By Don McCormick
The recent open house for public consultation on the run route for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 Muskoka race once again provided an opportunity for the public to raise their concerns relating to the triathlon and other such events in our town.
Having worked for 25 years to help build the Muskoka Triathlon to the highly successful event it is today and to position Huntsville as one of the premier triathlon communities in Canada, I feel compelled to respond.
The following would be typical of the sort of concern being expressed: “I don’t know why we have to have these triathlons. Oh sure, the restaurant and motel and resort owners and gas station operators make some money, but I don’t benefit from it. For me, it’s just an inconvenience. The roads are restricted on race day and I’m dodging cyclists on the roads all summer.”
Without question there are some inconveniences on race day but let’s put that into perspective.
Like it or not, Huntsville is a tourist town. The development of tourism in Muskoka was almost inevitable. The natural beauty of the area—clean and abundant lakes and rivers, extensive forests, rolling hills, dramatic granite outcroppings, and so on—provided a tranquil escape from the busyness, congestion and noise of the city.
And the city dwellers started escaping to the resorts and cottages of Muskoka from very early on. The proximity of Muskoka to Canada’s largest concentration of people—the Golden Horseshoe—provided local businesses an opportunity to capitalize on this phenomenon and the tourism industry in Muskoka, and Huntsville, was born. Over time a very large and complex tourism infrastructure has been developed.
“The tourism industry in Muskoka is, by far, the District’s largest industry and employer,” claims Muskoka Tourism in its report on the Muskoka Assessment Project. “No other sector in the region comes remotely close to creating jobs and labour income than tourism does.” Hard data is difficult to generate to prove that claim but even a modest ‘guesstimate’ by consultants would indicate that tourism and cottaging accounts for about 50 per cent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 20 per cent of the jobs.
Who gains from the tourism industry? To answer this it is first very important to distinguish between direct and indirect benefits.
Those businesses that provide a direct service to tourists—resorts, hotels and motels, restaurants, gas stations, retail stores and so on—benefit directly. A modest estimate of the amount of money that these visitors will drop in our community would be $500,000 to $1 million. And, since this an annual event, that amount comes into the community every year.
But, if you don’t make your livelihood in the tourism industry how do you benefit? Well, in fact, your job is probably indirectly affected by what goes on in the tourism industry. A healthy and vigorous tourism industry generates jobs and income for builders, electricians, plumbers, architects, draftspeople, surveyors, lawyers, real estate people, land developers, hydro and telecommunications workers, doctors, nurses, lab technicians, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, administrators, the entire wholesale and retail sales sector, and so on. There are probably few sectors of the economy in Huntsville that are not affected by what is happening in the tourism industry.
So, it is simply not true that you don’t benefit from the tourism industry. We all have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy and vigorous tourist industry.
But tourism is changing dramatically. Every other country, province/state, and community in the world now understands the benefits of tourism and are aggressively trying to attract tourists. Your friends and neighbours are now traveling to tourist destinations around the world that we never imagined we would visit only a couple of decades ago.
If we are to maintain a healthy local economy—from which we all benefit—we have to be even more aggressive about attracting tourists to Huntsville.
But why does it have to be triathlon?
The Ironman brand is one of the most powerful brands in the world. If you put an Ironman logo on anything it flies off the shelf. If you want to attract 5,000 people to your community, run an Ironman race. Athletes will come from all over Canada, all over the US, from several European countries, and even from Central and South America and from Australia and New Zealand.
And if they are well received, and they have a chance to experience the Huntsville and Lake of Bays area, and they get to participate in a well-run race, they will sing our praises to their friends back home and there is no better way to promote anything than by word-of-mouth. That kind of promotion would cost millions if you tried to do it with the traditional means—TV, magazines, newspapers, internet websites, and so on.
I have experienced that. I have raced in England, in Australia, in New Zealand, in the US and across Canada, and the Huntsville World Championships of 1992 are still talked about and that makes me very proud of my community.
So, yes there will be inconveniences. But relative to the value of getting people into our town, of having them experience all the great things available to them, of having them experience the friendliness and helpfulness of our volunteers and citizens, of giving them so many reasons to want to come back and to bring their friends, it is a very small price to pay.
So, it is in all our own best interests to shrug off the inconveniences of a few hours a year and to offer a friendly and welcoming face to our visitors. You are the best promotion vehicle for Huntsville’s tourism industry.
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