Strategy needed to address Ontario’s $16-billion tourism gap: report

SIMCOE COUNTY — A report released last week calls for the creation of a new strategy to address a $16-billion tourism gap in Ontario.

The 40-page study, Closing the Tourism Gap: Creating a Long-Term Advantage for Ontario, which was created by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, makes nine recommendations that would help draw more visitors to the province and provide better support for the industry.

The report finds that the province has missed out on nearly $16 billion in visitor spending between 2006 and 2012 by not keeping up with global growth trends.

The report also shines the spotlight on the challenges facing the tourism industry and how to make improvements.

Topping the list of recommendations is the development of a government wide tourism strategy to create a competitive tourism industry.

While the report acknowledges that the province is already developing its Strategic Framework for Tourism in Ontario, it says the plan must include “specific and measurable goals for industry growth, as well as a timeline to achieve those goals.”

Some of the other suggestions include: reducing regulatory and cost burdens; adding tourism to the Red Tape Challenge; prioritizing workforce development; adding tourism into provincial infrastructure investment decisions; reducing aviation fuel tax and creating more consistent provincial tourism marketing funding by moving to a multi-year model.

The Tottenham Beeton and District Chamber of Commerce was a co-branding partner for the study and supports its findings.

“The tourism industry is an important economic driver in New Tecumseth, as well as in many other communities across the province,” wrote chamber president Wendy Gabrek. “However, through research outlined in this report, we’ve found that Ontario is missing out on significant tourism growth in comparison to international trends. Our local industry and the province as a whole must take steps to boost our reputation as a global destination for foreign visitors and close the tourism gap.”

Simcoe County Warden Gerry Marshall said there is no question that tourism plays a vital role in the region’s economy. He noted that nine million people visit the county every year, resulting in $1 billion in annual spending.

“I’d argue that we are probably the festival capital of the world,” he said.

Marshall also pointed out that about 14 per cent of Simcoe County residents are employed in the tourism industry, about twice the provincial average.

While he said the report has some “well-balanced points”, he feels the province is doing its part to support the industry.

“From a county perspective, we are pretty happy with our relationship with province and our efforts in economic development,” he said. “Our experience is if we come up with a good idea, which is what we try to do, work with our businesses and community partners, we bring those ideas and efforts to the ministry and good things happen. They get involved, they help fund it and promote it.”

He said some recent examples of provincial support include a $1.7-million investment in a park in Penetanguishene, along with the Ontario 55+ Summer Games in Midland and trail investments.

He said the province is also taking part in discussions to try and convince producers from CTV’s “The Amazing Race Canada” to film in the county next summer.

“The ministry is fully involved in that conversation trying to make that happen for us,” he said.

This past year, Marshall said the county set aside $400,000 to support new local tourism ideas and projects.

“We just got some applications in and you’ll see some of that spend starting to occur in 2017,” he said.

To read the report in full click .

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