Closing travel centres sends the wrong message

Letter to the Editor,
We are very disappointed with news that all the Tourist Information Centres in Sunset Country have been closed. Ontario’s Sunset Country is home to 100,000 lakes, 60,000 square miles of Boreal forest and a wilderness landscape with few rivals in North America. The region covers the entire western border of Ontario Each summer more than 181,000 Americans enter into Canada at the Fort Frances border crossing and the Lake of the Woods area is the destination of choice for much of Manitoba and the US Mid-West.
As a Board member for the new Regional Tourism Organization 13C and President of the Ontario Sunset Country Tourism Association and the North Western Ontario Tourism Association, I am very concerned with the Government of Ontario’s decision. This judgment was made without any input from Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporations (OTMPC) marketing partners.
We understand the need to balance budgets, but depriving small business of an important avenue to market their products is not the way. Over half the small businesses in Canada do not have a website or any online marketing. There is a reason for that….internet access is limited throughout the vast geography of Northern Ontario. The digital divide refers to any inequalities between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies.
Well, we certainly can attest to the inequality. The majority of small companies that offer destination tourism in the North cannot access the web to market their services. The Government of Ontario’s decision to move mainly into internet marketing will negatively impact small businesses in the NW.
There has also been a lot of talk of using travel “apps”, to give travelers instant access to any tourist destination in that area. This will work great in southern Ontario, but in northern Ontario, unless you are right inside a small town -- good luck. We need Tourist Information Centres to be able to offer “all” that is available to our guests because we have no way to do it ourselves.
RTO 13C recently spent 1.5 million on marketing in the Midwest US and Western provinces. OTMPC has also spent millions of marketing dollars in the cities of Minneapolis and Chicago promoting NW Ontario in, only to have guests entering Canada in Fort Frances and Rainy River to have limited information of tourism experiences available. With all the Ontario Tourism Centres closed in Sunset Country, what kind of message are we sending to our guests? They will enter into Ontario from the US or Manitoba and the first building they see is a boarded up Tourism Information Centre.
We hope that the McGuinty Government will reconsider decision to close all the Tourist Information Centers in Sunset Country. Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we need Queen’s Park to hear us.
–Tom Pearson
Camp Narrows Lodge,
RTO 13C Board Member
President Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association
President North Western Ontario Tourism Association