Tourism stakeholders decry cuts 0
A number of Haliburton County's tourism stakeholders are unhappy with council's decision to reduce its tourism department's budget for 2012.
That decision was made at January meeting.
With department director Bob Smith set to retire in April, approximately $80,000 was removed from the department's budget, dropping it to about $395,000 for the year.
The reduced budget and the fact there doesn't seem to be a plan to replace Smith concerned Dale Rider at Buttermilk Falls Resort enough that she sent an email to others in the tourism industry, asking them to email council if they too were worried by the reduction.
Councillors received more than 20 emails ahead of their Feb. 22 meeting from some of the county's tourism movers and shakers.
From restaurateurs to accommodators to lower-tier municipal staff, people wrote emails expressing their dismay at the decision.
"The last time I checked, this county was tourism-driven," wrote Bill Dewey, agency owner at WRD Cottage Rentals. "Get with the program and do what you were elected to do, which is to get us all through another summer season of prosperity with enough money left over to get us all through another six months of winter despair. Cutting the tourism budget by $80,000 is not the way to do it."
Dysart et al Reeve and county Warden Murray Fearrey recounted how the county had come to the current situation.
With a push on economic development, the county hired Smith in 2005, and before long, what had been a one-employee department, was a three-person one.
Last year, councillors decided to restructure the department, shedding economic development responsibilities to the lower-tier townships to concentrate on tourism promotion.
Smith's departure will leave the department with two staff.
While Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt, the only councillor who'd voted to keep the $80,000 in the budget, has said it will be very difficult to put the money back in the budget after removing it, Fearrey disagreed.
"You should budget what you need," he said. "The confusion to me comes [in] what we do moving forward."
Since technology, especially social media, is changing the nature of tourism marketing, Fearrey said the county needs to make a thorough analysis of how it moves forward and whether methods it's used in the past are worth continuing.
"Do we need an info booth over there?" he asked, referring to the county-operated information centre on Highway 35 in Minden, and noting that phone calls were down by 35 per cent.
"We need to hear from the stakeholders," Fearrey said. "There's all those things that need to be answered. I kind of resent the little email stuff that's going around. We're not gutting the tourism budget."
Councillors are discussing hosting a town hall meeting with stakeholders, similar to one held two years ago, to figure out what direction the community would like to see the department move in.
Fearrey, pointing out there are a number of groups that do tourism promotion to some degree within the county, said there needed to be more cohesion.
"Everybody's working in a silo," he said.
Moffatt, who maintained dropping the $80,000 from the budget was a bad idea, said the reduction was being seen as a permanent cut to the department by the county.
"That's what people think," she said. "The fact is people are passionate about this and they do see it as a cut."
Minden Hills Reeve Barb Reid, who worked for decades in the marketing industry, had concerns about the way the department had been operating, specifically its overhead-to-working-capital ratio.
"The ratio in this department . . . I've never seen in my marketing career," Reid said. "It's a question of can the activities be delivered to the target market?"
Reid said the shift to social media was advantageous for the county, since it didn't have the means to compete with other destinations through more traditional advertising methods.
Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen, noting her township was looking into the creation of a strategic plan, wondered what had happened to a similar process the county had started for itself a few years back.
"We really do have a lack of a plan all the way around," Danielsen said. "It is the whole lack of plan that is creating our ongoing problems."
Conceding she would die on the hill of the $80,000, Moffatt wondered if $20,000 or $25,000 could be allotted for the development of new county websites.
"Our websites are a disaster," Moffatt said, calling them outdated.
"You're probably right about the website," Fearrey said.
"I am," Moffatt responded.
Councillors were amenable to pulling money from reserves for the development of a new online presence.
With losses in provincial funding, the county is passing a tight budget for 2012, with the treasurer and department heads still looking for savings.