Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Ontario remains in a stay-at-home order and lockdown until at least Feb. 11.
An announcement by the province on whether the restrictions will be dropped or extended is expected to come early next week.
In the City of Kawartha Lakes, the tourism department remains focused on both virtual tourism and hyper-local tourism — helping residents explore their own backyard.
“We’re adhering to those restrictions of not travelling and it’s been that way since October. Our website is focused on local residents and what there is to do here in Kawartha Lakes and we haven’t been doing any marketing outside of our community,” said municipal tourism development officer Laurie McCarthy.
In a typical year, the City of Kawartha Lakes sees around 1.6 million domestic visitors.
McCarthy said while it’s likely those numbers were down in the summer of 2020, the season wasn’t a loss.
“The tourism businesses last year showed resilience and dedication in adapting and stepping up to put in new public health protocols, updating websites and finding new ways to offer their events and experiences and sell their products,” McCarthy added.
“It did result in a summer season where we saw visitation to the area — it was Ontario-based. Cottage rentals and boat rentals were very busy.”
There are videos on the tourism website and on its YouTube channel and McCarthy says the hope is if you like what you see, you can come up and check it out once restrictions are lifted.
“Another thing we’re also seeing is a shift in events to a drive-thru, outdoor style. That will be a focus this year as well and there is government money to support virtual and drive-thru events,” she said.
Looking ahead to this upcoming tourist season, McCarthy said the department is continuing to develop its website to adapt to what will likely be a summer with some restrictions.
The tourism department is also developing a signature experience program which will launch in the spring.
“It’s launching with six new experiences, with six businesses in the City of Kawartha Lakes,” McCarthy said. “These businesses went through advanced training and one-on-one coaching to help them develop their own experience idea.”
The experiences will adhere to public health guidelines and will be offered at different times of the year.
“It’s an opportunity for businesses to find new ways to generate revenue and it’s a great way to promote Kawartha Lakes as a destination.”
Meanwhile, the Fenelon Falls & District Chamber of Commerce has partnered with a Canadian augmented tourism reality app company called Driftscape to launch an app that showcases businesses and attractions in the community.
“It’s a great way to showcase our community in a COVID-friendly way to visitors and encourage local residents to learn something new about their hometown,” said chamber of commerce manager Marylee Boston.
The app digitizes visitor centre services, allows users to create self-guided tours and helps locals rediscover what’s in their backyards.
Boston says it’s also a way to support local businesses during and after the pandemic as well as give users the opportunity to see the community from the comfort of their homes.
Fenelon Falls will also pilot Driftscape’s newest visitor engagement feature which is called Quests.
It’s like a scavenger hunt of images, video and audio to help gamify tourism.
“We can offer events and tours and offer general information about the community through the app. It’s the perfect fit for a new tool that we can use to promote Fenelon Falls and provide tourism information 24-hours a day,” Boston said.
The Chamber of Commerce would like to acknowledge Kawartha Lakes Community Futures Development Corporation and FedDev for their funding support for this project.
The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.