The province announced Dec. 8 it is giving the tourism organization representing the Haliburton Highlands to the Ottawa Valley region $350,000 in new funding to combat the effects of COVID-19.

Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, Lisa MacLeod, made the announcement for RTO 11. MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, Laurie Scott attended the online event.

MacLeod visited the Highlands July 9 and although a funding announcement was expected then, RTO 8 received $1.4 million later in the day during a press conference in Bobcaygeon.

The new funding is in addition to $2.9 million that has already come to the region, including $734,000 for SIRCH’s bistro café and market and operating money for the Haliburton Highlands Museum, Minden Hills Museum, and the Haliburton County Public Library.

MacLeod, who lives in Ottawa, said in part, “I know that our sectors were hit first, hardest and will take the longest to recover as a result of COVID-19.”

She said the money for RTO 11 is so “they can engage and support hyper-local tourism activities within the region in order to position us for a comeback for the year of the staycation in 2021.”

She added “it’s about community. It’s about where we live. It’s about pride of place and pride of people.”

Scott said, “Tourism is so important up where we live.” She said while operators have been able to pivot well in rural areas, “we know this is an ongoing struggle.” However, she said there is hope with a vaccine on the horizon, with this funding “to help organizations bridge to that better time we know will come.” Executive director of the OHTO, Nicole Whiting, said while some operators have had their best years ever, others are struggling.

“Of course, the devastating impact this crisis has had on our sector is significant,” she said in welcoming the funding. However, she added they’re confident of coming out of the crisis stronger than ever.

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