By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County will close its tourist information centre along Highway 35 in Minden at the end of the year.
County councillors made that decision during a Jan. 27 council meeting.
At a tourism committee meeting Jan. 13 tourism director Amanda Virtanen presented members with options regarding the future of the centre.
One was to leave things as they are. The second was a relocation of the centre. The third was to close the centre at the end of April.
Of the 3700 walk-ins the centre had last year nearly a third of those people were there solely to use the washroom. Excluding the salary of the tourism information clerk the centre cost $62000 to operate last year.
Excluding the visitors who came just to use the washroom Virtanen said this meant the cost for each customer engagement at the centre last year was $23.58 versus the .0003 cent per customer cost of each digital consumer impression the county makes online.
“Would we ever spend $62000 on an ad that reaches 3000 people?” Virtanen put it to committee members.
The plan to close the centre caused concern among members of a tourism stakeholders group that makes recommendations to the tourism committee.
Comments from a Jan. 20 stakeholder meeting submitted to council stressed the importance of face-to-face interaction and bed and breakfast operators said they sometimes get last-minute business from people who stop at the info centre looking for a place to stay.
“This issue has raised a lot of concern in the community” said County Warden Carol Moffatt who said the decision was one of council and added that Virtanen had taken undue flack from some members of the public. “For the public to be unfair to a staff member for something she is not responsible for is not appropriate.”
“There’s obviously been a lot of reaction to this . . . some of it’s knee-jerk and heartfelt” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen who suggested extending the closure date of the centre until the end of the calendar year.
The county’s tourism information clerk will work out of the county office on Newcastle Street in Minden and Virtanen pointed out the closure of the centre will give her more time to be out in the community helping with tourism initiatives.
“The tourist information clerk can be of assistance out in the community if she is not tied to that building” Virtanen said.
Councillors were comfortable with the closure of the centre a concept they seemed to agree is outdated and not worth the money it’s costing the municipality.
“It’s way out of sync on a value basis” said Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin. “What we’re talking about here is metamorphosis. We’re going to do a better job. We’re going to change it but we’re going to do a better job.”
The county leases the Highway 35 building from the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce.