Chamber hopes to take over Carnegie in 2013
GRAVENHURST - The Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce is geared up to get moving on 2013, literally and figuratively as they seek a new home and look to build on a very successful 2012.
Chamber general manager Danielle Millar said the organization has approved its operational plan for 2013 and one of the main components is to relocate its increasingly busy visitor information services, Service Ontario and chamber offices to the core of downtown and expand on marketing, programming and hopefully membership.
Speaking with council Nov. 20 to kick off the chamber’s 2013 fiscal year, she said 2011-12 saw a major jump in their role as the tourism information providers for the town and a busy slate of festivals and events helped draw an incredible amount of attention to the town.
“That tells me there is considerable potential and that people are using the chamber as a resource for reasons why to come to Gravenhurst,” Millar said.
Millar said there was a large increase in visitor information service requests this past year, due in large part to Internet inquires. She said between May and October of 2012 alone, the chamber handled more than 9,000 inquiries total, all specifically related to tourism and events. She said the chamber also expanded its reach this year by setting up a rudimentary booth at most festivals and events around town to hand out marketing materials and be available to answer questions.
Because of the increasing demand on the chamber for tourism services, Millar said they have sent a funding application to Muskoka Futures for the purchase of a mobile visitor information and tourism kiosk to be able to expand even further on their marketing potential.
But beyond that are the major plans brewing with the town to see the Service Ontario, chamber and tourism information services moved into the Carnegie centre beside the opera house.
“We’re working really hard with council and staff to find common ground so it’s a feasible move for the chamber and to facilitate the town’s need to upgrade (the building); we’re getting very close,” Millar said, adding if the plan comes to fruition, there would be the added potential to have year-round, four-season visitor and tourism information services right in the heart of town. “It’s an investment in the economic stability and growth of our community.”
She said some of the overall priorities for 2013 will be to “build confidence and develop a sense of community for all Gravenhurst businesses.”
“We’re working at altering the perception that the Gravenhurst chamber is a retail-focused organization,” she added. “We want to make sure that different projects and initiatives we’re working on acknowledge all the viable, important businesses that don’t necessarily have a storefront.”
Millar said increasing town exposure, marketing, providing more training sessions and workshops, increasing tourism and member networking will be key strategies for the next year as well.
Part of that will be the introduction of a series of round tables to “really try and understand our membership, areas of growth (and) what opportunities there are,” Millar said.
“We’re also working on a project for January where we’re bringing together tourism and attraction partners and bringing in consultants to focus on Chinese tourism marketing,” Millar said. “We’re starting small; if every domestic Chinese tourist who visits Gravenhurst coming to the Bethune House spends $20 more per visit, the economic development potential of that is over $800,000 annually into the community.”
More traditional events like Business After Hours, member seminars and skill-focused training will continue through the year while signature events like the Santa Claus parade on Dec. 1 celebrating 59 years, the Dockside Festival reaching more than 20 years in operation and the annual car show and shine celebrating its 20th anniversary will remain as the key anchors.
“Those three (signature) events attract over 15,000 visitors and residents annually,” Millar said, adding the impact of those three events is about $1 million to the town each year. “We’re working hard on expanding those and increasing that economic impact.”
In order to branch further afield, Millar said this year, as part of a new and focused four-season visitor guide, the chamber will create a complete municipal map.
“It’s going to focus on activities and points of interest throughout the community,” Millar said. “I feel like this is going to be a really strong collaboration with the town; it will include trails, it will include boat launches, public beaches, lake points of interest and municipal services that are important to visitors, seasonal residents and local residents.”
Millar said the chamber has been meeting and will continue meeting with council through the next few weeks to come to a lease agreement for the Carnegie facility. She added that there is a chance FedNor funding could be available as well to help update the building for tenancy.