Charlie Teljeur: Time to rethink tourism model
|By Charlie Teljeur - Contributing Writer | August 13, 2015|
Have you ever thought of what Haliburton County’s economy will look like in the next couple of decades? I’m not talking about the normal tides and the ups and downs of commerce. I mean what kinds of industries will keep the commercial heart beating? What will drive the county’s economic engine?
Some might naturally mention tourism which has been a part of this economy since the 1950s. At that time, as better roads were being built to attract people from the urbanized south of Ontario, people started to flock northward as Canada’s love for cottage country was being formed. It was a different time then. People liked communal vacationing. Lakefront lodges and inns were all the rage. It was like a summer camp for the whole family. In fact it was. It’s the very reason I’m up here. My family was part of the final stages of that boom in the 1970s and 80s.
But people don’t do that anymore. Better roads meant more trips northward, and as people got more and more accustomed to the area, they wanted a piece of it. Instead of spending time with other families at an inn, people wanted the privacy of their own property, and slowly the lodges died out. Today, we are left with very few. The end result? Whether you accept it or not, Haliburton County isn’t really a tourist area, anymore. It’s an area for part-time residents. If you doubt that, ask yourself how many people head here strictly for a week or weekend to stay at a local resort to attend an event. Very few.
That doesn’t mean tourism in the area is dead. There are still things that sporadically attract people to the area, but there isn’t a continual year-round flow. We balloon for a couple of months in the winter and summer and fight for traffic the rest of the year and if tourism is to again flourish we have to re-think the tourism model. Basically, what do we do between the natural attractions of snow and warm weather? This is where we have to be creative, and frankly, take our cues from other areas. We need to create reasons for people to come up here when they’re not thinking about coming up here.
In short, the answer is to create events, festivals and concerts that not only attract people to the area, but also give the county an image of being progressive, hip and contemporary. I’m not suggesting minor steps to create a buzz. I’m suggesting bold steps that literally put Haliburton County onto people’s social maps. I mean dramatic events that really give the place a name.
These need to be events where the first thing out of people’s mouths is “That’s happening in Haliburton County?”
For this to happen, though, there needs to be a seismic shift in the social fabric of this community. The NIMBY factor (Not In My Back Yard) is an outright epidemic here. Nothing gets solved or suggested because someone’s grass will be bent or someone will have to endure a weekend of “noise/commotion/traffic” (translation: economic infusion).
You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, as they say, but in Haliburton County, no one even has eggs. Everything is done to appease the choke point. Where’s the progressive thinking in that? Where’s the openness in trying to make this place economically-viable for 12 months of the year?
Do we still want tourism in the area? It’s defined as “friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Until we have enough activities to attract these people, until the vast majority of our citizens welcome outsiders with metaphorical open arms, tourism will be more a part of our past, than a part of our future.
Charlie Teljeur is a contributing writer for The Highlander.