Greater Napanee was officially welcomed under the umbrella of the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board (BQRMB) on April 1.
Council entered the memorandum of understanding with BQRMB at their March 23 meeting, signing on for a one year cost of $24,632.60, which breaks down to $1.55 per capita of the town’s population. The deal runs from the start of this month to March 2022 and the per capita funding will be revised in 2022 when new census figures are expected to be released.
Funded by member municipalities, the BQRMB aims to attract tourists, residents and employers to the region. Greater Napanee joins the City of Belleville, City of Quinte West, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Municipality of Brighton and the Quinte Home Builders Association.
Members of Greater Napanee council have discussed joining the BQRMB at various points over the last decade. In the past the town has relied on the Chamber of Commerce and Lennox and Addington County to promote its tourism. In discussing the opportunity to join the BQRMB at council, the need to kick-start a recovery in the wake of COVID-19 was a major talking point.
“We wanted something that was special and just targeted to our people here,” said Greater Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester. “Greater Napanee, at this point in time post COVID, needs to be able to get a good, firm plan together and Bay of Quinte Tourism certainly was something that would fit the bill that was already up and going and has partners that we link with now.”
At the request of council, BQRMB executive director Dug Stevenson made a presentation earlier this year to highlight what a partnership could offer.
“It was awesome to have them reach out and start that discussion,” Stevenson told the Beaver last week. “Our board loved that idea as well and when you look at what we’re trying to do, which is to promote a region that’s pretty unique in the fact that it’s rural in nature, we’ve got a lot of green space, we’ve got excellent waterfront, strong downtowns. So Napanee as a community just fits in part and parcel to that.”
Stevenson said welcoming Greater Napanee to the fold was the perfect compliment to Brighton, which joined in 2019.
“Now we feel like we’ve bookended the Bay of Quinte with Greater Napanee on that east side,” said Stevenson. “I think it really strengthens our regional offering. At the end of the day we’re up against a lot of bigger and more wealthy destinations. We’ve got to try and compete, even if we look at Kingston to the east, they’re coming in with probably 2-3 million bucks, our budget all told doesn’t even reach a million. So for us to compete we really need to work together. I think what this Greater Napanee partnership does is expands our portfolio because they’ve got strong assets and it just makes us that much stronger as a region.”
To mark the new partnership the BQRMB held a ‘Staycation Sweepstakes’, offering $500 worth of a one night stay at a local accommodation in Greater Napanee, with gift cards to local businesses. In keeping with COVID-19 protocols, the contest is open only to residents of Greater Napanee. The contest, offering through their Facebook page, runs until April 8 at midnight.
With COVID-19 still very much a factor heading into the summer, the main focus of this year’s campaign will be an industry term known as substitution tourism.
“That family that used to go to New York every summer or that couple that used to do a trip in Montreal every August, that’s being substituted for staying closer to home at this point,” said Stevenson. “We are a couple of hours away from about eight or nine million people. That’s not a bad demographic to get to choose from. We saw it last summer, we had a very strong and safe summer here. The city folks, Toronto, Ottawa, were here in numbers. Quebec was even here in numbers. And we had zero travel related cases.”
Stevenson says he’s optimistic for a strong tourist season based on last year’s numbers. He points to national hotel data, which says Bay of Quinte had the lowest overnight occupancy loss (nine per cent) across the entire county. The national average was 34 per cent loss.
For the winter months, Stevenson says they’ll look to build on Greater Napanee’s reputation for holding major sports tourism events such as the 2008 National Women’s U-18 Hockey Championship and 2012 Canadian Junior Curling Championships, among others.
“One event can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Stevenson. “I love that about Greater Napanee as well. What a reputation. They’ve hosted curling, they’ve hosted some big hockey stuff. The reputation alone is a good thing.”
Attracting visitors is one mandate, but working to convincing outsiders to relocate to the region is also part of the deal.
“What you’re starting to see is more and more destinations like ours, doing both, tourism and resident attraction,” said Stevenson. “One begets the other. If you can bring somebody here and show them how amazing it is because of what it has to offer, and then you tell them the price tag. You’re going to have a much stronger ability to get them to live here. At the end of the day, it’s the folks that live here that pay the tax base, the foundation of the community.”
Isbester said the new partnership would work in tandem with the Naturally L&A campaign that is run by the county.
“Certainly we have benefitted greatly by Naturally L&A,” said Isbester. “We’ve been very dependent on them and they’ve done a wonderful job and they have for the whole and entire county. But council felt that this was something that was needed that would be more targeted to Greater Napanee.”