The arrival of nicer weather and the Victoria Day long weekend means that summer is just around the corner. Normally, this is the time of year that businesses are getting ready to warmly welcome the next wave of visitors to this beautiful region. It is disappointing to know that another tourism season is being disrupted by the global pandemic.
The tourism industry is an important segment of the local economy. This region routinely welcomes over 3 million visitors each year and these visitors spend approximately $300 million while they are here. That is significant spending, especially for the local businesses that rely on those visitors.
As much as Netflix has disrupted our TV watching habits, there are a few disruptions that are changing what visitors want in a destination.
Visitors want to experience the destination, they want to immerse themselves in local culture, they want to hear stories first-hand about what makes this community so wonderful. They want to learn a new skill or have a hands-on experience, such as a cooking class with a local chef using locally grown food; or to learn how to ice fish. They also want to protect and sustain the elements that make a destination so wonderful.
As the economy begins to rebuild and recover, tourism destinations will be more competitive than ever, and it is important that Peterborough & the Kawarthas stays a destination of choice for visitors; but balanced, to sustain the region for future generations to enjoy. New data suggests that destinations like ours will be in a very different position in the marketplace post-COVID-19. For years, rural and remote destinations outside of the larger cities have struggled to gain their share of voice, now, with a new desire for people to escape crowded spaces and places, these destinations are highly sought after, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. It is an opportunity for this region to have its time in the spotlight, however, a sudden and significant increase in the volume of visitors to the region, during an already busy few months is sure to cause pressure and strain as we have seen in some popular outdoor areas over the past year.
A sustainable approach to destination marketing in partnership with local municipalities and businesses will be vital. We will endeavor to do this in a few important ways:
- A destination development strategy and action plan to sustainably grow the tourism economy in a post-pandemic world will be a vital part of recovery for this region. Recognizing the need for a new strategy and approach to destination development, our team began the process early in 2020, and while the pandemic caused a delay in the completion of this important project, it also provided us with an opportunity to re-examine what sustainable and innovative economic growth will look like post COVID-19. As vaccine roll out continues, and plans are underway to re-open the economy in 2021, plans are well underway for the completion of this project and hopes for a fresh start beginning in 2022.
- A stronger focus on winter and shoulder season development will be key: As stay-at-home orders are lifted, the team at PKED can’t wait to share a new and exciting Culinary Tourism Strategy for Peterborough & the Kawarthas. Building on a strong agriculture sector and adding in our skilled, artisan chefs and diverse restaurants, we know that visitors will once again flock to this region to experience our authentic taste of place, not only during the busy summer months but all year round.
- Clear and consistent communication with locals and visitors alike will be an important part of our path forward: Soon, our team will roll out a visitor pledge not only to welcome visitors and seasonal residents but also as a reminder about the importance of respecting and protecting what we treasure in this region. It is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a destination that people dream to visit, and how important it is to protect this fresh, natural, and inspiring place for generations to come.
I am looking forward to taking the pledge to show my gratitude and respect for this community, and I encourage local residents and visitors to consider taking the pledge as well. Let’s come together to support our local businesses and to create a renewed sense of togetherness and respect for the place we feel call home (even if it’s just for the weekend).
– Rhonda Keenan