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Make tourists pay? Not that easy.

Steve Campbell

Much to everyone’s dismay, I’m going to re-examine the effects of tourism, which created a firestorm of comments on countylive.ca.
I stayed out of the comments, as I resist getting involved in the blogs, which is the domain of other County people, to voice their opinions. The previous column was based on a letter by Dennis Fox, which appeared in The Picton Gazette. As the instigator of the conversation, he controlled most of the conversation on the blog, but to no clear resolution.

So I’ll step back in and try to assess what’s been said so far:
AGREED
1) Nobody disagrees with the fact that tourism pays, which was the point of the original column. Clearly, if you multiply 1,000,000 visitors last year by only $10 spent by each person, and end up with zero, it’s time you changed the battery in your calculator. So we’re agreed on that.
2) Tourists can be a pain. They drive too fast, they exhibit no common courtesy and respect for their surroundings, and they clog our streets. Also agreed. And agreed that it is a necessary evil which is, well, necessary for our economy.
3) Tourism is the Number One driver for large and small businesses in the County. Even agribusiness has joined in, to add an interesting – and truly County – invitation to the city-bound visitors, who think pigeons are ‘wildlife’.
I honestly believe everyone is OK with those basic truths.
The blog ran off in an unusual direction, and the self-proclaimed administrator of the blog demanded two things and, in fact, baited me to reply. So I will.
QUESTIONS
1) Give me facts on tourism money spent in the County, and
2) Why can’t we funnel tourist money into Shire Hall to pay for infrastructure, such as roadwork, considering Audis and Mercedes are known to pound the crap out of asphalt?

These seem to be the only bones of contention, so I’ll respond.
1) Gary Mooney checked in with factual information on road use, and his information was discarded. Councillor Steve Ferguson added a link to the County budget, to shine light on the money in/money out situation. Also tossed off.
So now it’s my turn, since I have been accused of not providing facts to back up my argument.
The answer is simple: THERE ARE NO FACTS! No-one anywhere has detailed financial figures on how much tourists spend, or even where they spend them.
To push the point: no person, no business, no councillor, no County staff, no officer of the province, and no-one in the eternally-large realm of the Kingdom of Heaven, can produce the facts that have never been recorded, are impossible to record, and so do not, in fact, exist.
Search for them all you like, but it’s a better bet that you’ll find the buried gold at the Sandbanks (which, by the way, is just north of the Outlet River … wait for the water level to go down, and it will pop right to the surface).

This same thought applies to the entire argument about tourism in general. How much does it help us? We’re alive. We survive. We don’t care.
2) As I mentioned in the previous column, why be so hot about getting money into Shire Hall?
No matter what you do to tourists: You can tax them, mug them in an alleyway, pickpocket them, charge them special tourist fees as punishment for being a tourist – how on earth can you translate their cash into infrastructure? Let’s break it down.
If you add an accommodation tax, you might assume that this money can be allocated to road repair. But that is simply not the case.
First, you need to create a whole new County department to monitor, enforce and collect those taxes, record them, and deposit them in a ‘special’ account. Already you are down money.
Why? Ask yourself to name every B&B, inn, motel and resort in the County. Do you know how many there are? Hell, no. I don’t either.
So searching these out, checking receipts, searching out cash sales … the enforcement department alone is going to be the size of Revenue Canada! There goes the money you gained in taxing/beating up tourists.

And I think this is a key point: Why send money to Shire Hall, when the benefits are already going straight into the hands of the people who provide service to visitors?
Does anyone think that ‘tourist money’ can be flagged for ‘infrastructure’. This is not how it works. All governments have a “Big Pot O’ Money,” and they spread it out as they see fit. Which is what we elect them to do. Some governments do it better than others.
Do you send your income tax cheque to Revenue Canada, with a sticky note that reads: “This is for road repair on Hwy 49 in PEC”?
Surely someone in CRA is going to say: “Darn that guy … we were going to give it to the National Ballet! But now we have to fix a road.”

The only system I’ve seen to track tourist dollars is in Cuba, where visitors need to buy ‘convertible pesos’. This is a different currency than the resident Cubans use, so those pesos can be tracked, to assess tourist expenditures. Of course, US dollars can be used ‘under the table’, but it’s illegal. And unenforceable.
The only remotely feasible plan that appeared on the blog was to add a surcharge to our Provincial Parks. With one million visitors, even a dollar extra would boost our County coffers.
Advantages: 1. Sandbanks is the only place in the County that actually records the number of visitors. 2. It is one of the few operations here that actually keeps record books on money flow. 3. It is run by the government, which at least pretends to play by the rules (unless it’s the Senate in which, apparently, anything goes).
Disadvantages: 1. The province likes to suck money OUT of pockets, and does not like to return it in any reasonable manner that might be beneficial to the people. Especially rural people. 2. They are not speedy with their cheques, so expect payment around 2030, by which time Highway 49 will be an ox-cart path.
Still, worth considering.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. H. Campbell says:

    Here’s my 2 cents:
    Every resident of the County, whether business owner or not, knows the effects of tourism here and whether or not he/she is benefiting from it. We also know that not everyone is getting their palms greased. It’s not a universally fair/equitable system.
    How can tourism be made more equitable? That can get tricky.

    Maybe it can be a fun brain teaser to try to figure that, maybe it could be a club that meets weekly with new ideas?
    For sure, where the tourist dollars should go, if anyone ever figures out how to track and systemize that, will be the subject of unending opinions. Good luck in arriving at a solution.

    Maybe the millions could go to a different local group each year, i.e. one year it becomes a rebate/discount on property tax, another year it goes to County Waste Water System so that it eases the mounting bills we get in the mail, another time it goes to all the food banks and shelters. Wow – There are many ways to apply the funds.

    In the spirit of the game, here’s a couple of options: charge an entry fee to every tourist vehicle crossing the bridge or the ferry entering the County & put that in one special account; or charge a small entry fee to every tourist entering the Liquor store (even at 25 Cents p.p. that would become a tidy sum per annum). I’m guessing one Chartered Accountant may be able to
    handle it.
    Then, again, we might need to hire a research group to figure it all out. Oops.
    Well, back to reality.




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  2. Quintin says:

    The taxing of tourists is a difficult one. I think many people are looking for the benefits who are not business owners. People find it difficult to see all the positives when town takes a long time to get through, or the grocery stores are slammed.
    What about a local sticker to post on your car and carry in your wallet? Allowing you a discount at places like the provincial park? Or other places. Whistler has it and it works really well. Those who are local receive a sticker for their car and a card for their wallet and they get special discounts. I think that would be a fair compromise. I think instead of trying to go after the tourists for more money, perhaps we should look at the provincial park who bring in many people and don’t contribute to any taxes or any assistance to the county. Even a significant discounted price to get in would be better than nothing.




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  3. Ken Globe says:

    It appears no answer will satisfy. Let’s get off the cross, we need the wood. At least we could sell it as campfire wood to the tourists at $7 a bag and send the monies to Shire Hall to disperse to the taxpayers of our fine County. 🙂




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  4. Marnie says:

    John, I believe that Dennis has asked a valid question. How does tourism benefit the average county resident? Since I am not a tourist operator or the owner of a restaurant or a winery, they are not putting money in my pocket. However they have created a traffic nightmare in the town where I live. It is almost impossible to find a parking space and some of these visitors appear to have no idea of how a cross-walk functions. They have changed the character of the community and turned it into Alexandria Bay. There is no going back and I am not “whining” as you put it. I am simply stating facts. While it is impressive that you know more about the history of this county that many of the locals this is also part of the problem. Visitors know more about us than we know about ourselves or so they think. They know how to fix our problems and happily tell us what we are doing wrong. Yet they still want to come here so we must have been doing something right. Maybe they should just stop whining and let us get on with it.




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  5. Dennis Fox says:

    There is a problem. Far too many have not read my original letter in the Gazette, which started this debate over a month ago and have no idea of what I said! I never said that I didn’t like tourists – in fact I said the opposite.

    To John Brebner – I know only too well the principles of market economy as you call it, but what is happening here in PEC is not any kind of organized economic process at all – if it were then it would have been very easy to show the taxpayers how they benefit from tourism. After a month, my question still has not been answered.

    “How does this community as a while benefit from tourism?”

    The money (tourists) spend here is no doubt helping a business owner somewhere – great I have no problem with that – BUT not one red cent of that money makes its way back into the municipal coffers at Shire Hall to help local taxpayers who are not in the tourist business – and yet part of our tax dollar goes to helping those businesses. This is NOT an example of your so called market economy – rather it is a rip off for most taxpayers! A very one way flow of money away from helping the taxpayers who have to pay for everything.

    If Council has no way of measuring the benefits, then how can anyone claim that we do benefit? Equally as important (for me this is the crux of the matter) – if there is no way to determine if tourism is benefiting the community as a whole – then why are tax dollars being used to promote it?

    As I have stated before, I can’t believe that such a simple straight forward question has created this amount of dialogue – GREAT is all I have to say and I think is it safe to say that we now know the answer to my question. But like many, I am moving on. Thanks to everyone for their input – it has been a lot of fun and very informative.




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  6. John Brebner says:

    Thanks for your comments. Marnie, I may be a “visitor” but I have been coming to the County and spending money her since 1970 when I lived in Kingston. I suspect I may know more about County history than many “local” residents. And I’m not just a “weekend visitor”.

    I recognize that there is an issue with the priorities of County spending, and that needs to be addressed by the residents. I do not presume to know more about local politics than you, but I would suggest that inasmuch as I have been reading about the ongoing problems of water costs, sewer plants and County Road 49 for several years, my instinct would be to do something to stop whining and do something to fix it!

    Accept the easy fact that tourist dollars are a major input into the County economy, and use your own community to better direct those monies for County improvements.

    John




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  7. Marnie says:

    You make some valid points Mr. Brebner but you over-reach when you presume to tell county residents to “get off their asses” and fix it and to “get over it.” You’re a weekend guest, many of us have lived here all our lives. It’s our home and when something needs fixing usually we recognize it and get to work. It may be a “no-brainer” to you but some locals still have concerns and have every right to express them.




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  8. hockeynan says:

    Very good John.nice to see one talk some sense




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  9. ADJ says:

    WOO–HOOO!! You the Man John!




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  10. John Brebner says:

    I have been following this long-running “discussion” about the benefits that tourism does, or doesn’t bring to the County.

    It’s a no-brainer.

    As a regular visitor to the County from Ottawa, I can easily provide some dollar figures for an overnight visit.

    Motel accommodation: $ 175 – 200 (can’t afford the Drake!)

    Gasoline: $55

    Meals and refreshments: At least one pizza in Wellington per visit; $25.00; (I hate to admit that this is so high!), but probably around $60; in an number of locally owned restaurants, bars and brew-pubs.

    And the argument that the County receives no additional monies from the provincially run LCBO is flawed. By purchasing locally produced wines and beers, the local owners of those wineries and breweries receive a direct cash benefit. And if the line-ups at the Picton LCBO is any indication, tourists contribute directly to the employment of local resident staffers.

    All these monies are directly supporting county owned local businesses. That’s over $300 per visit/per person. You do the math and see what even 100 overnight visitors in Wellington alone generate for the County.

    Multiply that by a modest 90 day summer season, and that is not inconsequential.

    I fail to understand how Dennis Fox has no concept of how a market economy functions. It’s easy.

    I’m a tourist. I visit the county and spend $300 per overnight visit. That money goes directly into the pockets, for the most part, of small business owners, who in turn use that money to support other County businesses.

    Now on the other side of the coin, if County government is unable to provide adequate services, such as the often-mentioned County Road 49 and the cost of water, that is not the fault of the tourists. That’s on the heads of local and provincial government.

    We live in a democracy… if you’re not happy about how your area is governed, then get off your collective asses and fix it, rather than this interminable and futile whining about whether tourism is a benefit to the County, or not.

    It is.

    Get over it.

    John Brebner




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  11. Gary Mooney says:

    Bill Roberts, Councillor for Sophiasburgh and Chair of the Community and Economic Development Commission, has published an op-ed in The Times this week on the subject of tourism. It’s well worth reading.

    The County’s economy is booming, and it’s mostly thanks to tourism, helped along greatly by the County’s promotional efforts. Driven for 15 years by new wineries, more recently by the Drake Devonshire in Wellington and several new County breweries. Soon, theatre development in Wellington and the Royal hotel and a culinary institute in Picton. New cafes, food trucks, restaurants as well, drawing people for field to table experiences. Expansion of visitor accommodations, growth of local tour companies, increased business for farm stands and markets.

    To be sure, all of this comes at some inconvenience to residents. But the benefit is a vibrant community with future prospects looking really good.




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  12. Gary Mooney says:

    I trust that people with some critical thinking skills can follow my previous post, even if Dennis can’t.




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  13. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – you continue to rise to defend a silent government. I believe that it is the responsibility of any level of government to be accountable as to how tax dollars are spent. You did too at one time when you and the community group you were with challenged not only the location/technology , but more importantly the amount of money the new sewage plant was going to cost. You guys fought that for over 5 years – and look at the increase in cost that created for the water user and yet no one challenged your right to do so. My point is, you held council accountable – why not now and what has changed?

    This current debate over tourism is not against anyone benefiting, but one of setting the record straight as how the expenditure of tax dollars benefits everyone – or not. Gladly I was was happy to see that you did not try to claim again that the links that you recently provided answered the question posed. Your response clearly shows that taxpayers don’t benefit from tourism, as you once said they did.

    Yes business does pay taxes, as we all do – BUT they also benefit from their tax investment into tourists promotions – which has prompted my question. The same question neither you nor anyone else apparently can answer…

    How does this community as a whole benefit from tourism?

    It is hard to believe that such a simple question has caused this amount of public input on CountyLive and out in the community. Then again, that was my original purpose when I wrote my letter to The Gazette. As I stated before, the longer this question goes unanswered the more important it becomes that it be answered with facts. I don’t believe my question is an unfair one to ask.




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  14. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, you continue to assume that “taxpayers” mean only residents, not businesses.

    Both pay taxes and so both are taxpayers, and both receive services from County government.

    Tourists benefit businesses, not residents (at least not directly).

    County government spends taxes paid by businesses to promotes tourism, which benefits businesses.

    If County government was spending a large portion of taxes paid by residents to support businesses, you might have a point.

    But based on my (rather cursory) review of money spent by the County on promoting tourism, after deducting grants and contributions by businesses, I don’t see that this is the case.

    It is not necessary that County government, or residential taxpayers, receive any benefit from tourists.

    Here are the financial relationships:
    County government residents
    County government businesses tourists

    The County has no direct relationship with tourists. It doesn’t provide services to them* and shouldn’t expect any taxes or fees from them.

    *Except local visitor services, under subcontract from businesses.




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  15. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – thank you for the links to the County’s slide show on economic development. Some encouraging signs, but nothing that really addresses the question that has been asked –

    “How does this community as a whole benefit from tourism?”

    As the pictographs show – lots of ads in magazines promoting the County, but nothing showing how the County’s residents benefit from their taxes being spent on everything from supporting both staff and council to the advertising costs to attracting tourists.

    It is not that I have asked an unfair question or one that is impossible to answer(as you and Steve Campbell claim I have) – the fact is no one at Shire Hall has bothered to think of a way to capitalize on the tourist trade that has been so hotly chased after by them. Imagine, having a system where the taxpayers benefit – WOW what a concept! And yet no one at Shire Hall wants to create it – instead they want to pretend the system is working and are happy to have it continue on as it is. A whole community plan has been developed on “assumptions” and yet no one can prove nor justify how taxpayers are benefiting? Even worse, no one wants to even have the question asked!

    Oh BTW – I did suggest a few possible ideas that may help address how taxpayers could benefit from tourists in my original letter to the editor – but it would require a bit of extra work on the part of both business owners and town staff. Unfortunately, some obviously believe it is just easier to have the taxpayers pay for it all and for everyone to stop asking questions – I don’t!

    Thanks again for taking the time to share council’s web site – but as usual it doesn’t address the question before us – How does this community as a whole benefit from tourism? I think it is safe to say that the answer is becoming very obvious.




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  16. Gary Mooney says:

    I’m providing a link to an infographic prepared by the Community Development Department, being presented to the Community and Economic Development Commission today. It provides info relating to housing, employment, population, services provided, projects underway, plus external interest in the County.

    I’ve also shown below a link to a 34-slide presentation that expands beyond the infographic.

    Infographic: http://tinyurl.com/y9ttzskq
    Report: http://tinyurl.com/ydz2rpbv

    Regarding tourism promotion, there is a list in the report of extensive “earned media” — free publicity in many publications, regional, national, international.




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  17. Marnie says:

    Mark, unfortunately this is true.




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  18. Mark says:

    Marnie; the County budgeted $125,000 for this OMB hearing on your dime or nickel!




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  19. Susan says:

    I have contributed generously… to something so important to our equal voter representation.




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  20. Marnie says:

    Go, Mr, Klein, but preferably on your own nickel.




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  21. SAB says:

    I see a number of responders giving written support but no financial support




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  22. Susan says:

    You go Mr Klein!




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  23. Mark says:

    Mr Klein deserves support to bring representation fairness to the County.




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  24. Ian says:

    Can I ask for a clarification in this debate?

    When you are all speaking of “tourists” are you referring to the people who camp at Sandbanks every summer? Or are you referring to the influx of new residents?

    It seems to me that, over the last 30 years, the former has been pretty constant but the latter has increased significantly.




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  25. Emily says:

    Thanks Dennis. We need to support Mr Klein in his valiant effort to correct what Council chose to ignore and failed constituents in providing fair representation at the horse shoe.




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  26. Dennis Fox says:

    For those of you who would like to support a local citizen(Pierre Klein) who is challenging the size of council at the OMB (July 19 -21), he is in need of some financial help – this is not a cheap endeavour, but a very worthwhile one. Here is a link to a funding site.

    https://www.gofundme.com/defending-pec-democracy




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  27. Susan says:

    Chuck makes the point. Taxes after property go to the Feds and Province. The two love the tourism boom. The Municipality gets left out of the equation and picks up much of the infrastructure cost and nuiances.




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  28. Olmanonthemtn says:

    Dave MacD – your right about the naysayer as to the benefits of tourism having the burden of proof to support their position. Even more of an issue is using the lack of proof to prove they are right. ps thanks for your understanding of my comment despite
    its unintended redundancy




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  29. Paul Cole says:

    The tourist benefit discussion/argument has been going on log before countylive.ca was even online. Its been a huge experiment or so it seems and with tax’s increasing water rates going up and roads and infrastructure failing the experiment has failed…..




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  30. Chuck says:

    If a grocery store makes 5 million instead of 2 million because of tourists or the LCBO makes 10 million instead of 5 million because of tourists the County gets nothing more. Not a red cent as property taxes are fixed. Now the Feds and the Province enjoy a healthy return but Municipalities are left out.




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  31. Dave McD says:

    OlMan was a little wordy, but I think what he’s trying to say is, if you ask the question, you are obligated to prove the negative is true. In other words, you suggest there is no benefit to the County of tourist trade, but the proof of burden depends on you to prove that there is no, or little, benefit.

    As a long-time reader, and first time blogger, I would also like to add an observation.
    Dennis claims to be creating discussion, but it seems to me he belittles anyone who doesn’t agree with him, using words like boring, tired, out of touch. And also glorifying those who agree with his wisdom.

    This is not a discussion. Anyone who speaks up against the wisdom is shut down and put down, and that is not a discussion.




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  32. Olmanonthemtn says:

    dear moderator sorry for the redundancy in the last comment – Argument from ignorance (from Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam), also known as appeal to ignorance (in which ignorance represents “a lack of contrary evidence”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there may have been an insufficient investigation, and therefore there is insufficient information to prove the proposition be either true or false.my cut and paste went wonky




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  33. Olmanonthemtn says:

    It seems the gist of this debate is that tourism does not benefit the County and does not deserves municipal support based on a lack of or acceptance of evidence. This position relates to the “Argument from ignorance (from Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam) also known as appeal to ignorance (in which ignorance represents “a lack of contrary evidence”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there may have been an insufficient investigation, and therefore there is insufficient information to prove the proposition be either true or false.Argument from ignorance (from Latin: argumentum ad ignorantiam), also known as appeal to ignorance (in which ignorance represents “a lack of contrary evidence”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there may have been an insufficient investigation, and therefore there is insufficient information to prove the proposition be either true or false. Nor does it allow the admission that the choices may in fact not be two (true or false), but may be as many as four, true, false unknown between true or false being unknowable (among the first three). In debates, appeals to ignorance are sometimes used in an attempt to shift the burden of proof.” Wikipedia




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  34. Paul Cole says:

    I understand what Dennis is saying a select few benefit from the tourism industry in The County. The Counties focus on tourism is not paying The Counties bills we have a forgotten about industrial park they unsupported Port Picton and don t seem to be encouraging growth in other areas other then tourism.




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  35. ADJ says:

    To Dennis,, perhaps I’m not fully understanding your question however here’s my take on it and you tell me if tourist dollars help to “benefit our community as a whole”
    I operate a RV Park, 99% of my customers could be considered tourist I think as they live out of County and only summer here for 6 mos. Now besides what they spend here at various stores,garages, and other venues, I myself purchase 99% of my needs here in the County using income from these same “tourists” So, the benefits are plain to see and do contribute to me being able to continue living here and paying my taxes. This is my little contribution and I think you could multiply that by every business that caters to the tourist or seasonal visitors. I hope I’m understanding what your trying to get across to the readers here….if not please explain it from a different angle.




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  36. Dennis Fox says:

    Fred – you have hit the nail right on the head with your conclusions – thank you!

    As my final comment of this topic, I would like people to consider the following…

    I find it amazing that my one letter in the Gazette, asking the basic question – “How does the community as a whole benefit from tourism?” has received so much coverage by the very people who refused to print it and who didn’t like me even asking the question… The Times had one editorial and then two full page articles by Steve Campbell – all claiming how tourist dollars help all of us, but offered no proof – also not to forget the comments on “CountyLive” – plus the input from Councillor Ferguson. The link he provided to the County’s budget document in no way addressed my question. Fortunately The Gazette ran an editorial that showed a real understanding of what I was asking – great to have a truly independent newspaper that thinks.

    After a month of discussions in various venues, and despite articles skirting the issue, I have not seen one shred of evidence showing that the general public in our community benefits from tourism. Don’t get me wrong, like I have stated from the beginning, I am not opposed to tourism because I know many make their living by it. However, I am not convinced that tax dollars should be used to promote it.

    I find it interesting that the very people who don’t like the question being asked and who have tried to steer the conversation off topic, are now claiming it is I who is showing the frustration. Yeah right – I think they protest too much.

    I have done what I can do to promote the conversation, but I am not placing myself in the position of answering all of the “what if’s” Now I want to see what others have to say.

    Finding proof that we as a community benefit from tourism should not be such a difficult thing to prove – if it is true.




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  37. Chuck says:

    The article does seem to play off of Dennis’s well put comments.




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  38. Gary Mooney says:

    Dennis, maybe you’d like to reconsider your remarks. Seems like you’re feeling somewhat frustrated. I’m not sure that your comments meet the standards of your previous posts.




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  39. Fred says:

    Agreed. Felt like I had read this all before. If tourism is such a cash cow why are the roads crumbling, development sputtering and why are we the highest water fees in Ontario?




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  40. Dennis Fox says:

    It is unfortunate that the newspaper Steve Campbell writes for refused to print both my original letter and my response to Steve’s misplaced and ill informed article about what he thought I wrote about. Frankly, he has had a safe and unchallenged path to express his opinions – while he takes a go at me. Some would claim this to be cowardly in nature – but not me. I do believe that he should share either his writers fee from The Times or the tourist ad money he gets out of the community from his magazine Breakaway. I don’t need his money, but maybe he should donate it to a charity – one that serves the local needs and not tourists needs. Glad he needed my help again to find something to write about – but he is getting a tad boring.




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