Ray Spiteri / Niagara Falls Review
There’s a perception among many in south Niagara that their opinions often get overlooked when meshed with those in larger cities such as Niagara Falls and St. Catharines.
A new destination marketing organization wants to make sure that no longer happens.
Politicians and business leaders representing five municipalities unveiled Niagara’s South Coast Tourism Association Thursday evening in Ridgeway.
Among the roughly 200 guests and dignitaries were the mayors of Fort Erie, Welland, Port Colborne, Wainfleet and Pelham — all sporting “one-of-a-kind” custom shoes showcasing their communities.
A video was shown highlighting activities and experiences from all areas of south Niagara.
“This is a culmination of three years of work and three years of research to find out how best to advance tourism and meet the needs of consumers in this part of Niagara,” said association volunteer chairman Stephen Thompson.
“A number of municipalities have already committed funds this year. It’s anticipated that the others will come on board based on their budget cycles. Individual businesses have also come on board as members.”
Thompson said the goal of the association is to expand the southern area as a “true tourism destination.”
“We want to bring more visitors and dollars into the local economy through co-operative marketing and co-operative initiatives,” he said.
“We want to increase awareness within Niagara, as well as across southern Ontario and western New York, that opportunities exist along the south coast.”
Thompson said the association is not a duplication of services, although the province, in 2010, created 13 regional tourism organizations across Ontario to boost tourism in its respective areas.
One of the organizations became the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, which receives $3.5 million a year from the province — about $2 million for advertising.
“It truly does dove tail and go hand in hand,” said Thompson, who is also on the board of the Tourism Partnership of Niagara as a volunteer.
Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin said rather than each municipality fighting for attention, the new association will allow them to "get together as one unit.
"We're all in this together — singing from the same choir book," he said.
And that's important, said MPP Kim Craitor, who admitted sometimes there's too much of a focus on the larger Niagara communities when it comes to tourism.
"My job is to help you because you will need funding," he said, adding the five municipalities are willing to "do it as a unified voice.
"That's the key when you're dealing with Queen's Park."
Robin Garrett, chief executive officer of the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, was one of the speakers Thursday night at the Sanctuary Centre for the Arts on Ridge Rd.
Garrett said the new association will not perform the same functions as her group.
“We look for partnerships and collaboration with all of the local (destination marketing organizations),” she said.
“There's a role to play for everyone. There’s lots to do. We, at the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, have a leadership role — we set a regional strategy and turn to the DMOs and local businesses to assist us in building that funnel of information that we can pass on to the consumers.”
Garrett said tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
“We want to tap into that market. We have a wealth of tourism assets here in Niagara, including along the south coast and we can use all the help we can get to continue promoting those assets and develop new signature experiences around them.”