Supporting local tourism makes a difference

Niagara has long been known for its tourism.

There is, of course, the Horseshoe Falls, which draws millions of visitors from across the globe each year. No tourism slouch itself, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s picturesque Old Town, vineyards stretching across the municipality, well-regarded Shaw Festival, and culinary experiences delight visitors every year.

But it’s an industry that needs support, and those involved with tourism say recent funding announcements by the federal government through FedDev Ontario — albeit not totalling millions of dollars — is exactly the kind of thing that can go a long way to ensuring a vibrant tourism industry doesn’t just stay vibrant, but grows.

“We decided to invest in the people of Niagara because we believe in them,” Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly told reporters following a Monday announcement of federal funding for three local projects.

The funding announced Monday totalled $334,000, and Joly said she was confident that they’d see a healthy return on investment.

Groups receiving money include the Grape Growers of Ontario, which will get $250,000 to help run its International Cool Climate Wine Symposium next July, $50,000 for the city of St. Catharines to launch GoSip Niagara, and $34,000 for Exchange Brewery to enhance its Sourpalooza festival.

While Robin Ridesic, founder and CEO of Exchange, said the money they’re receiving isn’t an eye-popping amount, it’ll help bring more visitors to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“It’ll attract a new demographic of tourist to Niagara,” she said, adding that fans of sour beer tend to be younger.

Investing in Niagara’s craft beer industry could give the region a leg up.

“It’s an opportunity to turn Niagara into a beer mecca,” she said.

Debbie Zimmerman, CEO for the Grape Growers of Ontario, said the wine symposium will be huge for Niagara’s tourism and wine sector.

“It’s a real coup for us,” she said. The symposium runs every four years, and next July’s weeklong event will be the first time it’s taken place on Canadian soil. It’ll attract 600 delegates from around the world, including Australian Brian Schmidt, a Nobel Prize winner.

About 13 million visitors come to Niagara each year, supporting 40,000 hospitality and tourism industry workers, according to federal government numbers. The Liberal government’s tourism strategy, which it launched last year, calls for the creation of 54,000 more tourism jobs in Canada by 2023; it also has targets of increasing revenues by 25 per cent by 2023. The strategy prioritizes, among other things, supporting rural communities, increasing tourism during shoulder seasons, and culinary tourism.

“We know we have fantastic craft breweries and winemakers. We have fantastic product,” Joly said, adding that one-in-three tourists make their trip decisions based on food.

“Canada must be better known for its gastronomy.”

With international visitors concentrated on Canada’s three major cities — Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — the strategy calls for an increase of one million tourists visiting outside those three communities.

by Luke Edwards, Niagarathisweek.com