By Jenn Watt
It may be time for the tourism information centre to close on Highway 35 in Minden.
The centre, just a few metres north of Bobcaygeon Road, has long hosted the cozy cabin filled with Highlands-branded merchandise, pamphlets and brochures, friendly staff and (perhaps most important) a washroom.
That last feature has been key, bringing in about 30 per cent of the foot traffic last summer.
But that’s 30 per cent of 3,700 – a pretty small group given the centre costs some $62,000 to run.
As tourism director Amanda Virtanen put it at a recent committee meeting: “Would we ever spend $62,000 on an ad that reaches 3,000 people?”
The answer, of course, is no.
Is it time to move on from the concept of a physical tourism information centre model? It looks to be that way.
Over the last few years, the county has been moving steadily toward a more digital platform, offering most of its maps and information online. Recently, Virtanen revamped the tourism website, making it easier for people to navigate and find the information they’re looking for.
And they’ve had little problem attracting interest on social media. The Haliburton Highlands Facebook page has more than 16,000 likes and posts several times a week about area events and opportunities. The Twitter account has 4,200 followers.
The function of a tourism booth isn’t to attract visitors, since they are already here once they make it to the building. It’s a matter of hospitality.
When you travel somewhere, doesn’t it feel better to know there is someone to welcome you, give you a hand if you need it?
In 2012, the county funded an interesting initiative, called the Haliburton Highlands Ambassador program. The idea was that trainers would come to any local business that asked and do a quick customer relations session with the staff and leave behind a binder of tourism information. After the training, a sticker was placed on the business’s front window highlighting to tourists that staff were ambassadors for the county.
The signs read: “Ask us where to eat, stay or play.” More than 100 businesses signed up.
The notion was that by making local businesses aware of the wider tourism industry and armed with some customer service best practices, the private sector could aid in welcoming tourists.
If the county does proceed with closing down the centre on 35, an ambassador-style program could fill that void. In fact, ambassadors throughout the county are likely to meet more than 3,700 people a summer.
The tourism centre’s usefulness seems to be dwindling, but that doesn’t mean giving up on hospitality.
Plenty can be done in a cost effective way to give visitors to the Highlands the warm welcome they’ve always expected.