Tourism Modification Project to assist in recovery of local tourism sector
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Work is underway, with the initiation of the Tourism Modification Project, to assist in the recovery of the local tourism sector for the area of Sioux Lookout, Dryden, Pickle Lake, and Ignace. “The primary objective of the project is to support the local tourism sector by helping operators find new and innovative ways to sustain and grow their businesses, in light of the tremendous negative impact of COVID-19 and its related travel restrictions,” shared the Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s Economic Development Manager, Vicki Blanchard.
Blanchard mentioned in a COVID Tourism Modification Project report to Council that fishing is a main tourism driver during the summer months in the Northwestern Ontario region, and its success is largely dependent on clients from the US market. The report stated, “The need for this recovery project was identified shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when lodges were shut down by the government, as with other non-essential businesses.” The report further added, “The spillover effect of lodges operating at minimal capacity was also felt largely by local small businesses who supply the lodges and their visitors during the tourist season months. One tourist lodge spends approximately $140,000 at small businesses in Sioux Lookout each season, not inclusive of tourist spending.”
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s Terms of Reference document for the COVID Tourism Modification Project identifies the major expected outcomes and benefits of the initiative, “This project will identify areas for modification in order to accommodate to new COVID-19 regulations, educate owners, train and attract a workforce that is willing to work in the new conditions, and identify what adjustments and renovations will need to be undertaken.
“A virtual charrette will be held to collect feedback, and will be open to all stakeholders, including federal, provincial, and municipal representatives, tourism organizations, and lodges. A project manager will be hired to develop a toolkit, based on the feedback from the charrette that will support building capacity in the tourism industry. It will also produce a business model which will educate and advise lodge owners on how to proceed with their operations, in light of the pandemic.
“By combining direct stakeholder feedback gained through the charrette, and the regional analysis the project partners will be able to ensure that final project outcomes are directly aligned with the needs of operators. The goal of the project is to develop processes and guidelines for tourism operators to use in modifying their business models in light of the pandemic.”
With the project planning having started in early 2020, the Municipality shared that the initiative is expecting to be launched within the next few weeks. Blanchard shared that this project will focus on research, development, stakeholder consultation, development and presentation of a charrette (an engagement tool), industry best practice identification and training/module development, new business model development, identification of alternative revenue streams specific to northwestern Ontario, and a final report.
The Municipality’s Terms of Reference document for the project mentions that this pilot project is a regional initiative that will set the narrative for change by addressing the gaps and opportunities to meet the new demands both for the traveler and operator. It further states that by combining direct stakeholder feedback gained through the charrette and the regional analysis, project partners will be able to ensure that final project outcomes are directly aligned with the needs of operators.
Blanchard shared that the following criteria were outlined as part of the project’s Request For Proposal:
- Understanding of the Sioux Lookout region and the resource-based tourism industry
- Input from the project partners
- Evaluation of industry
- best practices
- Evaluation and assessment of areas for training
The project has been made possible with monetary donations from several partners. The project report to council states that the project has received a $10,000 conditional grant by Destination Northern Ontario (DNO), $5,000 conditional grant by The Northwest Training and Adjustment Board, $2,500 by the Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s Economic Development department, $40,000 conditional grant by FedNor and $40,000 conditional grant by Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC).
Sunset Country and Patricia Area Community Endeavor (PACE) will further contribute to this project in the form of marketing, communications, and industry knowledge.
The report mentions that a partnership has been formed with DNO for this project to be the first step of a phased approach in the building of a pan-northern program that would naturally lend itself to be further developed and carried out by DNO. The development of this resource in partnership with DNO and Norwestario Travel Association Inc. will also benefit many other businesses in Northern Ontario.
The Municipality’s terms of reference document states that this project complements the priorities and efforts of Norwestario Travel Association Inc. of focusing on working with the government to develop a safe border re-opening strategy and can occur in parallel to ensure there are tools, and operators are prepared to modify their business as required to implement the practices in the 2021-2022 operating years.
“NOHFC programs were paused due to COVID-19, and recently new programs were launched,” shared Blanchard. This caused a delay in approving $40,000 FedNor funds that relied on the approval of Northern Ontario Heritage Fund’s (NOHFC) $40,000 contribution. However, Blanchard concluded, “We still anticipate the successful completion of this project. We continue to work with our funding partners to secure the required resources. Additional resources, when secured, will assist with product development and implementation.”