The County of Prince Edward may be moving towards installing a destination and marketing arm that operates at arms length from the municipality but is finding opposition along the way.
Council received a deputation from Greg Klassen, tourism consultant at of Twenty31 Consulting on December 14th. Klassen spoke to the council regarding the municipality’s upcoming transition to a third-party destination and marketing management organization.
Klassen noted they are already in Stage 2 towards a development and action plan, having already gathered and analyzed the issue at hand in Stage 1.
Klassen is former president and CEO of Canada’s national tourism and destination management organization, Destination Canada.
“I was brought on by the County to look at the possibility of a transition from the current organization that manages tourism services into an arm’s length organization,” explained Klassen. “Now, the word management is a new style of organization that has only been in effect the last five or ten years and most management has come into play simply because many destinations have experienced significant growth in terms of tourism.”
Klassen explained the creation of tourism management organizations is done to control the various positive and negative outcomes associated with a high level of tourism.
“This (tourism) comes with some very great outcomes, more revenue, visitors etc., but we have some significant negative externalities because many of these visitors are also over burdening regions, leaving behind garbage, causing vehicle congestion, as well as environmental/community degradation among other things,” said Klassen.
Klassen stated management organizations, such as the one proposed for the county, are one response to the significant challenges posed by tourism but are also able to support tourism, given the economic benefit of tourism.
With tourism proliferating the world over, Klassen explained he was able to study other areas facing similar issues and apply that theoretical framework to create a plan for the county.
“Tourism growth has happened everywhere across Canada. Also, tourism growth has been significant around the world,” he commented. “The theoretical framework has been borne out by international associations that are making strong recommendations based on their own theoretical frameworks and many destinations are following suit.”
Though each destination is unique, offered Klassen, there are others like the county who have experienced over tourism in a unique, fragile location.
“I looked at case studies of a number of destinations that look similar to the county. No other destination will be exactly the same, but looking at other destinations that have been overburdened, who have unique and fragile places that are over touristed, I identified they too have transitioned to a management style focusing on marketing but also on external challenges that face management,” Klassen explained.
He further suggested one question to consider is how visitors could be dispersed throughout the year, as opposed to encouraging a high volume during the traditional tourism months of July and August.
“A lot of tourism in the county is public good,” Klassen emphasized. “The external challenges facing this area really do effect residents’ quality of life…that was the point, to suggest that management of this opportunity and management of challenges is best achieved through an arm’s length organization with reference points to the area but with an opportunity to be more independent in its decision making.”
Presenting a picture of an inclusive organization that encouraged input from various community stakeholders, whether that be those in the tourism industry, cultural institutions, provincial parks, or residents’ associations.
Councillor Janice Maynard pointed out there were no residents’ associations in rural areas, per say, but that there is a silent majority who has been affected by tourism.
“In your presentation, you talked about the role of residents’ associations, and I was going to talk about the role of those who may be negatively impacted by over tourism,” said Maynard. “In rural areas, there are very few resident associations that would be able to bring those views together. How then do you give a voice to the silent majority?”
Klassen replied there is room for residents to have their say, regardless of whether they’re part of an association or not.
“Usually, with the silent majority, there’s one who has a louder voice. This organization would have a role for a residents’ association or a resident with a strong voice who could play a role in the board,” he said.
Richard Barrett, Chair of StayPec, spoke in opposition to the municipal plan to transition to a third-party destination market and management organization.
Stay PEC is a grassroots organization that represents accommodation providers. According to their website, their membership boasts a combined 1,000 beds throughout the county. They also promote tourism, and reportedly are interested in helping to shape the future of tourism in the area.
“I represent StayPEC, the county’s only preexisting marketing entity that, as per MAT legislation (municipal accommodation tax legislation) is entitled to a portion of MAT revenues. For those who are unaware, StayPEC started in 2018. Before MAT, we were self-funding by voluntarily charging our guests an extra 2 per cent.”
Barrett continued to express his dissatisfaction with the municipality by pointing out StayPec had indicated they wanted a leading role in the formation and governance of a tourism industry owned destination marketing organization. This was back in March and, as Barrett pointed out, they did not hear back from the municipality until November.
“In March this year, we indicated we wanted to play a leading role in the formation and governance of an industry owned destination marketing organization for the county,” explained Barrett. “We wanted to begin having a conversation about the best model for this organization. Unfortunately, the municipality was not interested in having this discussion and was not interested in weighing the pros and cons of an industry owned versus municipally owned destination marketing organization. In February 2021, we were told municipality lawyers were drafting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the county and StayPEC. We finally got to see this draft 9 months later. It was not what we were hoping for. Instead of a multi-year collaborative agreement, StayPEC’s draft MOU provided for a one time payment of $100,000, providing we sign off in any future eligibility for future funding.”
Barrett decried this move by the County, stating StayPEC is entitled to a far higher percentage of the MAT.
Furthermore, stated Barrett, StayPEC’s lawyers have informed the group they are entitled to a minimum of $104,000 per year as long as the MAT is in effect and that, as their membership grows, their portion of the MAT grows.
“It would seem the legal advice the County is getting is very different than that of StayPEC. It would be very unfortunate for all of us if we had to litigate the matter to determine who was right and who was wrong,” commented Barrett. “Wouldn’t it be much better for everyone if we all set aside our differences and planned to work together to come up with an amicable working relationship? We both have similar goals, we want it to be responsible, strengthen the local economy and provide stability and do what is necessary to avoid over tourism.”