COLUMN: City tourism plan is a good first step

Cornwall city council will vote Monday on a plan to deal with tourism marketing for 2017 and beyond by bringing tourism in-house. This comes in the aftermath of the county pulling its support for Cornwall and the Counties Tourism (CCT) starting next year. The proposed plan is a good start, but also exposes the underlying flaw that caused the CCT model to fail.

The city’s plan is to bring tourism under economic development, which makes sense given the reliance of Cornwall businesses on the tourism market. A coordinator will be hired, and summer students will staff tourism booths. Not a bad plan, and it is a minimal amount of hiring to the city. In a lot of cases, municipalities apply for summer student job programs and that helps keep the costs of wages down.

City council may want to give some consideration on how the tourism department starts. While merging the remains of the CCT organization into the city’s new department would be the simplest way forward, it may not be the best way to do it.

The CCT relied on city funding, county funding, and member funding. Member funding was one of the sticking points for how they operated tourism marketing. By operating on a similar model to a Chamber of Commerce, it could not be fair or representative in marketing the entire region. According to the city report, there was less than $10,000 in membership fees collected. Yet those paying members held more sway in marketing than all the businesses which paid municipal taxes that funded the CCT. The city’s plan will drop these membership fees, but taking on the CCT organization may take on this old mindset of marketing. A clean slate and fresh start may be the best option here.

The challenge for the new tourism department will be coming up with a new and exciting way of marketing Cornwall. Cornwall may have the hotel rooms and restaurants for tourists, but a majority of the attractions that will draw tourists are in the counties. Even though the city and county are separating from CCT, they will still have to work together in some way to succeed.

Examples cited of locations for satellite “tourism booths” in the Aquatic Center and the Benson Center should be rethought immediately. Tourists passing though Cornwall looking for something to do are not going to stop at the pool or the hockey rink to get information. A visible and identifiable tourism booth or office is needed in the most high-traffic area of the city. There will be a cost to buy or build that, but it is a must. An office buried in a strip mall or sports complex will not cut it.

In conjunction with a tourism booth or office, a clear and simple marketing campaign with visible signage and marketing materials is needed.  Vague slogans like “A city with a world of possibilities” need not apply here. To draw in Highway 401 traffic to consider eating and shopping in Cornwall, billboards and signs with big arrows are needed. Let the travelers know you exist and some will stop and visit.

Marketing Cornwall’s tourism on their own will be a challenge for the city. A fresh perspective and a plan that treats all businesses equal, while showcasing the city is the best first step possible. Considering how tourism marketing has been done, any change from the status quo will be an improvement.