THUNDER BAY, ON ---- February, 4, 2011 --- An open letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, regarding the demise of Remote tourism in Northern Ontario.
Dear Mr. McGuinty,
Do you want to be the Premier that presided over the crippling or death of Remote Tourism? I didn’t think so. MNR Minister Linda Jeffery however, doesn’t have a problem with that and is busy making the funeral arrangements.
She and her ministry staff will not listen, not even to your staff. The issue is simple. Your government is insensitive and completely indifferent to the demise of Remote tourism in spite of more than a year of meetings that have all said the same thing .. We need help!
Have you or anyone in your government ever wondered why Tourism hasn’t collapsed during this punishing recession while forestry did? Forestry lost their customer base and therefore their revenue. Ditto for tourism. A whooping 50 - 60 % drop in revenue over the last four years.
Typically Remote Tourism businesses are family affairs, so when the bottom fell out of the market, tourism was able to adapt quickly because families were willing to work for nothing or maybe more accurately, had no other choice to survive. Operators, by and large, cannot live on what they make, so many have other jobs. We are still puzzled by the $6 million roads grant to forestry. A colleague of mine commented, “ 6 million dollars for a dead industry! how insane is that?” why doesn’t anyone in government care about us?
Here’s the heart of the matter
1. Land use permits are the authority we have to locate and operate our Outpost Camps on crown land. The rent on these non-deeded parcels of land has increased by 800%! In a previous letter I outlined to you how your MPAC people determined an appraisal price based on road accessible recreational land. See the problem already? They had no idea how to value rental properties. How accurate do you think those assessments are? Those of us in the industry saw it coming but had no idea of how much and when. I don’t think anyone would disagree that an increase was justified but no one asked our opinion or how and when it would happen. We after all, would be the ones paying.
2. NOTO is an organization funded in part by the MNR to represent tourism’s interests. That is to say, interests that do not disagree with MNR policy. We, the AWOA (Armstrong Wilderness Outfitters), have teamed up with our counterparts in the Kenora - Atikokan, North Central Algoma region, Chapleau and Sault Ste. Marie areas to represent ourselves because NOTO, ( who represents less than 20% of all northern tourism), refused and I mean refused, to take our concerns and constructive suggestions to MNR. It should be noted that we were members of NOTO but as members we were never petitioned for our input. Thanks to Northern Development, we presented a discussion paper that addresses all of the issues, while providing a revenue increase for the Ontario Government. Truly a win - win. You can hardly blame us for being absolutely deflated (read angered) by Toronto government people who were completely indifferent. Your government’s attitude just doesn’t make sense. Your top bureaucrats don’t care. They don’t care if Ontario’s Remote Tourism is World Class or not or even exists for that matter because nothing will change at 66 Wellesley St. Queens Park.
3. So what is the problem?
The problem is one of timing as far as money is concerned. We have, so far, barely endured the worst business year ever to hit Canada.
The perfect storm came in the form of :
- a devalued American dollar.
- approximately a 50% drop in occupancy, and if that wasn’t enough,
- new government drinking water regulations and boating licences, and outdoor card paperwork.
- job loses
- an 800% rent increase!
To put it in plain English, we’re all going broke!! Some faster than others.
4. So what is the solution?
* an incremental rent increase.
* modernize the LUP classifications.
* revise the camp surrender policy.
* re-evaluate industry consultation
* place tourism management with Tourism
Note 1: MNR’s job description is to manage the provinces resources for sustainability. That is a serious conflict of interest with Tourism.
Note 2: Many tourist people I know make a very modest living. When the day comes to retire, their future income is provided by the proceeds of selling their holdings. But wait. The LUP rent has just increased 800%. The recession has devalued those same LUP’s by at least 50%. Business is so bad many cannot afford the new rent increase. Sadly, there is no one to buy these LUP’s at any price.
Here’s the dilemma. The present MNR surrender policy says: clean up the site, remove the improvements on the land - or - pay. The solution for many I have been told, is to burn their camps to the ground because those camp owners will be charged if MNR has to clean the site on their behalf. So who wins now? Perhaps the question should be, does anyone care to put a human face on this policy.
These are the difficulties Ontario’s Tourist operators are experiencing now, but more importantly, what about the future. That is really where we need to be looking. Therefore, the real question is,` is succession financially viable?’ If it isn’t, then what?
In many areas of Northern Ontario, the tourist industry is the only industry left to support the smaller communities after the collapse of the forest industry. Many of these towns survived, indeed flourished because they had both forestry and tourism, but now struggle with a single industry which may also collapse without assistance. As you know, many families have already left the province to seek employment elsewhere putting further strain on the provincial tax base.
The larger communities of Kenora, Thunder Bay, Dryden or Sault Ste Marie are more reliant on our remote tourism than they would care to admit.
Tourism is the single driving force that brings US or domestic travelers back year after year after year. Period!
In conclusion, a short story
In the fall of 2010 we received a late booking from a family of four from Rochester Minnesota. As described to me, this is how the trip went. They arrived in Thunder Bay. Rented a hotel room. Went to the mall and bought the kids some souvenirs and last minute supplies for their vacation in Armstrong. They visited the Amethyst mine and bought more souvenirs. Checked out. Fueled their vehicle, and headed north on highway 527. Checked in with their Armstrong Outfitter. Bought dinner in Armstrong. Visited the general store for more supplies. Fueled their vehicle. Bought more treats for the kids. The next morning they boarded a float airplane and flew into our wilderness paradise for seven days.
This is the same story repeated over and over again and city governments and most mayors take it all for granted not realizing the real reason the people came in the first place was for Northern Ontario Tourism.
Mr. McGuinty, we have a genuine chance to fix the present and prepare for the future. All we need are some farsighted people who understand that business is like a money machine. Keep it well oiled and maintained and it will produce forever, Jobs - Jobs - Jobs. Without the ability for operators to re-invest in their business, we will be doomed and we are almost there. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you in an attempt to fix this mess.