Community stakeholders discussed significant changes Feb. 29-March 5 to make Haliburton a more attractive place with a Destination Development Plan.

The County is working with consultant MMGY NextFactor to build the $60,000 plan, which will recommend improvements the area needs to enhance both tourism and the broader community over the next five years. The tourism sector, lake associations, councillors and more attended different focus groups and one-on-one consultations.

Director of Tourism Amanda Virtanen said the consultation went well, with more than 100 people participating. She said the plan can make big change happen but not immediately.

“It’s not going to be overnight,” Virtanen said. “All of these things will take time.”

Audience members offered several ideas during a public town hall March 3, such as addressing short-term rental regulations, an agency for all-inclusive travel packages and diversifying experiences for all seasons.

Another major point of discussion was a municipal accommodation tax, also known as a bed tax. The tax is levied against people using accommodations and directed in part towards a non-municipal entity, generally to promote tourism.

Virtanen said Haliburton is one of the few jurisdictions that don’t have it, with councils reluctant to discuss the idea.

“They got so much pushback from accommodation owners that they decided to not even have the conversation in most cases,” she said, adding such a tax would need to apply to both traditional accommodations and short-term rentals. “It would help to regulate some of the Airbnb, cottage rentals. It would put the money back in infrastructure.”

Another discussion was the state of accommodations. Virtanen said she had turned down calls from three companies in six months looking to travel to Haliburton with 1,000 people for conferences, because the County did not have the facilities, including a multi-use conference centre.

“We’re losing a lot of our lodges,” Yours Outdoors consultant Barrie Martin said. “There needs to be analysis of the whole accommodations industry to see where we’re going.”

Virtanen said the County only has about 330 rooms at traditional accommodations, excluding short-term rentals.

“That’s not a lot of space for people to stay,” she said. “It’s about how [we] can actually build that infrastructure and help small business with investment.”

Sir Sam’s Ski/Ride assistant general manager Randy Pielsticker attended the town hall. He said he liked the consultation and believes the plan can make some of the ideas happen.

“If anything can bring these ideas to fruition, it will be this plan,” Pielsticker said.

Virtanen said the plan will need to be pushed by the whole community. Another open session is being planned for more feedback before a draft plan goes to County council in June or early July.

“It’s owned by all the municipalities, it’s owned by the chamber, it’s owned by the BIA, it’s owned by stakeholders,” she said. “Who can take different pieces of the plan and move it forward as a community.”

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