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Love it or hate it … tourism pays

Steve Campbell

I was going to pass on a column this week, while consumed with the production of our Summer issue of County Magazine. But then three things drew my attention.
First was Dennis Fox’s letter in The Picton Gazette, questioning the benefits of tourism in Prince Edward County.
I am deeply involved in the cause and effects of tourism, and have worked with the County on various projects, and my own independent Breakaway Magazine. I’m here to tell you that tourist dollars sustain enormous numbers of people in the County. Not just businesses, although that’s a big one.
If you truly explore the spread of these dollars, you can see that it appears in virtually every home. Let’s face it, the County lives and breathes through small businesses, and home-based businesses. Where do you think this money goes? It doesn’t just stick in the bottom of an owner’s pockets, never to see the light of day. Take my word for it, money coming into my business moves out into the County almost as fast as it comes in.
And, like every business owner I know (and I have over 300 clients, all of them active), we spend the bulk of our money here. Locals support us, and we support them.

A smart person would know that tourist money spreads into the community everywhere, in thousands of ways. In discussion with several councillors, I am assured that Council understands the critical importance of home-based businesses – from B&Bs, art studios, tax-preparers, carpenters, lawnmower repairers. This is our lifeblood.
Much of that useless tourism money filters through businesses to other businesses. If you walk into Giant Tiger, or any grocery store, there’s tourist money (and empty shelves!) as well as locals making purchases with that tourism money.
Sure, tourists can be a pain, we all know that. But to deny the benefits is ridiculous. The writer’s myopic view that only a few businesses make money and “the majority of County residents” do not benefit … well, that’s just wrong, plain and simple.

Concern that tourism money does not turn up in Shire Hall is not an issue for me, since the dollars are going directly to the community – where they are needed most – with every purchase, and every rented room, every restaurant meal and, yes, every bottle of wine or beer.
Some people poo-poo these jobs as just seasonal … not really worth anything. But they are jobs. And they are real jobs which, with proper motivation, can grow into better positions.
Yes, Shire Hall puts money into tourism and, if you study what they are doing through its community development department, you would see new businesses sprouting up like crazy. They are attracted by the very thing condemned in this letter. And, partly through this department, many of them are young people. And they are creative – I don’t mean they are all artists … they are creative business people, with new ideas and growth potential. Would they have come here without that hideous tourist market? Doubtful. Will they help grow our economy? Certainly.

Oddly enough, Rick Conroy addressed the very same topic in that same week’s Times Comment. His optimistic analysis is the perfect counterpoint to the dark cloud of negativity of the Gazette letter.
Rick’s right. I’ve seen years of Councils pounding money into the search for big industries, with year-round union jobs. Ain’t gonna happen. Ten years ago, businesses gathered to expand our money-making tourism season beyond June to August. Now we see activity from April to end of October, and moving into the winter months.
That’s why it’s so important that “all those tax dollars are being spent on tourism.” Because it continues to pay us back.

Hillier Blues
And, on a final note, I was struck by Mihal’s report on the Hillier Hall, which is stymied by bureaucracy in their efforts to create something exciting and useful for the area, and perhaps attract some of those nasty visitors too.

Great ideas, thorough research, solid commitment, spawned by an increasingly vibrant community, which has been dormant for years – hampered by bureaucratic angst on the part of County staff.
Of course I understand that rulebook-thumping County staff have their SOP (Standard Operational Procedure) for their CYA (Cover Your Something) files, but really! Decisions based on “what ifs” do not tend to serve anyone, other than to grind progress to a halt. What if there’s a pyrotechnics show? What if someone hangs an elephant from that hook? What if, God forbid, a one-man show becomes a two-man show? Does that not require double the liability insurance? What if Nessy, the giant Hillier Swamp Snake, arrives during a performance and eats all our children? Think about the children!

Jeez, it’s a wonder we can get anything done in Canada, since were so immobilized by phantom fears.
I’m sensitive to this, having been forced to read and comment on a contract on a rental space owned by the County. Frankly, I was insulted by the very wording of the contract, which seemed to indicate they were dealing with naked, drug-addicted troglodytes with bike gang connections, instead of a reputable village business association with a long track record of improving the community.

In all fairness, I’m not a contract kind of guy. I’ve had contracts broken through lots of legal jargon, but I’ve never been burned on a handshake deal. With a handshake, your integrity is at stake.
I’ve seen a lot of councils since I became politically active, and they always defer to their staff. And rightly so, since councillors come and go, and the staff maintains ‘the way of doing things’ to ease the transition, and keep the continuity.
In this case, staff concerns are impeding a concept that fits in completely with the natural appeal of the County, to locals and visitors alike.
My advice to Council: Please use your heads and your instincts, not fear of reprisal, or the terrifying monster of liability, to make your decisions.

“What if” it’s actually a really great idea?

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. ADJ says:

    In the 40s + 50s this County was the summer place for the American tourist and especially fishermen who rented cottages for weeks to fish the lakes and Bays. The Sandbanks and Outlet beaches were a big attraction as was the entire Bay of Quinte.
    The wineries of today are another attraction that will eventually level off into just another visitors things to do. Every few years another tourist related event will start up…The hard working residents of the County have always found their own way of creating a good living here.

  2. Marnie says:

    I don’t think the county town owes its life to tourism and wineries. Agriculture still plays a role in our community – perhaps a smaller role than it once did, but we still have farms. We also have other employers such as the cement plant, the mushroom plant, and other smaller enterprises. Picton does not owe its existence to Bacchus and never will.

  3. Borys Holowacz says:

    County population is the same today as it was in 2000.
    If it was not for the wine and tourist industries, downtown Picton would be shuttered due to lack no business.
    Population would be lower than in 2000, perhaps.
    The only industry around would be industrial wind turbines providing few jobs and little tax money paid to the County.
    Hospitality jobs can pay more than minimum wage, especially all those server jobs that receive tips.
    One of my earliest jobs was at a fast food place called the Red Barn. My career was in the hospitality business.
    I did well enough.

  4. Fred says:

    Good response Dennis, and yes it would be nice if we were provided more financial benefit or detriment info. Not sure how that is gathered or if it would be accurate and useful.

    Julian, good points and nice use of County humour! I just wish seasonal tourism related jobs paid more “cause” pretty hard to raise a young family on most of the pay rates. Could take 4 days work after tax just for the water bill, forget food and escalated rent costs. That cannot be dismissed. It’s a serious youth issue. We need them here and need to make it work

  5. Julian says:

    The County has seen a significant expansion of new businesses over the past five years. Without tourism that would never have happened. It has brought in new blood, fresh ideas and money.

    That money and growth benefits all who live here through taxes, consumption, construction etc…

    I constantly engage with people interested in migrating to The County to start up their own business here. They tend to be late 20′ to early 40’s and they have a lot to offer. Many are refugees from corporate Canada downsizing. My wife is one of them. They took their termination package and invested it in themselves and The County. Reminds me of my Grandfather who took a family of ten out of Toronto to cottage country in 1948 to build rental cottages.

    You will find that most NewCountyPreneurs wear multiple hats. They may operate a tourist related enterprise here in the summer but they also have a gig that pays the bills. Consultants galore. They keep it in The County when buying and employ even if part time.

    Many have never been on a Horn Trip, can’t pronounce Pointe Petre and wouldn’t go the right way if given directions to go upstreet but they IMHO have contributed greatly to the magnetic energy that draws people to PEC by the thousands. (Not just in the summer either)

    If we build a wall around The County the only people trying to get over it will be those leaving.

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    Fred – thanks for your comment. I can understand why you might think that, but in reality if you check the entire list of 64 comments, I have responded to a great number of them – often repeating myself because people are not reading what I had originally written in the Gazette – they need to in order to understand my position.

    What I am refusing to do, at this point, is to respond to people who basically want to argue off topic or defend our local businesses or council – as if I had attacked them previously – which I have not done.

    Lets refocus the conversation back to what I originally asked- “How does this community as a whole benefit from tourism?”

    After all the comments, no one has provided one piece of factual evidence proving what some claim to be true, as written in Steve’s article – claiming that every house in the County benefits from tourist dollars. Sorry, but I simply don’t believe in such nonsense and I highly doubt if this community as a whole benefits from tourism.

    So unless Steve Campbell or those few people supporting his position can prove it – there is no point in me responding to them – they refuse to even question the possibility that we don’t. So until then, I’m done. But I have learned a lot about this issue and about how some people think – for that I thank them.

  7. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, you seem to be defining local businesses as second-class taxpayers, not deserving of services that are relevant to their particular needs.

    The County is not advertising / subsidizing individual businesses. It is spending some of the taxes it collects from businesses to promote the County’s economy and the County’s brand.

    In the past, Taste the County was doing some of this, with contributions from some, not all, local businesses. But this model, which depended on both municipal and provincial grants, eventually failed. Also, PECCTAC was providing services to visitors, with a municipal grant, but this also didn’t work out.

    The only entity that can market the County effectively, to achieve a robust economy (i.e. lots of successful businesses), is County government.

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – we all are – so what is your point? Being a business does not entitle them to have other taxpayers subsidize them.

  9. Fred says:

    Dennis, you present strong points and arguments for your viewpoint. However when provided other viewpoints you shutdown discussion.

  10. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, as I pointed out, private businesses ARE taxpayers.

  11. Dennis Fox says:

    After reading your position, I now understand that you support tax dollars going into supporting private business and having none of that profit come back to the taxpayers. I disagree and we obviously have nothing to discuss.

  12. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, you have asked a number of questions, including
    * How is the community as a whole benefiting from tourism?
    * Considering that council has now taken over the promotion of tourism, how much is it costing the taxpayers?
    * More importantly, how are the taxpayers benefiting from this investment?
    * How do tourists contribute to the municipal coffers?
    * Why then are tax dollars being spent to promote tourism?
    * Isn’t it the responsibility of tourist based businesses to promote themselves?
    * Has municipal support for tourism attracted year round businesses that will provide permanent employment for locals?
    * Do these jobs pay well enough to allow their employees and their families to stay in PEC?

    Our community is comprised of both residents and businesses. Based on the questions you asked, it appears that you equate “community” with “taxpayers”, but ignore the fact that taxpayers include both residents and businesses.

    You want to know what benefits PEC residents are getting by County government’s promotion of tourism? A satisfactory answer would be: nothing.

    County government needs to provide services to both residents and businesses.

    Services that benefit residents, but not businesses, include libraries, town halls, community centres, parks, community grants, specialized transit, social and family services, McFarland home.

    It’s reasonable for County government to provide services that benefit businesses – e.g. tourism promotion – even if they do not benefit residents directly.

    Both residents and businesses pay municipal taxes; both deserve to benefit from relevant services provided by County government.

  13. Dennis Fox says:

    Read this week’s Gazette editorial – it is far more accurate about what I wrote. It should clear up the obvious misunderstanding that has been promoted by some. Thank you Gazette!

  14. ADJ says:

    County government doesn’t consider roads as a priority simple as that. Otherwise they would be out there looking to fix or build every mile needed. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the present day Council either. Road building is super expensive and therefore way down on the “honey do” list. Any idea how much the municipal debt is? I’m not up to date on this info but I recall a 30M number of a few years ago. Too much debt results in cherry pickin. Closer scrutiny and a tighter grip on the wallet when it comes to handing out grants would help too.

  15. Jeff says:

    If tourism pays why do we drive on roads in such poor condition

  16. ADJ says:

    Gary,,would those “tourist landlords” you refer to be the rural waterfront owner who pays 30% more property taxes than regular landowners just because their property has a lakefront on it? So in order to keep that property they do rent out various space to visitors in the way of tenting, cabins, RV sites etc. Except this year that waterfront owner may have had to close down part or all of his business because of the high water levels.
    His wells and septic systems are compromised, his sites are not accessible and he has had to cancel reservations. Still, his property tax bill remains the same or increases. An Insurance claim is an option but watch his policy increase next year and years to follow.
    Don’t think for a minute the tourist operators don’t pay more than their fair share.Your water/sewer rates are the result of poor decisions made by a previous Council. Don’t try and lay blame on an individual business operator who does his best to help stimulate the economy and make a decent living. In certain situations there are ways to alleviate the high monthly water rates in PEC but so far I haven’t heard of anyone going that route. Give a waterfront owner a call…he would pay you to take 10,000 gal. off his hands!

  17. Gary says:

    Well as an example it’s nice that tourist landlords can pass the exorbitant water & wastewater charges on to tourism. The regular locals just suffer through it as we prepare for more yearly increases coming to Council Thursday.

  18. Ken Globe says:

    How would you go about doing that Dennis? Have every customer fill out a survey for every point of purchase and the amount of the purchase? Try to find out if they are locals, people here on business, or tourists? That way when the businesses render unto Caesar they can have an idea of how much is derived from the people from “away”?

  19. Dennis Fox says:

    Upon further reflection Gary, I don’t believe you have understood the question that I have been asking – it is not just about how many tax dollars go into promoting tourism, but more importantly, I have been asking about how many tourist dollars go back to Shire Hall? An amount not shown in any budget. I believe the answer is obvious.

    So unless you or someone else out there has new information on this matter, I am finished with responding to repeated questions.

  20. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – Yes I have. But as I recently stated, despite my attempts to find the info relating to this matter, none seems to exist. I’m sure if it did somebody would be quick off the mark to prove me wrong. I do ask questions to be sure, but I don’t pretend to know the answers and I don’t get defensive when proven wrong.

  21. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, have you called your Councillor to ask questions about tourism? Have you reviewed the County’s budget to obtain dollar amounts spent on tourism?

    Rather than just ask questions and leave it to others to follow up, why don’t you do some research yourself (other than talking to a few people on the street)?

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