Wiarton chamber seeks $45,800 from town for tourist office
Paul Deacon, president of the Wiarton & District Chamber of Commerce, has asked the town of South Bruce Peninsula for $45,800 to house a tourist information centre at the chamber offices in Wiarton.
In his submission to council for consideration at its 2017 budget deliberations, Deacon said both the chamber and the Wiarton Revitalization Committee agreed there was a need to provide tourism information and to encourage tourists to stay local instead of moving on.
In an interview Dec. 30, Deacon said the funding would support two staff members over the initial year of operation and pay for road signage for the proposed tourist office.
The chamber would reconfigure its offices and provide fixtures to house tourism-related brochures from businesses in both South and Northern Bruce Peninsula.
It would also make its washrooms available to tourists and add to its $1,500 in Wiarton Willie-related merchandise currently available, Deacon said.
Due to its proximity to Willie’s enclosure, near Bluewater Park, Deacon said tourists are already coming into the chamber offices asking about visitor attractions and Wiarton Willie.
He said it would be a natural progression to offer service in a more “qualified way” rather than, “what we’re doing right now where we’re multitasking the daily routine.”
Deacon said an average of about three hours a day is currently spent by chamber staff to provide tourist information over the summer months.
He added having a tourist office at the chamber of commerce location ties in well with Wiarton’s new streetscape plan, which emphasizes drawing traffic down to Bluewater Park and the waterfront.
“The perception is to say that we need to have a tourism information booth on the highway, but I feel if it’s on the highway and people stop before town, there’s really no reason to stop again. You’ve made your stop, you’ve got your information and you’re off,” Deacon said.
If funding from the Town is “not a viable option,” Deacon said the chamber will look into federal funding.
Deacon has approached Cheryl Brine, agricultural & rural economic development advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, who said “there might be some funding,” but they had not yet met to discuss the plan.
Citing the municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula and the Tobermory Chamber of Commerce, Saugeen Shores and other communities in the surrounding area, Deacon said South Bruce Peninsula is one of the few municipalities that has no tourism initiative or partnerships between the municipality and the chamber of commerce or BIA.
In an interview Jan. 4, Janice Jackson, Mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, said Deacon had some “very valid points,” adding the town used to provide tourist information at the train station in Bluewater Park, but last summer no one applied for the summer position.
The previous year, she said, the town hired “an extra person,” extended the train station hours, and opened seven days a week to handle tourism overflow.
Another plan by a number of stakeholders, including Parks Canada, was considered two years ago, she said.
An initiative to create a tourist office at the Wiarton Willie sign on Highway 6 at the entrance to Wiarton failed when Parks Canada, who “were providing the lion’s share” of funding, backed out, she said.
As for the Wiarton chamber’s proposal, “It’s off the beaten trail,” she said, adding, “If we throw $45,000 into a tourist information centre in Wiarton, Sauble Beach would become very vocal.”
Formerly, the town provided an office space for a Sauble Beach tourist information centre, she said, asking Sauble Beach to provide the staffing.
Two years ago it closed when Sauble Beach asked the town to pay for staff as well and were denied.
“My thought, which I will be proposing to council for discussion, would be to put the tourism centre at the main corner in Hepworth,” Jackson said, suggesting a vacant church on the northeast corner owned by the town as a possible location.
“To me, that makes way more sense because then we can service Sauble Beach, Wiarton and Hepworth. That’s really the gateway to the Peninsula.”
Council’s function is to “look after the entire municipality,” she said, adding, “the whole municipality is tourism-driven.”