Is there a “tipping point” where tourism demand outstrips capacity?

Councillors discussed that question and how new tourism positions could help the County balance growth and livability during a meeting Aug. 11.

The conversion began after councillors unanimously supported a motion to apply for funding to hire a content creator as part of the Highlands destination management plan. That position would help spearhead County tourism efforts through managing social media accounts, highlighting landmarks, working on the County’s website and more.

CAO Mike Rutter explained the role comes during a “watershed moment” for tourism in the Highlands.

However, some councillors said alongside tourism growth comes a responsibility to investigate a community’s needs as many tourism-related issues have become increasingly pressing. That includes shortterm rentals, Crown land use and traffic concerns.

“We need to keep an eye on that bigger long-term picture,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “We need to have a consolidated long-term view of where we’re going here, what this community can handle.”

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts agreed.

“I drove through town yesterday and I couldn’t find a parking lot to go to the farmers market,” she said. “Where’s that tipping point where we reach capacity, where it isn’t fun anymore?”

She said staff are picking up double the amount of garbage in Head Lake Park compared to a few years ago.

“It all trickles down to the services that we provide as well,” she said.

Moffatt said she appreciates the central role tourism has in Haliburton, but questioned if the community is “infrastructurally” prepared to handle even more visitors as a result of expanded outreach.

Tourism growth is mirrored by construction values across the County which exceed $20 million in 2021 so far. That means proposed jobs such as an economic development coordinator should maintain a holistic view of growth in the County, said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.

Devolin: it’s about ‘designing a path’

“Economic development is not just about getting more, it’s about designing a path, and all of the elements that dovetail with it,” he said.

The County’s destination management plan, built in partnership with MMGY NextFactor tourism consulting firm, charts the course for tourism development over a five-year period.

Along with ideas for improving local tourism, the strategy proposes new County tourism positions such as the economic development office and content creator.

“How can we remind ourselves that the destination management plan isn’t a tourism plan?” asked Moffatt. “It’s a community development plan.”

The County is currently searching for a new director of tourism. They’ll be tasked with bringing on an economic development officer and content creator if the County’s new grant application is accepted.

“There’s no doubt that this discussion is leading us to the thought that we need to look at this from all aspects of our operations and municipal operations,” said Warden Liz Danielsen.

“I really am looking forward to hiring our economic development officer and our tourism position to help with a lot of this work.”

Get The Highlander in your inbox every Thursday