Ontario's Sunset Country Travel Association is hoping to see more tourists in northwestern Ontario this summer. Sunset Country's executive director, Gerry Cariou, spoke about the upcoming summer season for the region.
“I would expect that we will get back to 2016 numbers. In 2017, there was a slight decline in American travellers, who represent the biggest spenders in the region. They’re typically here to hunt or fish. I’m hoping that we will get back to 2016 numbers,” he said.
In 2017, there was a lower occupancy rate at local lodges than previous years. Sales numbers from local retailers also saw a decline. Although, there was a roughly five to seven per cent increase in border crossing traffic. Cariou says that even though there was a decrease last year, the association has been seeing a decent amount of questions and inquires about the region so far in 2018.
“The inquiries into the region are steady this year. Last year we had a record year for inquiries, yet the overall response was low. I’m still expecting that we’re going to have a good season for tourism,” he said.
Cariou adds that if the region hopes to see increased tourism numbers in 2018, local businesses may want to stay open a few hours longer than usual. Cariou says that it’s a common comment made by tourists who visit the area.
“One issue we see in Kenora, is that some of the local businesses don’t stay open later in the summer. The tourists are doing window shopping, but they can’t get into the door. I’m not one to tell a business what to do, but one issue that has been identified, is that they want to shop in the evening. The tourists spend the day fishing or out on the lake, and they want to shop in the evening. The longer you’re open, the more customers you’re going to get,” he said.
Cariou adds that local business owners know what’s best for their business, but staying open just a bit longer may help the region as a whole – not just that business in particular – when it comes to tourism.
“It’s important that we all look at tourism as a seasonal thing here, it happens throughout the year, but we focus on the summer season for a good reason. If we work together in being open to tourists, being tourist-friendly, that really helps how tourism benefits our economy and how it helps people. How can we better work together, how can we access different markets and how do we get people excited to come to Sunset Country. We have to improve on those things over time,” he said.
In 2017, Kenora ratepayers paid about 27 cents each for the services provided by the tourism marketing association. Its budget of $470,000 dwarfed the city's tourism budget of up to $50,000.
Cariou has led the association for 19 of its 43 years.
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