By the end of last summer, downtown Gravenhurst had seen devastating fire, rain and practically brimstone as four businesses were levelled while at the same time main street construction all but severed traffic to the core.
Muskoka Road has now long been paved, the lots cleared of rubble and this summer brought an incredible amount of sunshine to bask down on local festivals and events, including both the town’s and RMS Segwun’s 125th birthday celebrations.
Conditions were prime for a busy season and it seems to have worked out that way.
“We saw at least a 10 to 20 per cent increase in traffic for the events we hold (annually),” explained town community events facilitator and marketing assistant Amy Taylor. “But we also held a lot of new events this year and we saw about another 6,000 come through for those that we wouldn’t normally see.”
Taylor said traditional summer festivals and events like the classic car show in June, the classic boat show, Piratefest and Ribfest were up in attendance over previous years, but new events, like the Thursday night cinema under the stars, the Splash festival and the two 125th birthday celebrations (for the Segwun and the town’s incorporation), really helped draw crowds.
“A big part of it would be the new events, a part of it would be the incredible weather we had this summer,” Taylor added. “But it was certainly a good year in terms of drawing traffic.
“We’ve even been contacted already by a series of other new event organizers about coming here next year, so it’s been a very encouraging year,” she added.
Danielle Millar, general manager for the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce, said she conducted an informal canvass of local merchants, and by most accounts, it was a positive season.
“It will always come down to who you talk to, but overall the consensus was there was a definite increase in traffic this summer, especially with all of the special events this year,” she explained. “Just about every weekend this summer there was a major event or festival in town.”
She said the tactic this year for the chamber was to attend each of the events and festivals, handing out marketing and tourism materials to the bevy of tourists who attended. Events like Steamship Festival and 125th anniversary of both the town and the Segwun drew thousands to town.
“We tried to be very proactive and to be present at all high-traffic locations,” she said.
The chamber office is also responsible for running the town’s tourism information service, and that operated seven days a week this summer.
“We were very busy at the desk, no question about it,” Millar said.
According to Millar, the chamber upped its tourism and business guide printing from 20,000 copies to 30,000 this year.
“With that 30,000, we’ve only got about as many as we usually have left with 20,000 and we expect October to be a big season still and I think that’s also a great indicator traffic was up here this year.”
She said the Bethune House’s traditional busy season comes in October, when upwards of 2,000 tourists can visit each weekend.
“I can only speak personally, but we had a great summer; it actually started out a little slower than usual, but we really went over our expectations,” said Judy Terry, chair and treasurer for the Gravenhurst BIA as well as owner of the Muskoka Bay Clothing Factory on the main street. “People told me they avoided the main street last year and this year they were coming back. I was delighted.”
She, too, added that September and October could add to the summer success.
“I tend to see a lot of the European tourists here in September and October can be very good,” she added.
Terry said the BIA’s implementation of a sidewalk sale during the new Splash festival “was a huge boon to traffic for all of us” on the main street and added the organization plans to add another in for summer next year.