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Opportunity for regional tourism in new proposal

Waterloo Region’s tourism organization is looking to help shape a new provincial plan that would impose a new layer of bureaucracy and new taxes on tourism in Ontario.

With the policy still in its infancy, this area is well positioned to take the lead in a regional body overseeing tourism, says the general manager of the Waterloo Region Tourism Marketing Corporation.

Susan Cudahy was in Woolwich this week to update councillors on the organization’s progress since its inception two years ago. WRTMC coordinates tourism efforts in the region’s cities and four townships. Now, in the aftermath of a provincial report released earlier this year, there’s a chance Ontario’s tourism organizations will be grouped into regions, with 11 being proposed at this point.

Discovering Ontario: A report on the future of tourism, chaired by former finance minister Greg Sorbara, suggests one of the regions would include Waterloo Region and neighbours such as Wellington, Brant, Perth, Huron and Oxford counties. It even has a suggested name: the Great Lakes Festival Region.

Given the geography of the proposed region, there’s an opportunity for WRTMC to take the lead here, said Cudahy.

David Brenneman, Woolwich’s chief administrative officer, said the industry is working hard to implement its own vision within the provincial policy, rather than waiting for Queen’s Park to impose a structure for what it calls destination marketing and management organizations (DMMO). Those regional organizations would act as links between local tourism efforts and the Ministry of Tourism.

Having set a goal of doubling tourism numbers by 2020, the Sorbara report called for Ontario to be a more aggressive participant in the global tourism market.

“For far too long, tourism has been viewed as a sidebar in the overall makeup of the provincial economy. As a result, the industry has received less profile than is warranted and less public support than is its due. That needs to change,” reads the report.

Currently, tourism contributes some $22 billion per year to the provincial economy. It employs some 200,000 people directly, and is the number one employer of young people.

The report identifies marketing as an integral part of boosting tourism. To that end, the province proposes to standardize destination marketing fees (DMF) – see, for instance, the three per cent levies on hotel rooms in places like Toronto and Ottawa – across the tourism regions.

While noting the financial contributions of such fees, Cudahy warned of potential problems with this fee coming on top of a proposes harmonized sales tax (HST), which will see taxes on goods and services previously exempted from provincial sales taxes.

“We propose that, in each new tourism region that adopts a DMF, all tourism accommodations be required to levy the fee. The DMF proceeds would become an annual source of support for regional destination marketing and management organizations,” says the Sorbara report. “Dollars would flow directly to the industry, not to any level of government. Such models are now common across the continent. We estimate that, when fully implemented, this initiative could result in almost $100 million in much-needed annual marketing support for tourism regions.”

Recognizing that the provincial plan “adds another layer” of bureaucracy, Brenneman noted there is an opportunity for WRTMC to take advantage of the opportunity, turning the process into a positive for the local tourism industry.

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