The county tourism committee is taking a harder look at plans to use TripAdvisor after a letter of protest from the Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre.

The tourism committee discussed the letter during its Jan. 8 meeting. The message from Pinestone general manager John Teljeur spoke out against an idea in the county’s 2020 marketing plan to create a new destination page for the Haliburton Highlands with TripAdvisor in a bid to promote the area.

Teljeur said every accommodator tries to reduce the impact of “excessive commissions” paid to the likes of TripAdvisor when guests book through their services. The company takes a percentage cut when someone books through them, which Teljeur said can cost Pinestone thousands of dollars. He further said he does not think stakeholders were consulted enough about the idea.

“You’re essentially opening the flood gates to something we work so hard to prevent,” Teljeur said. “Please reconsider.”

Committee member Rob Berthlot agreed, citing similar concerns as a business owner.

“My perception is this is letting the fox into the henhouse. I have no idea where it will develop into,” Berthlot said.

Director of tourism Amanda Virtanen said the TripAdvisor destination page is a new product the municipality would pay into, with assurance it is a different model and would not take from bookings.

“We’re all in this together. I’m not going to recommend a tactic I don’t think will work. We have full control over all the content,” Virtanen said. “When you Google ‘where to stay in Haliburton Highlands,” the first thing that comes up is TripAdvisor and I’d rather control that content.”

However, Virtanen said she could bring back a presentation provided by TripAdvisor providing more details on the initiative.

“Slow it down a bit,” committee chair and Coun. Carol Moffatt said. “Take a look and make sure we’re not putting the sled at the top of a slippery slope.”

Hike Haliburton protested

Teljeur also took issue with the County’s ongoing investment and management of Hike Haliburton. He said the event should be more self-sufficient and is getting preference over other tourist events in the area. He also spurned the upcoming inaugural winter-edition of Hike Haliburton in February.

“The amount of money (and staff time) siphoned from the County tourism department would be better spent on things that actually bring people to the area. Stay in your lane,” Teljeur said.

A total of 2,790 people participated in hikes and events at the 2019 festival, according to the County report. About 65 per cent of the 186 people who responded to a survey after the festival indicated they were from outside the Highlands.

The County budgeted $38,000 for Hike Haliburton in 2019, including planning for the upcoming winter edition. The regular version subsequently fundraised $20,205 from the public, according to the festival summary report.

Committee members responded that Hike Haliburton is an important event they would like to continue running. Tegan Legge said it has only improved since the county took it over.

“I do truly believe it brings a lot of people into the community and they do come back,” she said.

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Joseph Quigley is a staff writer with The Highlander. Joseph is always digging hard for news stories and covers all the latest happenings in the County of Haliburton. He believes in the importance of local news, finding more to every story and listening to marginalized voices. When he’s not working on news, Joseph finds himself getting all-too engaged in social media and cheering on his favourite Toronto Maple Leafs.