“It’s been a fantastic year,” said Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce president Doug Campbell in his opening remarks to the 50-plus members in attendance at the Chamber’s recent annual general meeting.
Faced with huge losses a couple of years ago the Chamber was forced to make some tough decisions. They sold their building, they changed the way they support community events and they started a community marketing initiative. It is that initiative that has Campbell proclaiming it a ‘fantastic year’.
The goal of the community marketing initiative is to support economic growth by increasing visitation and visitor expenditures through the promotion of Huntsville and Lake of Bays as year around destinations, with a focus on shoulder seasons and the desire to not impact the environment. Events such as Girlfriends’ Getaway Weekend and the Muskoka Maple Festival were created to support this goal.
Last year the Chamber spent $137,500, money raised in part through community partnerships, on the initiative. According to a report distributed at the AGM, the community marketing initiative had a huge impact on the Chamber’s social media efforts. Facebook campaigns saw an increase of over 1300 per cent in the number of users reached, jumping from 270,984 in 2015/16 to over 4 million in 2016/17. The number of website visits saw a huge increase as well, going from 39,379 to 150,638. Most of the traffic was derived from the Huntsville Adventures Facebook page.
There are some challenges facing the Chamber this year as well. They have to vacate the office space they have been occupying in Town Hall to make room for municipal election planning. However, Kelly Haywood, Executive Director for the Chamber, said that as long as council is amenable they will continue to operate tourism services in the former box office in the entrance to the Algonquin Theatre where, she said, they had thousands of visitor inquiries last summer. They do have to look for new office space, though, and Haywood said they have been looking in the area of Highway 11 or Highway 60 where traffic patterns are very high.
The goal is to capture the traffic that is going around Huntsville and draw them into Huntsville. Our intention is to find a location where there is better visibility for our visitors. The goal certainly is not to abandon downtown. We will always have tourism services from a customer service perspective in the peak season but we would like to have more opportunity to engage visitors who are probably skirting around town and invite them in and make sure they are aware of upcoming events and all of our local businesses. It’s most likely that we will be looking around the stretch of where Farmer’s Daughter and 3 Guys and a Stove are. We have been working with a number of businesses along that route and we are trying really hard to formalize a deal. Our goal is to have something up and running for the summer season.Kelly Haywood, Chamber Executive Director
Another challenge in 2018 is boosting membership revenue. “The board has made membership our number one priority to focus on,” said Haywood. “We did see a decline in our membership a couple of years ago when the Chamber went through changes.” Haywood said the Chamber has seen membership numbers drop from about 700 at their peak to 530. The Chamber has hired Jennifer Jerrett to work as a commissioned membership recruiter. “We have a lot of great achievements and already in this fiscal we are seeing higher membership than we had anticipated,” said Haywood.
The 2018 slate of directors are – returning, Doug Campbell (President), Luke Nixon-Janssen (Vice President), Jerry Feltis (Treasurer), Scott Acton (Secretary), Jeff Suddaby, Jessica Brown and Rose Evans. New to the board is David Perlock.
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