Tourism is maturing in Guelph

There are many positive outcomes expected from the City’s investment in Prosperity 2020, the community’s economic development strategy that was completed in 2010. 

In my opinion, the core outcomes expected are:

  • Jobs – we have established 67 jobs for every 100 residents as a job rate target for our city (we are currently doing a little better than this).
  • Non-residential municipal tax assessment –a healthy non-residential tax base relative to the residential tax base ensures Guelph remains affordable for homeowners (current trends show non-residential municipal tax assessment increasing).
  • Diversification – a good mix and balance of employment sectors enhances the resilience of our local economy especially during economic downturns (we are currently more reliant on the manufacturing and education sectors for employment than we would like to be).

Tourism is one of the strategic directions identified in Prosperity 2020 meaning there is an opportunity to grow this sector and contribute to our job rate target, grow non-residential municipal tax assessment and diversify our job market amongst other benefits.

This is not new. Tourism was identified as an opportunity for our community in a previous economic development strategy. This led to a Tourism Strategy being commissioned about 10 years ago.  I recall that one of the key recommendations from that Tourism Strategy was for the municipal government to take a significant risk in developing a new tourism destination – a science centre for life sciences.

And therein lay a fundamental question that has yet to be fully answered – what is the appropriate scope of the role of a municipal government in tourism and what is best undertaken by the industry?

The City has several interests when it comes to tourism, including:

  • We have an interest in economic development - Tourism has been identified as a strategic economic development opportunity as described above.  We just held a very successful Economic Summit, in collaboration with the County of Wellington and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, to revisit the assumptions and conclusions we made 3 years ago.  During the day, Tourism figured significantly in the discussion.
  • We are a destination – Our city is a destination for visitors (e.g. downtown, arts and cultural events, University, Church of our Lady, sport tournaments).
  • We have facilities that attract visitors – The City owns several tourist destinations (e.g. River Run, Sleeman Centre, Guelph Civic Museum, Market Square, Farmers’ Market, sport facilities) and has an interest in attracting visitors to these facilities.
  • We make community investments – The City invests in organizations that attract visitors to our city through our Community Investment Strategy.
  • We market tourism opportunitiesGuelph Tourism Services, part of the City’s Community and Social Services, markets tourism opportunities in Guelph and Wellington County with over 125 partnerships with tourism stakeholders.  Guelph Tourism Services operates the Visitor Information Centre and is responsible for providing marketing materials and services.

Our capacity to support tourism and attract visitors to Guelph has matured significantly over the last decade.  A quick look at the Visit Guelph website confirms this.

And as a community, we should be ready to go further.

During the development of Prosperity 2020, it was discussed that the oversight of tourism management might be better placed outside of municipal government. That is why one of the immediate priorities of the strategy was to define an effective tourism management model for Guelph in the context of a larger Regional Tourism Organization.  Regardless of the model, the City would remain an active partner because of our many interests in tourism (see above).

Council is issuing a challenge to the tourism industry in Guelph.  Is there appetite in establishing a community-based and industry-led tourism management model?

The Province of Ontario has established 13 Regional Tourism Organizations:  “Regional Tourism Organizations are independent, industry-led, not-for-profit organizations. They plan an important role in supporting competitive and sustainable tourism regions. Each organization provides regional leadership and coordination and works with industry partners to grow tourism through activities like strategic planning, research, product development, training, investment attraction and marketing.”

Guelph Tourism Services is a local destination marketing organization focusing on developing tourism at a sub-regional level and partners with our Regional Tourism Organization.

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