Despite some doubt it could carry on after losing provincial funding, the Sunset Country Tourism Association has shown little sign of slowing down.
When the province announced it no longer would fund grassroots tourism associations, the local SCTA had to scramble to come up with the more than $100,000 shortfall.
By substantially increasing membership fees, it was able to continue with most of its promotional programming—and members stuck with them despite the fee hike.
“It’s going well, we’re keeping in the game,” said SCTA’s executive director Gerry Cariou. “We had to make a significant membership increase but we netted about the same number of members.
“We lost some but we gained a few.”
The membership fee jumped from $90 to $150 for “root members,” which include the hotel, lodge and resort owners who make up more than 60 percent of the SCTA’s membership.
“There is no [provincial] money. We are running on self-generated revenue,” stressed Cariou. “Last year from the province of Ontario, we got $165,000.”
The province changed the structure of the region’s tourism industry in early spring by letting go of grassroots tourism associations to be replaced by fewer large-scale organizations such as the Northern Ontario Tourism Marketing Association in Thunder Bay.
Although some funding is channeled to Sunset Country through the Northern Ontario Tourism Marketing Association, the lack of big bucks from Queen’s Park has made it a challenge for small-market associations, Cariou said.
“I do believe it was a mistake because the grassroots is very important,” he argued. “I’ll give the government credit, there is more funding through than there ever has been, but it’s the way it’s been done I don’t agree with.
“We all need to work together and stop fighting among ourselves, certainly,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Sunset Country was set to launch its summer tourism guide today, which will be dispersed across Canada and the U.S. to promote Northwestern Ontario and the SCTA’s members.
“Tourism in Northwestern Ontario depends on a strong U.S. economy. Our members almost exclusively draw on an American-based market—that’s our gravy,” said Cariou, who added most members saw a slight increase in business this year.
With three full-time staff, one part-timer to cater to its 18 directors, and 440 members, the SCTA’s staff has been busy. But Cariou said the fact businesses continue to renew their memberships despite the fee increase and funding cut is a sign they’re doing something right.
“We have had 400 members that have been paying a fee since 1974,” he noted. “It’s a good association—Sunset Country sells the sizzle of Northwestern Ontario and our members sell the steak.
“We want to deliver results and get butts in beds.”