Perth County tourism has a new focus: Perth County.
“I want to make sure we're really focused on the county, focused on the assets and experiences we have to offer, and the businesses that offer those opportunities,” Sarah Franklin said Thursday as she neared the end of her first week as the county's new tourism specialist.
If that sounds all too obvious, one needs to understand that for the last dozen years the county has reached out to tourists by financially supporting the Perth County Visitors Association, a separate entity that also promoted the communities of Stratford and St. Marys.
“They had a very successful 11 years and they did a great job building up the programs that they did,” said Meredith Forget, Perth County's economic development and tourism coordinator. “But council felt it was really important that we focus on our four member municipalities and our assets instead of trying to be everything to everybody.
“(And) they felt it was really important that we unite together with a common goal to bring people to Perth County, whether it's new business, residents or tourists.”
As far back as 2012 the PCVA board expressed concerns to the county about the organization's long-term sustainability. The county was pouring more and more money into the organization annually -- $135,000 in 2016.
Following a review of the PCVA requested by council in 2016, four options were suggested, including one supported by council to merge the operation with the county’s economic development division. The PCVA dissolved on Dec. 31 and the money the county is saving is now directed to staffing and program development.
There were 141 applicants for the tourism specialist position and Forget said that Franklin stood head and shoulders above the rest. The Stratford resident has a master's degree in economic development from the University of Waterloo and worked with Forget's predecessor, Kristin Sainsbury, on the county's labour market strategy initiative before moving on to work at the Perth Community Futures Development office.
“Sarah's knowledge of Perth County, her experience with running marketing campaigns and dealing with several different stakeholders at the table were huge assets,” said Forget. “There were great applicants and we interviewed several, but Sarah was our star.”
Franklin said her previous experience has made her very familiar with the region, which she calls “definitely one of the best places I've ever lived.”
“People are very welcoming, and the lifestyle and opportunities within the region are tremendous,” she said. “I haven't had a chance to experience everything in the short time I've been here, and I don't for a minute think I know it all. That's why I'm going to lean on my local resources, get to BIA meetings and talk to people who live here and know their favourites in the region because they can tell the stories best.”
A plan to place information kiosks around the county, as a replacement for the now-closed PCVA visitors centre in Shakespeare, has been put on hold for 2017. Promotional material will be distributed at county businesses, municipal offices, and tourist hot spots, as well as at ONroute locations and border crossings.
“I think there's a great opportunity to extend people's stays and get them out into the region as a whole,” said Franklin, mentioning a range of visitors from American theatre-goers to residents of neighbouring counties looking for stay-cations. “There's lots of affordable experiences that people from all areas of life can enjoy.”
A popular motorcycle tour of the county called the Forbidden Ride, developed by former PCVA general manager Cathy Bieman, will be discontinued.
“We're hoping to run a signature event of some sort in 2017,” said Franklin. “I think we have some opportunities to branch out beyond just that segment of the population and figure out something that's unique for the region.
“I don't think as a rule we want to be event planners, but I think it's important for us as the face of tourism to support a big event that could potentially be a large draw to the area.”
Original article can be found here: http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/2017/01/21/perth-county-putting-more-focus-on-member-municipalities