Orangeville Farmers Market

Good Day,

I believe the revolution has started. More than 130 of you, our tourism businesses and supporters, registered to take part in our Annual General Meeting and update. That is a critical mass in my opinion. 130 passionate individuals doing their part to build vibrant communities. 130 connected individuals with the networks and fortitude to affect change. 260 boots on the ground, ready to benefit from, and roll up their sleeves for the development of visitor-friendly communities.

I left yesterday’s meeting feeling better and more confident than I have felt in over a year. I know that it was on Zoom, but I had mine set on gallery view the entire time and saw confidence and determination in the eyes of so many of you – many of whom are still shuttered until Stage 3. We are going to make it. Some of us more bruised and battered than others, but coming through the rubble nonetheless. As my grandmother so wisely summed up our current situation: “This too shall pass.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity for our industry because, in the darkest of days when people were stuck at home and not able to enjoy your restaurant or take their family to your attraction or spend the night at your place, they felt trapped, alone and desolate. And in those moments of longing to just be able to “do something!”, there was a glimpse of recognition that what we do and offer plays a role in their happiness and contentment. You have been taken for granted for so long, that until you were taken away, they didn’t comprehend the role you play on their daily lives and the vibrancy of their communities.

We need to get our fingers into those cracks of understanding and tear all complacency away before we reopen and our importance is once again lost. Because if there is one thing that humans are good at, it is quickly adapting to change. I have joked for years about how in the autumn, the first day the temperature hits five degrees people are bundled up and chilled to the bone. Three months later, at the end of January or early February when we get a thaw and the temp creeps up to five degrees, you see some of those same people outside in t-shirts basking in the warmth of the day. I didn’t think it would carry over to a pandemic, but in the beginning, there was general panic when numbers of daily cases were crossing the 400-person mark and then as the numbers dropped back to 400-500 a day, people were wanting everything to open back up again. Even when we were hitting 3,000+ through this past winter, there was general concern but nothing like the fear and panic of the first time we crossed 400 new daily cases. And that is because we adapt.

In this narrow window of opportunity, let’s not give our residents, our municipalities and visitors from across the region time to readapt by readopting their belief that we are always going to just be there. Let’s re-educate them and change their understanding of the bigger role we all play on the municipal economy and the very foundation of what makes the community an incredible place to live in, work in and visit. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to affect a major change in people’s wiring and I believe we need to start while the memories and feelings from not being able to visit you are fresh in their minds.

We have some new resources that can help us all have our message take hold. CCT will be launching its first interactive learning module, which is a Tourism Ambassador Program. A perfect refresher for you and your staff, and more importantly, an amazing introduction of your importance to the non-tourism businesses and residents of your community. We are currently testing it in a few communities and will let you know when it is available for all! In addition, CCT wants to fan the flames of understanding by helping residents and non-tourism businesses see the visitor economy through your eyes. These groups are often blind to the benefits of welcoming guests to their communities. I don’t believe their disdain comes from a place of malice, but rather of ignorance. Unless you, the faces of the businesses they know, love and trust, explain how and why visitors make the community a better place (not to mention helping you pay the bills), they will just continue to complain about no parking, busy streets and garbage. We have an opportunity to turn these very same people into tourism ambassadors – advocates for your business and the community.

To this end, I am imploring you to tell me your story. Let me know how/if non-residents add to your bottom-line, your ability to get/develop new products and services, to be successful. Central Counties has the data to back up your stories, but our saying something is going to fall on deaf ears because there is no personal connection to us. They will listen to you.  They will believe you. And, because they are already your fans, they will change their behaviour to help you with your success. This notion extends beyond the businesses of tourism in a municipality. If you are a municipal staff or council member, you are in a unique position to connect with and affect change with the residents of your community. If you send me your stories and thoughts (cthibeault@centralcounties.ca), we will compile them by municipality and work at building momentum for our revolution of understanding and support.

The change we are striving for isn’t going to happen overnight or ever be adopted by everyone. However, every new person who has a fulsome and positive understanding of your importance in the community and the need to welcome visitors to assist with its vibrancy, means one more voice who will help spread the word and affect the change. We are 130 strong today. Let’s work on doubling that by the end of the summer!

Thanks again to all of you who remain engaged and connected with CCT. It makes everything we do so worthwhile knowing it is helping in some small way.

 

Chuck