Uxbridge tourism: who’s promoting us?

The first two articles in this series were largely based on a short survey conducted last month with 50 random Uxbridgians. They were asked: what they thought were the township’s top three tourist attractions; what they considered our “undiscovered gems”; and what factors were currently inhibiting Uxbridge’s development as a tourist destination.

This week, the Cosmos focuses on the current promotional framework for bringing visitors to the township. Who’s selling Uxbridge, how are they working together, and what is it costing you, the taxpayer? The players can be conveniently divided into two groups: those based here in the township, and those at higher levels of government.

Uxbridge-based promotion

Local promoters of tourism can also be divided into two entities: businesses or non-profits who attract significant numbers of visitors, and promote that visitation either individually or collectively; and the municipal government and its various agents.

The extent to which an Uxbridge business or organization counts on tourism as a significant contributor to its bottom line varies widely. And although an Uxbridge business is likely to use traditional media, such as this newspaper or local radio, to broaden its local customer base, it is highly unlikely to use such media to attract the visitor, at least not individually. Advertising online, through websites or social media, has radically transformed the mechanism of business marketing, especially tourism promotion, over the last three decades. So if a business doesn’t promote to tourists individually through traditional advertising, how does it get the word out? There are plenty of possibilities, but let’s start with local business organizations.

The Chamber of Commerce and the BIA: what’s the difference?

These are the two most prominent collective business organizations in the Township. The Uxbridge Chamber is independent of government, and in fact often lobbies the municipality on behalf of its members. Membership is voluntary, and open to businesses across the township, from all sectors. All businesses pay the same membership fee, regardless of size.

The Business Improvement Area (BIA), is an agency of the municipal government. Participation is mandatory; all businesses within the geographical business improvement area, which includes only a portion of the urban area, must contribute to the budget, proportional to the square footage of the business. The total budget for the BIA in 2023 is $106K, all of which is recovered through the business levy. Taxpayers do not pay for the operation of the BIA, even though the municipality oversees it.

What about a TIA?

Many jurisdictions across Canada, municipal, regional, or provincial, have a Tourism Industry Association or TIA, which is much like a Chamber of Commerce in its independence from government, but is exclusively focused on tourism, with membership from the hospitality, attractions, and retail sectors. Could such an organization play a valuable role in Uxbridge?

The Township of Uxbridge

Discover Uxbridge is the Township’s website for tourism promotion, and the municipality maintains a tourist information trailer, which attends all major events through the year. The principal Visitor Centre is downtown at the Uxbridge Public Library, with satellite sites at other localities.

The 2023 municipal budget includes about $88K for tourism, with $10K allocated for promotion.

Durham Region

The Regional Municipality of Durham’s tourism department has an overall budget this year of almost $900K. A full-time staff person is dedicated to tourism in the three northern municipalities of Brock, Scugog and Uxbridge; that person has a seat on the Uxbridge Tourism Advisory Committee. Forty-five thousand dollars of the Region’s budget is dedicated to development in the three northern municipalities.

Central Counties Tourism

The Province of Ontario delivers its tourism development programs through 23 Regional Tourism Offices (RTOs). Ours is called Central Counties, responsible for York and Durham Regions, as well as a collection of GTA municipalities called the Headwaters District. Although Durham has the smallest population of the three jurisdictions, it gets an equal share of the Central Counties pie, which this calendar year tallies about $2 million.

Federal Government

As part of its COVID recovery effort, the Government of Canada had several grant programs in 2022. The Township of Uxbridge received a large grant for improving its facilities at the Fields of Uxbridge. Grants from the Fed/Dev Ontario Tourism Relief Fund were received by the Uxbridge Historical Centre, the Foster Memorial, and the Optimist Club for the Fantasy of Lights.

Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos