BRACEBRIDGE - There’s nothing to do in Bracebridge.
The sentiment was shared by members of the town’s brand development committee during an April 17 general committee meeting, after Coun. Mark Quemby asked its members to outline the general response of respondents who took part in a branding survey earlier this year.
Committee members Allison Dawes and Mark Hvasti said the survey’s 520 respondents could not agree on a direction for the new brand, but most agreed the town is in need of more things to do.
“One of the absolute top comments was there’s nothing to do in town,” said Dawes. “Overwhelmingly people didn’t know what to do, they were running off in all different directions and there was a big pregnant pause of ‘nothing to do here.’”
Hvasti said many respondents also felt there weren’t many options in town when it came to entertaining visiting guests.
“We entertain them at home or they left town,” said Hvasti. “Where do you go for nightlife? Huntsville. These were the kinds of commentaries we got.”
Having spent two decades managing the Bracebridge Travelodge hotel, Hvasti said he’s also seen first-hand the challenges of not being able to give visitors something to do in town.
“People go to Santa’s Village, and the very next question either that night or the next morning was ‘now what?’” he said. “You really had to think about ‘where do I send these people now to keep them here for another day, to keep them spending money in town?’”
Suggestions received from survey respondents revealed some surprising trends on how some locals felt the town should be rebranded.
“Bracebridge Falls actually got triple the responses that Santa’s Village did,” said Hvasti. “The historic downtown got a lot of positive comments.”
The town began efforts at an image makeover in 2011, after hiring marketing expert Roger Brooks of Destination Development International to find new local marketing opportunities. The result was the creation of a new brand aimed at economic development and job creation, which envisions Bracebridge as a centre of learning in Muskoka. It is estimated that the rebranding will take between three to five years to implement.
The branding effort has an accompanying brand promise statement. It envisions Bracebridge as “the steward of the cottage country brand,” which teaches “the world the power of living the Muskoka lifestyle in its spirit, the arts, food, home and recreation.”
However, the town’s branding initiative has also drawn fire from a number of local residents, who criticized its direction and the $75,000 cost of a special “branding camp” held in late February — most of which was paid for through FedNor funding.
Coun. Liam Cragg remains optimistic of its prospects.“I like the brand that’s been developed, I like the way it’s giving the community a focus on their marketing,” he said. “It’s inclusive of just about everyone, (everyone) can use a part of it.”