Chamber president plans to address psychological strain of tourism on residents

·4 min read

Chamber of Commerce president Minerva Ward is pledging to help create sustainable tourism for Niagara-on-the-Lake and to address the psychological effects of tourism on residents.

Ward formally introduced herself to town council on Monday and said one of her main focuses as president will be working with the town to develop a tourism strategy.

“I think that strategy is key in addressing a lot of conflicts that our tourism industry and our residents face,” she said.

“The reality is that Niagara-on-the-Lake is a living, breathing organism where you have tourism and residences and businesses occupying the same space, and it could be a very limited space and there are conflicts that arise as a result of that,” she said.

Ward focused her comments around the importance of striking a balance between resident and tourist interests.

“Tourism has to be sustainable, it has to address the carrying capacity of a destination,” she said.

“And not just the physical carrying capacity in terms of numbers but the psychological carrying capacity as well.”

“At what level do residents get psychologically tired of tourism?” Ward rhetorically asked councillors.

Such discussions are essential to create a sustainable model for a tourism strategy, she said.

Only by getting residents and people in the industry involved, and promoting co-operation between the town and the chamber, can large, contentious issues be addressed, she said.

“I think we get more done when we work together and form alliances and partnerships. I think we all want what’s best for the town, our businesses, our residents."

Coun. Clare Cameron said she appreciated Ward’s view on the relationship between residents and tourism but wanted to highlight the many amenities in town that residents enjoy and use — and wouldn't exist if it not for NOTL’s status as a tourist destination.

“I’ll use the Jackson-Triggs amphitheatre as an example,” Cameron said.

“In pre-pandemic years there, sure enough, there were always a number of people that were definitely psychologically tired of the performances in that area and yet there were hundreds of people that live in the L0S 1J0 postal code that regularly attended events there and loved the events,” she said.

Cameron asked Ward how she would balance the “few vocal voices” complaining about tourism with the “broader public who may actually enjoy some of those events.”

Ward agreed, saying the most vocal voices are often not representative of the majority and said it is part of her job to “tell the story of tourism.”

“People need to understand that a lot of the amenities and businesses that exist in Niagara-on-the-Lake exist because it's largely driven by tourism,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of NOTL’s character in simultaneously attracting tourists and residents to the area.

“And I don't see that changing and I don't think anybody wants it to change. What makes it great is what everyone wants to share in,” she said.

One of the best ways to mitigate these issues is to actively involve residents and businesses in the town’s approach to tourism.

“Residents need to see themselves as part of tourism,” she said.

“It’s our industry, it’s our product. We are the owners of tourism and there's a level of pride we have to take in tourism in Niagara-on-the-Lake and understanding how everyone has a role in that.”

Ward said her conversations with NOTL business operators have left her with the impression that everyone is expecting a busy summer.

One issue the chamber is facing is trying to help businesses find enough staff to handle the upcoming tourist season.

She pointed out the unemployment rate in Canada is 5.3 per cent now, “which basically means full-employment, which means everybody who wants a job can find a job.”

“It means we have to start going outside of Canada to source employees.”

She advocated for the federal government to change the temporary foreign worker program to make it easier for hotels to hire foreign workers for front and back of house positions.

Ward also pointed out that NOTL businesses struggle with labour shortages because, without a robust transit system, it is a generally inaccessible community and the only way for people to get to work is to own a car.

Having dedicated transit that could bring in people to work from St. Catharines or Niagara Falls is an essential way to address local labour shortages, she said.

She acknowledged an integrated regional transit system is in the works but pushed council to see if anything can be done sooner to improve public transit in the municipality, such as increasing the hours of operations for NRT OnDemand.

Part and parcel with staff shortages is the cost of housing in NOTL, Ward said.

“Two things have to be addressed: the affordability of housing and public transportation.”

Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report

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