Wellesley Township should continue to embrace its rural roots and market them to tourists in order to gain a bigger slice of area tourism dollars, suggests the general manager of the region’s tourism agency.
“Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and as we see manufacturing declining and the creative sector becoming more important, tourism is tied more strongly,” Tracey Desjardins of the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation told councillors Monday night.
She said that the absence of big box stores in the township, coupled with the emphasis on health and wellness, make Wellesley an ideal destination spot.
“You are a living example of that, and where food comes from and the natural heritage of food is very trendy and a very important story to tell.”
Since starting her position about 18 months ago, Desjardins has revamped the way Waterloo Region markets itself, putting a renewed emphasis on public relations and making connections with the people who want to visit the region.
She said she has introduced social media and internet banner ads into the equation, and made a push to connect with foreign media to attract tourism dollars from abroad.
“We entertained some Chinese journalists during Oktoberfest and they talked about this whole area as being an interest for them in rural tourism. They really want to see the land and where the food comes from and the culture.
“They’re not so interested in the real urban tourism, because they can get that where they’re from.”
She said that Wellesley’s position within driving distance of the major urban core of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge is also a big advantage over other possible tourist destinations such as Toronto, London, or Hamilton.
Tourism is big business in this province; across Ontario it accounts for more than $22 billion and creates more than 200,000 jobs, Desjardins said, and in Waterloo Region it continues to grow. In 2007 about 3.5 million visitors came to the area, a number that grew to more than four million in 2009 and accounted for more than $370 million.
At the same time, however, the people of Wellesley want to retain their small-town charm that brought them there in the first place, making it a challenge to encourage more tourists to come but not overwhelm the area – a challenge Desjardins is up for.
“I’m very much from the school of sustainable tourism; you don’t want a horde of tourists coming into this idyllic setting, which is why people move here in the first place.”
The tourism corporation is constantly improving their ability to track where visitors come from, where they spend their money, and the types of experiences that they are looking for, and has aligned with municipal and regional groups, the Canada Technology Triangle, and academic partners like the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and local high schools to better understand those connections and to develop strategic plans.
For more information, visit www.wrtmc.org.