It’s time to talk about tourism

Apparently, Councillor Joe Halos isn’t afraid to poke a hornet’s nest.

That’s what he did Wednesday morning during a committee of the whole meeting when he bluntly told his fellow councillors tourism isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“We don’t need any more people; we have so many we don’t know what to do with them,” Halos said during a discussion about the town funding the Apple Pie Trail with a grant approaching $6,000.

Earlier in the meeting, Halos had expressed similar views.

“We’re overrun with tourists. I doubt we need to do any more advertising to attract people.”

While I support the concept of a tourist economy in general, Halos was expressing sentiments that badly need to be debated in a comprehensive and rational manner. As well, he spoke for many people who likely feel they never agreed to live in the middle of such an onslaught of tourists.

The Blue Mountains isn’t the only local municipality and region wrestling with this issue. Residents of the Bruce Peninsula, in both of its municipalities, are also struggling heavily with the issue.

The peninsula and The Blue Mountains are the focal points for the tourist debate, since both regions have some of the major tourist attractions in the Grey-Bruce region. The peninsula has Bruce Peninsula National Park, while The Blue Mountains, of course, has the ski resorts. Add in major beach destinations nearby such as Wasaga and Sauble beaches, along with Tobermory and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, and it’s no wonder people flock to the area.

About 20 years ago, I was living on the Bruce Peninsula while working as a reporter. At that time, I had a great deal of contact with tourism people in the area, both at the municipal and county levels.

That was when serious efforts to begin attracting Toronto tourists were beginning to take shape. I’m not sure how many of those people working in tourism are still around, but I know there are a few. I wonder how many of them would remember I frequently asked how many people they wanted to attract and what we – meaning residents – were supposed to do with them once they arrived.

I wasn’t the only one expressing such concerns, but mostly the questions were ignored in the rush to bring more people in, since more people meant more money injected into the local economy, and that was the bottom line.

That was around the same time, of course, that Blue Mountain Village was being constructed intensively. I remember some people expressing similar concerns, but again my perception is that they were mostly brushed aside as minor inconveniences.

At the time, my perception of tourist officials and planners was that they didn’t stop to ask whether they should attract more tourists and what the impact would be. All they were concerned with was how to attract them.

Now that those efforts to expand the tourism economy has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations in both locations, the effects of having what is arguably too many people coming to visit are coming home to roost, and people are beginning to question the value of the approach.

Residents and organizations on the peninsula have been holding some public meetings over the last several months to discuss the situation. Some interesting ideas have been broached, including charging an admission toll simply to visit the peninsula in a bid to control the numbers of people flocking into the region.

At the national park, day visitors must now pay for a pass that will let them into popular areas such as the Grotto for four hours at a time in designated periods in a bid to control congestion.

I’m not happy with that idea, although apparently it has been somewhat effective.

It’s been two years since I’ve visited the park, due to the heavy influx of people.

I no longer spend much time at Blue Mountain either, for the same reason.

I will be the first to admit that I detest crowds, especially for outdoor activities and attractions, but there are times I find it simply hard to move and breathe comfortably in these locations.

Many people are starting to question whether we are providing an acceptable quality of experience to our visitors, and I would have to say that, no, we are not. Do we really want visitors telling friends “hey, the Blue Mountains was great, but damn it, there was just too many people?”

A public discussion, similar to what Bruce Peninsula residents are doing, needs to happen in The Blue Mountains, and as quickly as possible.

Halos’s questions about whether we need more advertising to bring even more visitors into the region are valid and on point. I’m fairly sure I know that many residents will be in full agreement with him.

On its own, tourism is not a bad thing. The pressing question is how we want it to evolve to best suit the needs of the public. More doesn’t always equal better.

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