Think about some of your favourite places to visit, be they small towns or bustling communities. What is it about these places that draw you to them? For many, it is the welcoming environment, the sense of place and the feeling of community they find there. In other words, they have a vibe.
“When it comes to creating vibrant communities, ones where you can see yourself setting down your own roots, it really does take a village,” says Chuck Thibeault, executive director of Central Counties Tourism, a not-for-profit company dedicated to developing, supporting and promoting tourism in Durham Region, York Region and the Headwaters tourism region.
“When a community is working together to provide amazing experiences for visitors, the residents also benefit. They get to experience the festivals, events, art, theatre, trails and walking tours for themselves. They get to enjoy unique shopping in their downtowns, where the staff know their neighbours and make recommendations. They get to feast on amazing foods and drinks that are sourced locally. And, in many cases, those businesses are only solvent because of the money brought in by visitors.”
Many of the communities within the Central Counties region have developed and continue to implement Community Tourism Plans (CTP). At its heart, a CTP sets out to answer one fundamental question: What does tourism success look like in your community? A working group comprised of municipal staff, businesses, art and culture organizations, sport associations and at least one long-time resident sets out to answer that question and then determine the goals and actions required to achieve the success they have defined.
“The reason that we want at least one long-time resident is because they are the litmus test for the plan,” Thibeault says.
“The biggest hurdle when it comes to a community growing and thriving is often a NIMBY [not in my backyard] mentality. By having residents be part of the process, they understand how the plan is going to benefit them as much as the visitors and businesses in town. In many cases, they become ambassadors, changing other residents’ perspectives along the way.”
This doesn’t happen overnight. CTPs usually span three years and Central Counties Tourism works with the municipalities every step of the way. Each year, they work with municipal staff to build out an action plan and budget to continue to grow vibrant destinations, which also increases pride of place for residents. Purposeful investment has led to some great new products, which have been enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. A few examples in the region include:
- Community patios in Schomberg and Aurora;
- Historic building and public art walking tours in Orangeville and Uxbridge;
- A farm-to-fork tour in East Gwillimbury.
Another benefit of a community tourism plan is new investment. Uxbridge has had a plan in place for over five years and, according to Thibeault, “they have really embraced it. They work together, which has been bringing in more visitors. This has led to the opening of two new cideries, which are an incredible addition to the community.”
Two more cideries recently opened in neighbouring Scugog, which also has a CTP in place. They are all working together with other businesses to create unique, compelling experiences.
Understanding the role of the visitor economy on the vibrancy of a community is vital for residents. “When you do move to that new town you loved so much when visiting, hold onto that feeling you first had and continue to share it with your friends, family, neighbours and even the guy looking lost on your main street,” Thibeault says.
There is nothing better than seeing a community through the proud eyes of the residents who call it home.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio . The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.