North Grenville now has a new direction when it comes to tourism in the municipality.
In 2019, the municipality launched a new dedicated tourism program, which included a new Explore North Grenville website, the hiring of a tourism summer student, and the launch of new social media channels. Early last year, North Grenville received a $20,000 grant from a Regional Tourism Organization (RTO 9), funded by the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport, to help develop a tourism strategy. Using this grant money, consultants MDB Insight were awarded a $40,000 contract to develop the tourism strategy for the municipality.
Representatives from MDB Insight were at the meeting of January 12 to present their findings to council. According to Senior Consultant, Clark Hoskin, the development of the strategy began in September, with a review of over 20 documents and 75 tourism assets in the North Grenville area. Through reaching out to community stakeholders and residents, Clark says they found that there was a lot of enthusiasm for developing tourism in the municipality. “The community engagement was quite overwhelming,” he told council. “There’s clearly a lot of support for tourism in North Grenville.”
The study found that tourism represents a large part of the economy in North Grenville. There are about 415 tourism-related jobs in the municipality, which represents about 9% of the total workforce.
“Certainly, if you had one employer who employed four hundred people, they would be elevated as a very important employer in your community, so tourism is very important,” Clark said.
The report profiled the Rideau River, the Ferguson Forest Centre, and the uniqueness and authenticity of Kemptville, the hamlets, and farms as core resources and attractors to the community. It also recognized that North Grenville already has some key attractions that draw more than 10,000 people to the community a year, including Kemptville Live, Rideau River Provincial Park, Rideau Woodland Ramble, and Saunders Country Critters.
The MDB Insight team outlined a few strategic priorities for the municipality to develop for tourism in North Grenville. The strategies including items like fast-tracking the development of the experiences on the Kemptville Campus and expanding the development of monetized outdoor experiences through the use of local guides, and capitalizing on the self-drive Le Boats, which are already in use along the Rideau Canal. They also recommended marketing the municipality to a young-adult audience who are looking for things like arts and culture, local food, and recreation experiences that are already widely available in North Grenville, as well as creating strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships with other surrounding municipalities. Perhaps the most controversial of the strategic priorities was their recommendation to brand Kemptville as the tourism destination in the municipality. “Using a brand in tourism that is unknown or confusing is poor marketing and a waste of money,” Clark told council. “So, you certainly want to maximize a brand that you already have, that’s been around for over 100 years, that people know where it is, and you don’t have to repeatedly answer the questions about where you are. We hope that North Grenville will reclaim awareness of Kemptville, and use it to, not only help the town itself, but obviously any success that happens in Kemptville is going to be shared across the whole municipality.”
MDB Insight has also suggested that the municipality put some more resources behind developing tourism in the municipality, laying out an annual budget of roughly $200,000. This includes the hiring of a dedicated Tourism Development Coordinator to unify the industry and create the partnerships needed to make tourism a success. “Putting resources in place is going to really have a tangible effect on what North Grenville can do for its tourism industry,” Clark said. “We see great spirit and fortitude and intent with your tourism industry, within your community. It’s excellent momentum that we would certainly like to see continue.”
Councillor John Barclay commented at the meeting that MDB Insight’s presentation certainly confirmed a lot of what council was already thinking about tourism in the municipality. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand, and there’s a lot of things that we haven’t really exploited,” he said.
Given that Ontario is currently in a state of emergency, and it is expected that the pandemic will last many more months, Mayor Peckford asked Clark how ready the municipality should be to welcome more visitors to the municipality once the tourism industry opens again. Clark said that, although things most likely won’t open back up completely until 2022, planning can start right away, as it usually takes about three years to see the results of moving into a new market. “I do think it’s very important to start that collaboration, start that communication with your businesses, and also reaching out to partner communities and all the other various organizations you can lean on,” he said.
Staff will now review the strategy and report back to council with a plan for tourism service delivery in North Grenville. “As we’re about to embark on budget deliberations, it will be critically important that this piece be considered as part of certainly some of the recommendations that are going forward from council,” Mayor Peckford said. “We’ll look to [CAO] Dyke and Mr. Gilmer to give us a recommendation about whether or not it’s attainable to spend this year, and embark on that three-year journey.”
Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times