As I alluded to at the AGM, this month’s topic is partnership. The staff at CCT, all of us, are passionate about what you do. Your innovation, resilience and own passion for the industry and your role within it, inspire us each day to do more and better to support your efforts. We knew going into this year that each section of our budget was going to be tight. We knew that the number of partnership projects submitted was going to far outweigh the funds we had available for it. But what we didn’t foresee was how having to say “no” or “not as much” would break our hearts as much as it has. We are only two and a half months into the new fiscal and the Partnership Program has been at the top of the discussion list for almost every meeting.
Now, I think part of that is because there are more people involved. In the winter, while we were drafting the Partnership Opportunities document, I asked our three Industry Relations Managers (IRMs) if they would be okay being the first point of contact for stakeholders thinking about putting their project forward. They graciously agreed, which I think is brilliant because in doing so, each stakeholder has the advantage of learning more about our priorities and, more importantly, learning about all of the other non-financial supports that we provide. There have already been 45 applications just in the first two intakes. From a stakeholder engagement perspective, this is amazing because we are getting to know more about you and your business. However, in doing so, the IRMs had an intimate knowledge of the great projects happening in their region and were rooting for each and every one of them to receive funding – to the point where they felt they may have failed a stakeholder whose project wasn’t selected or when the amount of funding allocated was less than the ask.
I can say with absolute certainty that was not the case. And as much as I am proud of them for taking such a vesting interest in our stakeholders, the reality of the situation is that, at the moment, there just isn’t enough allocation to support all of the projects at the level they asked for. We knew going into the year that things were going to be tight and that is why we changed the criteria to reflect the priorities of the provincial government: growing the visitor economy and jobs. Without proof that the money they provide the RTO’s is making them more than they give us, there is no way that we will ever be able to stand up before the province and request additional funding for programs like partnership. And that is the other reality that we live in. I can’t make a pitch to the province on my own. In order for it to have any impact, it will have to be all 13 RTO’s working together to present a solid business case to increase our funding back to the level it was at before their 20% cut five or so years ago. Probably even more effective would be all of the stakeholders from all of the RTO’s writing their MPP urging them to invest more in the visitor economy, but I think I am going to have a hard enough time convincing the other 12 RTO’s to stand with me for the benefit of the stakeholders…
With that in mind, we created a scoresheet that each of our committee members used to evaluate each of the 45 submissions we received in the first two intakes. Each application received an average score based on evaluator ratings and the idea was to provide funding for the best applications until the allocation was used up. For the first intake, that meant only funding 10 of the 19 quality projects that were submitted. The total funding request was more than $183,000 against a budget of $79,000. For the second intake, that would have meant only funding 9 of the 26 projects submitted. The total funding request was more than $300,000 against a budget of $100,000 and both of those were with a funding cap of $15,000 – something else new that we implemented early on so that we could partner with as many stakeholders as possible.
We are basing score on several things:
- How many individual stakeholders are involved in the delivery of the project
- The length of the project, meaning how long will it drive visitation
- The economic impact the project will have on the community
- The ROI between the budget and the economic impact
To grow the visitor economy, we need to create compelling reasons for people to visit. For the most part, our region is comprised of small and medium sized attractions which, on their own, have loyal but limited following – typically within an hour’s drive. The reason they get limited attendance from people further away isn’t because those people aren’t interested in what is being offered, it is because the value proposition in terms of time and effort isn’t there compared to the amount of time they would enjoy at the attraction. Stakeholders who are actively trying to improve the value proposition by banding together and creating a longer, more interactive experience are not only helping themselves grow their businesses, they are supporting the entire community because visitors will spend more time and money dining, shopping and even filling their vehicles.
Supporting strong destination development is one of the top priorities for CCT. The coordinated efforts between stakeholders are a big piece of that puzzle as is the duration of the project or experience. From an economic impact perspective, it is more valuable to have 10,000 visitors spread through two years than it is to have them all arrive on the same day for one day. And that is because it leads to an increased tourism workforce. If you are seeing a steady increase in visitors and sales to your small business that seems to be stable and spread out throughout the year, you are more likely to take on an additional staff member and/or stay open later. Don’t get me wrong, bringing events into communities that drive visitors from a distance are a huge part of the tourism puzzle but in a lot of cases, the businesses get hit hard for one or two days and are limited by the amount of staff they can have on-hand – which may be just them, if for the rest of the year they aren’t seeing many people on a daily basis. Our priority is to support projects that have a long shelf life AND have the capacity to drive increased visitation. When a destination has that in place, it makes it easier to support a large one-day festival, especially if they can get information about the stakeholder-led experience to their visitors. Festivals are a great way to introduce a visitor to the community, having an established compelling experience at the ready is how we get them back.
One of the things that the evaluation committee looks at is potential ROI against the budget. The average day visitor spend is approximately $75 per person and overnight is just over double that. If your budget is $100,000 and you are expecting 1,000 people, the amount you are spending on the project isn’t going to even cover the expense outlay. We fully understand that for many projects, especially festivals and events, there is no “cost” for people to attend and the budget is made up of donations. With the province looking for a positive ROI against the investment it makes with CCT, we have to ensure that the projects we support have budgets that are less than the economic impact they will realize. And for all of the above, we are talking specifically about the economic impact from people who travel more than 40km each way. So, for the above example, if the budget was $100,000 and the event brought in 10,000 people, of which 1,000 traveled more than 40km each way, the cost per “visitor” is still $100. That is not to take away from the fact that it could be an amazing event or festival, it just does not support the visitor economy. It would, however, be great for community vibrancy.
So, with all this in mind, and knowing that we wanted to support as many stakeholders as possible, we created a scoring matrix which allowed us to provide stakeholders a portion of their request based on the score. Utilizing that, we then have to pick a cut-off score when the funds are fully allotted. What this means is that out of the 45 projects that submitted their projects, we were able to financially support 35 of them rather than 19. It is still not ideal and we really appreciate the understanding from both stakeholders who didn’t receive as much as they hoped for and, particularly, those that didn’t make the cut. But, because the stakeholders reached out to discuss their projects with their Industry Relations Manager, we are now able to determine how else we can support the great experiences they are creating. There is marketing support, communications support, research support, and networking support just to provide a few broad strokes. We really are here to assist, even when we can’t provide direct funds.
And there is still hope! The Federal Government recently announced $108M over three years to support tourism growth. I have been in contact with FedDev Ontario and continue to pester them on details. The best I have gotten is that they hope to roll something out in the fall, which may be retroactive. I provided them with our partnership program in hopes that they emulate it. The staff that work at FedDev Ontario were amazing partners to us, and through us to you. I believe that we proved through the Tourism Relief Fund that we have the capacity to support the administration of Federal tourism programs that run through FedDev and truly hope to enter into discussions with them about how we could be part of managing the smaller contracts within our region. As soon as I hear, you will hear.
I know this wasn’t a crazy anecdote or one of my many soapbox moments, but the entire staff thought it was important to explain how we are trying to mitigate the oversubscription of our partnership allocation so you have a better understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. The conversations we have had during the evaluation process have been passionate and heartfelt. We love that you are investing in your business and your community and wish that we could assist everyone financially. So please, don’t be discouraged. Please keep talking to your Industry Relations Manager about your project. Take advantage of all of the free programs and supports we have in place. And never lose your passion for your business and community.
Have a great day!