By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County council has decided the county will close its tourist information centre along Highway 35 in Minden at the end of the year and that’s OK.
Actually, it’s a good, progressive decision.
The decision to shut the facility, which for years has been a pitstop providing maps, brochures, friendly conversation and an all-important lavatory, has elicited some blowback in the community.
Face-to-face contact upon arrival in the Highlands is important, critics say.
People, not all of whom are tech-savvy, need somewhere to find information, say others.
There are ways to provide those things, ways that don’t suck up 15 per cent of the county’s tourism budget.
According to the county’s tourism director, of 3,700 walk-in visitors to the info centre last year, 30 per cent – nearly a full third of all visitors – were there solely to use the washroom.
Really let that soak in.
Excluding the salary of the county’s tourism information clerk, who will continue to work out of the county office and in the community, the county paid about $62,000 to operate the centre in 2015.
That is nearly 15 per cent of the department’s total budget. Excluding the folks who stopped at the centre for the sole purpose of relieving themselves, the cost per customer interaction equates to $23.58. That’s $23.58 to hand someone a map, versus the fraction of a penny it costs per customer impression through online platforms.
It is 2016. The vast majority of travellers have done their research and made their bookings before their trip. They have done so using their computers and smartphones.
It would be different if the information centre was a grand, timber and stone building, a facility that was a tourist attraction in itself.
But it’s not.
The tourist centre building looks like someone misplaced their garden shed along the highway.
It looks like a burger shack without the burgers. It is a glorified outhouse.
And a costly one.
The money saved by closing the centre will be freed up for marketing purposes that will enhance the county’s resonance with its target market in the GTA.
As for the hands-on touch, the face, somewhere to go . . . that is where the community, the businesses and residents of Minden, can step in.
It doesn’t require much work to keep Haliburton Highlands promotional materials, maps and brochures at one’s office.
We do it at the Minden Times office, often giving advice and directions to those unfamiliar with the area.
I’m sure this happens at plenty of other businesses as well.
Washrooms can be found at a multitude of businesses along the Highway 35 corridor.
The information centre has served its purpose, but in the digital era, is a relic becoming increasingly irrelevant and which no longer makes economic sense for the municipality.