Roger Brooks International destination assessment provides recommendations to Huron County

·4 min read

HURON COUNTY – A secret shopper visited five Huron County towns in April, quietly assessing Ontario’s West Coast on things that make them more attractive to visitors.

Tourism destination assessment provider Roger Brooks coordinated with the Huron Chamber of Commerce to “secretly shop” destinations with no prior interviews, warning, or published itinerary; a report presented to Huron County council said.

The six municipal participants assessed were Goderich, Clinton, Brussels, Zurich, and Blyth and included the County of Huron Economic Development department.

Brooks and his team photographed the county’s towns, villages, and tourism businesses and attractions, compiling them into a three-hour presentation shown at a public session on April 19 at the Holmesville Community Centre.

The public session was followed by a more targeted question and answer discussion with Brooks for the municipal participants.

The presentation by Brooks was broken down into five main initiatives.

1. Wayfinding: The need for more directional road signs and wayfinding signage was identified. The need for a uniform and consistently branded wayfinding signage program was also identified as a priority.

2. Branding: Ontario’s West Coast tourism brand was seen as a strong, identifiable brand for Huron County, but more work needs to be done to identify the unique brand for the towns and villages in Huron. The recommendation was to create hyper-local destinations teams to identify the brand for individual communities.

3. Invite Us Back: Better use of business signs and reader boards to let customers and visitors know when we are open and to share information about upcoming events and programs in the community.

4. Downtowns: Increased investment in downtown civic space to welcome residents and visitors to spend time in the business core. Recommendations included: animation and programming, additional seating, blade signs for businesses, sidewalk displays and planters, and interactive games and activities.

5. Marketing: More emphasis on printed tourism marketing materials, including targeted brochures and pamphlets highlighting the region’s best tourism assets, e.g. Top 10 restaurants, hidden gems of Ontario’s West Coast or sector clusters (golfing, camping, etc.).

One general comment and recommendation made by Brooks included that following the pandemic, peak tourism travel months are now April, May, September, and October. Huron County, still adheres to the May Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day weekend in September as the peak tourism season.

“We need to re-think our main tourism season as running from Easter to Thanksgiving,” said the report.

“Mr. Brook’s report provided a lot of useful recommendations for our tourism and retail sectors. His assessment of our region highlighted a need to be more customer service oriented in our interactions and information sharing with visitors to Huron County,” said Rick Sickinger, Huron County’s tourism development officer.

Sickinger said it is important to make “our communities and downtown cores attractive to spend time and shop in and how we can enhance our Ontario’s West Coast tourism marketing. We are already working on some of those recommendations with our municipal partners and business sectors. We will continue to seek opportunities to work collaboratively to improve the visitor experience in Huron County.”

Wingham BIA President Dave Tiffen spoke to the Advance Times on how Wingham’s businesses in the downtown core could utilize the suggestions put forward by Brooks, including some simple, inexpensive ways to attract tourists.

“I thought he had some really, really good points there,” Tiffen said, “and I think some of them are so simple for businesses to take advantage of if they want to.

“He mentioned things about when you’re not at your store, if your store is closed, just leave a sign on there that says ‘closed, will return at a certain time’ and people will know when to come back. If it just says closed, people won’t know when to come back and will go shopping somewhere else.”

Tiffen also suggested that business owners take advantage of the outside areas of their stores, maybe putting out tables with wares on them and colourful sandwich boards, both inexpensive ways to attract tourists to the downtown stores.

North Huron Clerk Carson Lamb confirmed the stores downtown can utilize the sidewalk for items from their establishment but said it is monitored by public works “to ensure that the businesses are not hindering access to pedestrians. The businesses should always provide 1.8 metres to allow for people that require the use of wheelchairs, etc. to have sufficient space to safely make use of the sidewalks.”

Staying open later in the evening was one of Brook’s suggestions. Most small town shops close their doors around 5 p.m., and there isn’t much incentive to stay open later, the time Brooks says is the best shopping time in his experience.

Tiffen suggested that businesses in the Josephine Street area might consider staying open late when the theatre is hosting an event, noting that during the last two shows at the Wingham Town Hall Theatre, not many businesses were available for the theatre guests to visit. Still, the Castings Public House did see an increase in business during the shows.

The Wingham BIA Facebook page has edited short videos of the three-hour presentation available if you want to know more about this venture.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting