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Draft bylaw moves new destination marketing organization one step further

Council has approved a draft bylaw that frames the scope of the County’s new Destination Marketing Organization to oversee Prince Edward County’s marketing, promotion and visitor services.

Councillors stressed the bylaw should include that the DMO operate open, public meetings with agendas. It also decided keeping the inaugural board of directors small, at six members of the public, would allow it to move forward smoothly, until the board decides to add more members.

Prior to the special meeting Thursday night, council also met in camera, deciding on a memorandum of understanding with Stay PEC that it be a stand-alone DMO eligible for municipal accommodations tax funding until Dec. 31, 2024, to allow time to negotiate an integration with the new DMO Visit the County.

The local group Stay PEC (formerly Prince Edward County Accommodation Association) was not in support of a municipal-led DMO and last fall had expected a collaborative multi-year agreement to be DMO, as the County’s only eligible tourism entity entitled to a portion of the MAT. Its current membership represents 20 large accommodators (including Waring House, The Drake, Huff Estates, June Motel, Picton Harbour Inn, Sandbanks Vacations, The Eddie) and smaller accommodators with a focus on its membership.

A proposed memorandum of understanding with Stay PEC offered in December was turned down. It offered a one-time payment of $100,000 and no further MAT funding. The organization stated it raised that amount per year and deserved that amount per year.

The new MOU is to be finalized at council’s May 24 meeting.

Council also directed the clerk’s office to co-ordinate recruitment of a skills-based board with consideration to sector diversity and call a meeting of the nominations committee.

A request that tourism be managed in a way that protects and promotes the County’s natural and cultural heritage, and the fragile nature of the environment, was made by Cheryl Anderson in a deputation on behalf of the South Shore Joint Initiative, Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory.

The groups seek that all the board members demonstrate the importance of natural heritage, and “at least one board member be a person who has grown up in the County and has a deeper understanding of what it all contains, and the rapid changes it is going through.”

She notes the County’s long and undeveloped shorelines, coastal and inland wetlands, rural landscapes, woodlots and vast biodiversity draw visitors to PEC, but also represent habitats and ecosystems that support natural infrastructure, mitigating the effects of climate change.

“Our landscape, however, is under attack – our tree cover is under 30 per cent of land area – judged as a ‘C’ or fair grade in the Quinte Conservation 2018 watershed report card. Similarly, the report judges our surface water as only fair. PEC’s ecosystem is fragile.”

The new tourism industry-led DMO is to govern its half of the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) funds received as per provincial regulations that state half of MAT collected must be spent on destination marketing. The remaining half is managed by the municipality and is to support tourism, but also provide benefits to residents, such as parks, boat launches, trails and tourism management efforts.

Since 2014, the municipality has been acting as the DMO managing the ‘Visit The County’ brand and providing visitors services, funded through the tax-supported municipal budget.

The MAT is a four per cent tax charged to visitors who have rented overnight accommodations. A report to council in March noted the year of MAT collection has grossed more than one million dollars.

The draft bylaw will come before council’s May 24 meeting for final approval.

Following, board of directors applications will be presented to the nominations committee for review and the inaugural DMO will be appointed by council. Subsequent boards will be named by the DMO. The board will establish its draft bylaws and policies and create its budget with 2021 MAT funds.

Rebecca Lamb, the County’s Destination Development and Marketing Co-ordinator, in her report to council noted several partner organizations and associations have participated in recent information sessions – including the Chamber of Commerce, PEC Winegrowers Association, Stay PEC, The Bed & Breakfasts of PEC and the Licensed Short-Term Accommodators.

Surveys were also made available online for residents and those tourism-adjacent – “people who live, work and play in PEC” – with more than 400 responses collected. Half of those responses were from those indicating they were direct stakeholders in the tourism sector, of that half, nearly 70 per cent identified as being part of the accommodations sub-sector.

Lamb added the overall goal is to make tourism move forward in a positive way.

“Although many stakeholders were eager to ask about, or provide ideas on decisions related to the new DMO’s budget, strategy, marketing plans, bylaws, policies, staffing and partnerships, these were not included in these first phases of consultation,” stated Lamb in her report. “Those details will be informed by the inaugural board of directors who will work with their staff to conduct additional stakeholder engagement at a later date.”

 

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