Columnists — 11 April 2012

By Sarah Campbell, MPP Kenora-Rainy River

Last week our region’s tourism industry was blindsided by the news that the three provincially funded Tourist Information Centres in our region would close permanently this spring.

This decision is unacceptable, misguided and needs to be reversed immediately and I am fully committed to fighting this decision using all means necessary.

The Ministry of Tourism and Culture defends the decision by arguing that visits to the centres are down and that the ministry wants to move to online tourism marketing.

The problem with this reasoning is that the Northwest doesn’t yet have the the infrastructure in place to support such a move. Businesses, residents and tourists alike do not have the reliable or universal access to high speed internet that is required to participate in, and benefit from, online marketing. As such, there are still many businesses in our region that do not have websites, and if they do, they may not even work in low speed internet areas.

Whether it is fishing, hunting, canoeing or camping, we all know that, by and large, most of our tourism in the Northwest is nature-based, and in places that are inherently difficult to obtain internet or cellular services. So even with the advent of cell phone ‘apps’, this does little to help market tourism.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how strong the argument is in favour of moving to online marketing for tourism, if we lack the basic infrastructure to access it. We also have to remember that not everyone owns an iPhone, iPad or laptop or even knows how to use them. Does this mean that we should give up on these visitors? What kind of a signal does it send if there isn’t anyone to greet them once they cross the border to offer directions or welcome them to our country?

Call me old fashioned, but there is something to be said for greeting someone personally with a smile, a sense of humour and the offer of assistance. It makes them feel welcome.

Tourist camps and outfitters keep northern businesses alive both in our local communities and in regional hubs such as Thunder Bay. Tourists visit our restaurants and stores and camp owners themselves are known to invest thousands of dollars per week in our regional economy.

This decision will be a disaster not only for our region, but northern Ontario as a whole. I have raised this issue in Queen’s Park and I will continue to raise it until this decision is reversed. So far I have met with the two Thunder Bay MPPs as well as a number of other northern MPPs and my offices are circulating a petition to reverse this decision. We all need to get involved. For more information on what you can do to help please call 1-800-465-8501 or email scampbell-qp@ndp.on.ca.

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About Author

Chris Marchand is a native of Dryden, Ontario. He served his first newspaper internship at The Dryden Observer in 1998 while attending journalism studies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C. He's worked desks as both reporter and editor at the Fernie Free Press as well as filled the role of sports editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Marchand was named editor of the Dryden Observer in Aug. 2009.

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