The County is betting Tracie Bertrand’s experience working at the Ontario Gaming and Lottery Corporation will make her a winner as its new tourism manager.
Although she started in early January, Bertrand joked it had felt like a year on the job. She’s been busy meeting face-to-face with tourism stakeholders and pouring over the destination management plan that was completed before she joined the County.
In her most previous job, she was director of tourism for Peterborough Economic Development but spent nearly 20 years with OLG.
She has seen firsthand the synergy between tourism and economic development and likes the direction the County is heading with a director of economic development and tourism and a tourism manager.
“I think COVID has definitely highlighted how important the tourism sector is to economic prosperity, whereas before, not too many took it seriously, that the visitor dollar actually lends itself to economic prosperity. We really are seeing it now. There were no visitors the first year of the pandemic and stores, businesses, and other operators that depend on the visitor economy really suffered. It really did highlight how many of those places rely on visitors as well as locals,” she said.
Bertrand said COVID also brought droves of people to rural and regional Ontario, including Haliburton County, looking for wide open spaces and outdoor activities. It’s a trend she knows will continue.
As a result, she said departments such as hers, in consultation with stakeholders, have to strike a balance to ensure the influx is sustainable.
“Creating a solid plan for Haliburton County to grow responsibly, really taking into consideration what stakeholders have to say and what they want.” Toward that end, she said much of the work is done in the destination management plan.
Another plus, she added, is that stakeholders are very engaged in the Highlands, and willing to work together.
She said she is really looking through the eyes of a visitor since she is so new to the area. She’s asking herself, “What’s missing? What’s here? What can I highlight? What do I see as opportunity? What do I see as potential challenges?”
Already, she said, like much of rural and regional Ontario, impediments include workforce, transportation, housing and broadband. However, she said the County’s recently released RFP for an economic development strategy should tackle those issues.
For her part, the main document is the destination management plan and an operational plan to determine, “where we can take the strategy and put some actions behind it over the next five years?”
She said one key is to treat visitors well to ensure that they come back, but also educate them about local values, such as taking garbage out with them and parking responsibly.
She said another important aspect is dispersing visitors so that they are not all coming in the summer, but, encouraging year-round tourism opportunities and getting travellers to visit all four townships in the County. Bertrand said she will be looking to “highlight some unique gems that are maybe not as popular or well-known.”
She said that will lead to longer-term employment and less seasonal employment. Bertrand noted one in 10 jobs in Ontario was in the tourism sector prior to the pandemic.
She added one of her strengths is marketing and she already had solid contacts from her five-plus years in Peterborough working with industry partners, such as Destination Ontario, Destination Canada, the Tourism industry associations of Ontario (TIAO) and Canada (TIAC), large advocacy groups, chambers of commerce, culinary tourism and bicycling bodies, so it’s a case of so far, so good.
“People have been absolutely incredible, the staff here at the County and stakeholders in the community.”