town's economic well being and quality of life."

The goals described in the report were a direct reflection of the priorities revealed in the research phase. Lambert reiterated the importance of leadership and governance in a successful tourism strategy.

“There’s no question that effective leadership is important in destination marketing and that cohesive programs development and implementation takes place,” stated Lambert.

Lambert previously listed five different tourism websites that promote Saugeen Shores, two of which are regional and three of which are local. He stressed the importance of having a unified voice when it comes to branding tourism.

The document outlined three different governing models: Public, Private and Public-Private. Advantages and disadvantages of each model were illustrated in the report, but Murray urged Council follow the Public route. “We are recommending that Council make the investment in staff and budget to bring this activity into the municipal realm,” said Murray.

“For the type of money that Saugeen Shores is investing, we really believe that the control that you would have by maintaining that operation internally is the right direction for the municipality at this point,” concluded Murray.

The report suggested a tourism coordinator as part of the Town’s economic department that would manage digital marketing and seasonal tourism staff.

Councillor Dave Myette posed the question as to what influenced their recommendation of a Public governance as opposed to the existing use of the Chamber of Commerce for tourism management.

“I’m just interested to see how that model is seen to be less effective than having a government employee model,” asked Myette. "All of [the Chamber's] members are the operators and the people that are providing the services. It would seem to me that at least there would be some synergies there as opposed to having somebody who works in the Town office who doesn’t necessarily have a vested interest with the operators.”

Murray described a transition in many municipalities from contracting chamber organizations to bringing tourism in-house. “At the municipal level you’ve got the coordination abilities that perhaps the Chamber would not have,” noted Murray. “You can bring in the various municipal departments that have some influence and impact over tourism activities where you would have connections beyond just the tourism related businesses to be looking a little bit broader."

Lambert added that at the present destination management speaks to sustainability, "speaks to things that private enterprise alone is not so attuned to or involved in across the tourism landscape."

Following the presentation, Manager of Strategic Initiatives Jessica Linthorne distinguished the Tourism Strategy in relation to the beach revitalization project. “The Tourism Strategy is really, truly how the municipality is supporting tourism as an industry. It wasn’t to look specifically at waterfront revitalization,” noted Linthorne.

“This project really was to look at the business community and stakeholders and tourism as a sector to ensure that we are able to provide the service to support the tourism industry as it’s shifting and changing with the changing economy," said Linthorne.

Three individuals took to the podium during the Open Forum ahead of the October 28 Committee of Whole to speak to the Tourism Strategy report.

Port Elgin resident Peggy Corrigan-Dench expressed her appreciation for the study and offered her perspective on the Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFRs).

The report indicated that the impact of VFRs has become more visible over the last decade and that VFR spending goes beyond the typical tourism expenditures as the existing friends and relatives will increase their own spending within the community to accommodate their guests.

Corrigan-Dench used her own family to exemplify the impact of VFR and their contribution to tourism and overall growth in the community. Corrigan-Dench’s parents began visiting Port Elgin in the 1950s and '60s and purchased a cottage in 1980 along with her aunt and uncle.

The second generation, consisting of herself, two siblings and two cousins, continued to spend their summers in Port Elgin and eventually all five settled as full-time residents in Saugeen Shores

The third generation now consists of 16 visitors and families, a seasonal owner and others who either camp or rent. Finally, Corrigan-Dench counted the 19 and growing children in a now emerging fourth generation.

“Countless other friends and relatives now come to the area because our family did,” concluded Corrigan-Dench. “They come for the beach and the water like people have been doing since the town was incorporated,” she said.

Corrigan-Dench urged council to be well informed when making decisions that involve the waterfront, noting the Tourism Strategy, The Costal Action Plan by the Lake Huron Centre for Costal Conservation, the Waterfront Master Plan, the overall Town planning document and public feedback.

Another local resident, Steve Rowland, discussed the tourism study with focus on the recommendation of a community conference centre. Rowland argued that the research was incomplete with many conference facilities not listed in the study under the Convention and Corporate Meeting Spaces within 100 kilometres of Saugeen Shores, page 36 of the report. Rowland wondered if the Town would consider upgrading an existing facility to fit the needs of the community.

“No 300 person conference banquet hall should be on the beach at the expense of the primary industry of tourism," said Rowland. "It’s not acceptable and it should not be done.”

David Glass was the final Open Forum speaker of the evening and agreed with many elements of the Tourism Strategy, in particular the need for public consultation and the acknowledgment of the Waterfront Master Plan. Glass also drew attention to the included United Nations Twelve Sustainable Tourism Principles listed on page 23 of the study, five of which relating to the preservation of the beach.

“Why aren’t these principles being adhered to,” questioned Glass. “Starting with the proper public consultation. Why are we being presented with a plan that will take up space on a scarce and precious, non-renewable resource. Why do my letters, which have been sent twice, remain unacknowledged,” he added.

View the Draft Tourism Strategy in full here.

View the Saugeen Shores Tourism Strategy in full here.