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Prince Edward County ‘a victim of its own success’; tourism plan must serve residents

By Sue Capon
Councillors expressed appreciation for a detailed, five-year tourism strategy report but several noted some of the recommendations will fuel current problems and would not serve residents of Prince Edward County well.

“I can hear the howls of terror already from residents at the thought of increasing tourism here,” said councillor Andreas Bolik, noting most would want a reduction in tourism, including those who live on the major access highways, and in the summer often cannot get out of their driveways.

“One of the few respites that our people look forward to is that after Labour Day we have our County back. If we now extend this back into October and November, it’s going to make it worse, not better, for people. So kudos to developing a plan, but I’m afraid we may be going in the wrong direction.”

A five-year strategy for “Beyond the Beach” destination development in Prince Edward County seeks expansion of off-peak tourism to reduce summer over-tourism, better communication of its economic importance; building support from residents; more tourism management and less marketing.

“Without action, tourism causes negative economic, cultural and environmental impacts sue to overuse, misuse or neglect,” states Jillian Dickens, of consulting firm Bannikin Travel & Tourism, who made a deputation at Committee of the Whole Thursday with Todd Davis, the County’s Director of Community Services, Programs and Initiatives.

Councillor Janice Maynard also spoke up for strategies that weigh and balance needs of residents.

“We don’t want to end up with an unliveable community and lose what makes us a special place,” she said, adding many residents won’t want more tourists being attracted to new places off the beaten path.”

Councillor Kate MacNaughton agreed the report needs a section showing benefits to residents, and management that would allow them such things as access to water spots, at least in the evenings, or stickers for parking.

The balance necessary is elusive and difficult, added councillor Ernie Margetson, and conflicts could increase. He agreed with Councillor Jamie Forrester that the County must know what long-term vision it has of itself before moving forward.

Councillor John Hirsch called the in-depth document money well spent but suggests further discussion involving groups with sectors outside tourism. For example, he expects a coming announcement of Ostrander Point and Point Petre becoming official conservation reserves and any tourism plans will have to be aware of that new management plan.

Most agreed that seeking fewer day-trippers, and more quality, environmentally-conscious longer term visitors was preferred.

The report estimates visitor spending in the County at $190 million. Guests who stay an average of three days spend $406 per day, while day-trippers spend $74. Most of the money is spent on food and beverages (43 per cent) followed by accommodation at 36 per cent; gas at 15 per cent; retail at four per cent and other at two per cent.

Davis states in his report that while other parts of the country have seen mass closures of restaurants, hotels and attractions, the County has seen few, and conversely, a wealth of new businesses open.

“Forced closures and limits on service have taken their toll, however. As the Canadian economy recovers, there is an opportunity to ‘build back better’. New funding is expected to become available, including a potential tax incentive to travel. This strategy will help identify relevant opportunities and provide the foundation of future funding applications.”

Davis acknowledged that for a long time, being a successful destination in Prince Edward County was always reflected the ability to attract visitors but added that today “we have become victims of our own success” and bringing more and more people to visit in the peak season, is not the answer.

“We are really at a tipping point where the visitor experience is also negatively affected by the number of people that come to visit us,” he told council. “It’s not just the experience of the people who live in our community, but the visitors who can’t access places, or if there’s too many people here and they start to have negative experiences we’re going to see a significant downward trend of people wanting to visit Prince Edward County.”

While complete data is unavailable, estimates from Canada’s National Travel Survey data shows in 2019 there were nearly half a million tourists in the County. Sandbanks Provincial Park documented approximately 850,000 visitor days during 2020 from April to October (not including walk-ins). North Beach Provincial Park documented 75,000 visitor days in 2020.

Smart growth, states Dickens, redefines target markets, develops products and assets to attract wellness, luxury and corporate markets and identifies and addresses barriers to business expansion.

Recommendations include market strategies that promote longer stays, focus of birding, sport fishing, cycling, heritage and winter festivals and to continue niche and luxury market efforts working with regional partners.

The County, she said, needs tourism management, not marketing, and that involves creating a tourism board, supporting sub-section groups such as retailers and restaurant associations; strengthening staffing and capacity and investing in a tourism data collection program.

The report notes 31 per cent of jobs (2,900) in the County are in tourism; 17 per cent in professional services, 14 per cent in construction and trades; 13 per cent in health human services and nine per cent in agriculture (but the largest generator of gross domestic product).

The tourism strategy report began last spring with a steering committee that included Richard Barrett, owner/operator of Sandbanks Vacations and Tours and Board chair of StayPEC; Peter Drummond, co-founder of the PSD+G Strategy Group; Sue Mathieu, partner at Economic Planning Group; and Lynn Sullivan, co-owner of Rosehall Run Winery. Development of the strategy was funded by the Canadian Experiences Fund.

Findings include consultation and surveys from 1580 residents; 155 stakeholders; 32 interviews with local tourism businesses and organizations; 37 people who participated in a resident information session; 32 interviews with local business owners; 20 participants in a stakeholder workshop; 11 interviews with County representatives including council and staff and nine interviews with County residents not related to the tourism industry.

Resident feedback key findings:
– limited understanding of the economic and cultural value of tourism;
– overcrowding is causing serious concern
– low paying, season jobs and lack of affordable housing are especially problematic
– COVID-19 increased ‘visitors vs. residents’ attitude
– increased incidences of harassment toward people of colour.

Industry feedback key findings:
– frustration due to lack of meaningful engagement with municipality, leaders, staff
– lack of support in messaging, decisions
– confusion around municipal processes
– difficulty recruiting and retaining quality staff
– concern about unwelcoming attitudes toward visitors
– capacity low for sector-specific representation

Municipal feedback key findings include:
– limited understand of tourism’s role in economic and cultural vibrancy
– emphasis on management, not marketing
– tourism team under-resourced
– lack of data to make informed decisions and track progress.

No action was taken by council on the plan as it was presented for information only.

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  1. Dave Thomas says:

    Nearness bias suggests much of the feedback in this report is of limited long-term value because of the Covid-induced surge in daytrippers. With more travel options available, I highly suspect summer 2022 won’t be anything like we’ve experienced the past two summers. It behooves the municipality to take guidance from this feedback with caution.

  2. Roger Schmidt says:

    Tourism management is a little late in coming. Mr. Bolik hit the nail on the head… Some people can’t get out of their driveways during high tourist season. Not only that, the speed limits are being ignored in some areas and now we have cars flying across our yard on hwy 33. We are afraid to enjoy what our hard earned dollars have provided. Why?? Because some believe we must pander to tourists. I say shame on our councillors.

  3. bunty hoven says:

    Banning family camping in your garden I think is unnecessary and cruel, I understand the need to monitor wells and water but simple bylaws seem to hurt locals when they dont need too

  4. Dan says:

    It’s almost like building a municipality on the backs of seasonable visitors and retirees is unsustainable. Who would have thought.

  5. CountyProud says:

    I find it interesting that Council has FINALLY realized that what the community, their constituents, have been saying for a long time, the needs and concerns of the residents should take priority, is key.

    No one is saying send tourists away but clearly past decisions have lead to the situation we now find ourselves in. Exacerbated by several Council decisions in the past 18-24 months that only encourage more tourism over future years, thereby negatively impacting residents quality of life in both the near and long term.

    The unnecessary delay (years in delay) in establishing a new Official Plan opened the door to poor forwarding thinking decisions. The Plan, had it been approved sooner would have stopped some of these situation from ever occurring.

    How we got here is pretty clear; how we find our way back to, or towards who and what we want to be as a community is somewhat cloudy

  6. Marie says:

    I’ve asked many folks over the years who have moved here from the city why they decided to move to the County. The answers were always things like, “We like the peace and quiet”, or “We want to live in a place where we know our neighbours”, or “We want to enjoy nature and the wildlife here”. How ironic that the County has become steadily busier and noisier, with so many rentals that you actually don’t know your neighbours, and the habitat for wildlife has, in many spots, been damaged or completely eradicated. The time for management of tourism is many long years overdue. I want representation for my tax dollars, and I want my quality of life back.

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