The County of Haliburton Tourism Committee opted to forge ahead with a $13,500 marketing campaign through TripAdvisor despite the protests of some accommodators.

The committee voted 7-2 March 11 to proceed with the program and re-assess after one year, with only Warden Liz Danielsen and public member Rob Berthlot opposed. The program will give the County control over a Haliburton Highlands destination page on TripAdvisor for $2,500, with the remainder of the funding going to advertisements on the site.

The campaign is controversial, with some accommodators pushing against it over confusion about how the destination page works and TripAdvisor’s overall model, which takes a portion of every booking through its website. The tourism stakeholder group prepared a survey that received 143 respondents, with the most popular choice at 45.4 per cent being to request other media buys instead of TripAdvisor.

But the committee dismissed the survey as it lacked any input into its creation.

“We don’t govern by survey,” chair Carol Moffatt said. “This entire issue has gone to a crazy place and there are lots of issues in the world that are worthy of outrage and this is not one of them.”

Staff and proponents of the campaign have spoken to how ubiquitous TripAdvisor has become and said it is important to have a measure of control over what people see about Haliburton there.

Committee member Tegan Legge said at the latest stakeholders meeting, there were only four of 30-40 people there who were strongly opposed.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt anybody. It was very clear you don’t have to commit to paying anything as a business,” she said. “It was also very clear the links are going to go to (Haliburton) websites, and that’s what they encourage, not TripAdvisor listings.”

Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre manager John Teljeur remains opposed and said he is not satisfied by the campaign being on a one-year trial basis.

“They’re throwing a very big net and that net could catch our current customers in it,” he said. “A lot of damage can happen in one year.”

Teljeur said this subject has amplified long-existing fractures between accommodators and the stakeholders’ group. He said the County’s approach to the tourism sector is lacking in areas like statistics, but feels the group is also lacking in its advocacy.

“A number of us no longer go to the stakeholders’ group. We’ve tried to suggest changes and improvements. We’ve lost every time,” he said. “Our voice isn’t being heard.”

He added he is planning to start a new group of stakeholders and he has support, though said it would take time to pull together. Moffatt said nobody at the committee table is out to undermine business owners.

“We’re trying to move things forward,” she said. “But sometimes moving things forward involves a little risk.”

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