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Tourism potential of Centre Wellington could be enhanced by signs, Wi-Fi: officials

by Mike Robinson

ELORA - Additional signage and downtown Wi-Fi in select locations are part of a proposed package to enhance tourism in Centre Wellington.

Deb Dalziel, Dave Beynon and Greg Wolowich, along with RTO4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4) representative Napier Simpson made the pitch to Centre Wellington council on Sept. 18.

The group updated councillors on Elora and Fergus RT04’s “Destination Next” project. Its mission is “To become Ontario’s idyllic experience showcasing our natural setting, heritage towns and arts and culture.”

RTO4 identified Elora/Fergus as one of the key tourism assets in Waterloo, Wellington, Perth and Huron.

Centre Wellington partnered with RTO4 to develop a strategic plan for sustainable, managed growth of tourism as a key contributor to Centre Wellington’s economic growth and residents’ quality of life, said Simpson.

The process identified key aspects and competitive advantages that Centre Wellington has in the tourism sector, as well as gaps and deficiencies.

A series of workshops with stakeholders was held in 2015-16 to develop a plan for tourism growth and to engage the community in both planning and executing the strategic vision.

Simpson said research indicates “Elora and Fergus are significant destinations, but they are also destinations which are pulling way below their weight ... and there is a massive opportunity for both Fergus and Elora to shine far more brightly if we were to work more on destination development.”

Simpson said the Destination Next project aims to improve the area’s appeal as a tourist destination through community engagement, enhanced marketing and improved product offerings.

He said from an RTO4 perspective, the organization will spend about $400,000 as it completes its three-year mandate next year.

Simpson added the hope is the process will be continued for an additional three years to complete the next phase of the project.

“Phase 1 was all about building the local network with the community,” he said.

He explained the next phase builds upon that work to enhance destinations.

He said the current phase of work involves the various action committees formed to pursue initiatives identified to enhance Elora and Fergus: its spectacular natural setting, rich cultural heritage landscape and dynamic arts and culture.

Over the last six months project team members have been meeting regularly to amplify projects which improve the visitor experience through various committees:

- heritage and natural assets;

- increasing the tourism product offering;

- festivals and events;

- accommodation quality and capacity;

- wayfinding and signage; and

- community support.

The presentation is to give an update on the direction of the committees and some of the projects that have undertaken.

However Simpson added “we’ve just dipped our toes in, and there is a lot of work yet to do.”

Telling the story

Through discussions within the committees, and a partnership with RT04, became immediately clear of the need to improve communication/storytelling to better establish the connection between the assets and tourists and residents alike, said Beynon.

He added story boards will provide greater awareness of the location and the historical significance.

Beynon agreed there are storyboards which already exist throughout the township, identifying snippets of information of local heritage.

“But to fully leverage our natural and heritage assets, we are looking at taking storyboards to the next level.”

Beynon explained this would involve placing storyboards in the two communities and relating them to each other.

Proposed locations for these new storyboards would be in Victoria Park, the greenspace and Bissell Park in Elora.

In Fergus, potential locations include Beatty Foundry/Marketplace, Pig Bridge (Templin Gardens) and the weigh scale building.

Beynon described the new signage as being adaptable - through the use of screw-on elements.

He explained signs would include the rectangular information panel, township logo and “you-are-here” map.

However, with attachable elements, each sign would be capable of announcing upcoming events such as the local studio tour.

“As things change, items can be updated at minimal cost,” Beynon said.

Dalziel added, “This has been an exciting project for tourism” - notably the community involvement.

360 Google project

Some of the work thus far includes a Google 360 project that allowed a six-business pilot project to raise its profile on Google Maps with an expanded profile along with exterior/interior photos.

“It is a new digital marketing tool,” said Dalziel, who noted that since then, at least another ten businesses have expressed interest in the project.

She spoke of the recent purchase of a water buggy to provide water at local events.

The Destination Animation Fund was launched in February 2017 and awarded funds to six applicants who created new or improved events.

Examples included Twilight at Templin Gardens, Rappelling and Riverfeast, Festival Faire, Bissell Quick Paint Competition, The River is Calling: a celebration of the Grand River, Canoes and paddles, and Celebrating Celtic Culture.

During discussions, the Festivals and Events committee recognized there was a need to have a meeting to answer questions related to improving festivals and events in Elora and Fergus.

One result of discussions is a proposal to host the Elora Writers’ Festival on the same date as the Elora Festival’s annual book sale.

Downtown Wi-Fi

Wolowich spoke on the issue of enhancing Wi-Fi opportunities in downtown Elora and Fergus.

He noted the township already does offer the public Wi-Fi within township facilities and added there is a signal accessible if one parks next to the tourism office on Mill Street.

“But the idea is to expand this into some of the more public spaces.”

He said the benefit allows others to share the experiences of the downtowns and its people via social media.

The locations selected include enhancing the signal at the tourism office, near the West Mill pumping station. In Fergus, Wolowich said the idea would be to offer something in the area of Templin Gardens and the walking bridge.

“These locations were picked because there is already township fibre optics in the area ... which is a much cheaper way of getting the infrastructure into place.

Dalziel said the process has allowed the discovery of the assets the area should be promoting and marketing through the community.

She said the Wi-Fi and storyboards are important projects to consider - “to provide a sense of arrival, and a gateway to provide information to visitors, and ensure they have the best experience when they arrive.”

Dalziel said “the stories being shared digitally and socially are what are capturing the interest of visitors coming into the community.”

Councillor Mary Lloyd recommended consideration of Wi-Fi locations in Bissell Park in Elora and Victoria Park Seniors Centre in Fergus.

Wolowich commented this was a phased approach to offer Wi-Fi.

Councillor Steven VanLeeuwen asked if the Wi-Fi signal could be beamed down the main streets of Fergus and Elora as well.

Lloyd added, “Tourism is a very important economic stimulant in the community.”

 

September 22, 2017

 
 

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