By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
– with files from René J. Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES – On Thursday, June 2, a luncheon and presentation was held by Tourism Southwest at Hotel-Port Aux Basques as part of Tourism Awareness Week.
Cathy Lomond, Owner/Operator of Hotel Port Aux Basques and Treasurer of Tourism Southwest offered background on on the organization.
“Our mission statement is ‘We partner with stakeholders in the development of the local tourism sector through identifying new product opportunities, enhancing the quality of existing tourism products and experiences, and providing a venue to discuss and respond to industry challenges on the Southwest coast.”
Lomond said the core purpose is to position themselves within the region – Zone 9 and 10 – which covers the area from Port Aux Basques down to Bay St. George and Burgeo.
“We identify product development opportunities to improve what’s already in our area that we can help. We work closely with the Western Destination Management Organization and Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation to further increase the viability of the Southwest Coasts tourism industry and we provide a venue to discuss and respond to challenges we face in our area.”
The board, which consists of various tourism-based businesses throughout the region, is always looking for new members. More members means a larger group to advocate for the region’s tourism industry.
“That’s what our vision would be, to grow the tourism sector built upon strong partnerships resulting in new products and marketing initiatives being developed.”
Lomond said that when they are going out in a marketing initiative there are five things they would target: angling, ATVing, RVing, hiking, and attractions.
“We did this through brainstorming and bringing everybody together and that sort of thing. The Tourism Southwest organization started in 2009. That’s when we literally got together and said we needed to be responsible for our own collecting and our own money so we can market our own area, so that’s how long we’ve technically been on the go.”
Each of the areas they focus their advertising efforts on offer unique experiences for tourists.
“We have nine scheduled salmon rivers within a 60-minute drive and guides are available for anybody who wants to try it. We all know about the ATVing opportunities that we have, backcountry where you can travel to the mountaintop. There are rental and guided tours available and they can be short day, one-day, two-day or all-day weekends. There are packages out there. RV Camping provides visitors with the opportunity to immerse themselves with nature and get a close-up view of the region’s beauty and there are five campgrounds throughout the region. The Southwest Coast also has a large variety of hiking and walking experiences that offer the challenge of mountain climbing or leisurely stroll.”
When Lomond attended the outdoor show in Toronto, there were over 20,000 people that walked through and the flat sheet they had on hiking was the first to go.
“There is such a need and a want for people to get out and explore. It was beyond amazing. No one complained about the price of gas, no one complained about the price of flights to get here. I think we complained, but nobody has travelled for two years so they have money they can use and they really want to travel.”
Tourism Southwest also supports numerous not-for-profit organizations, festivals and events.
“Tourism Southwest sponsors the Stephenville Theatre Festival in a sizeable grant that we give to them, the ATV trail improvements – many people think that’s the government – but just a year and a half ago we invested $50,000 getting the trails trimmed from Codroy Pond out to St. Andrew’s and we will continue that area. That came from Tourism Southwest.”
Lomond said they have also been working on developing the arrival experience in Port Aux Basques when people come off of the ferry.
“We’ve been working on that for a couple of years. That’s been on the go for maybe three years, but it’s not as simple as saying, ‘we want to put something on the big rocks there.’ You have the Department of Highways. You’ve got four levels of government that you’ve got to get to come together. Us and the industry, we’re doers. We get up in the morning and we are doing this. We want it done, but when you’re dealing with officials and you have to do it the right way, well then, it’s a five-year project. It doesn’t get done right away.”
Lomond said the organization uses approximately $50,000 a year towards marketing initiatives alone, but during an entire year they spend four to six times more.
“We put an ad in the travel guide and that’s $6,000 and we’ve been doing that for years, so that’s money that we spend as levy collectors. We didn’t do a lot last year or the year before because of COVID, so we’re back on track now to get some money spent.”
Lomond said they are planning trade shows, putting ads in Downhomer Magazine, and promoting ‘Golf, Stay and Play’ packages in Stephenville.
“We do have some excess funds and we just decided a month ago to give a donation of $500 to all the Come Home Years in our region because we know how difficult it is to raise money when you’re putting off an event like a Come Home Year.”
The group have also begun the Annual Tourism Awareness Award, which recognizes the contribution of volunteer organizations in Southwestern Newfoundland and will offer a one-time grant of $1,000 to the recipient. This year’s recipient is the Codroy Valley Area Development Association.
Lomond said they wanted to hold this presentation to award the grant and to let people know who they are, what they are about, and to drum up more interest in membership.
“We’re not in competition. The more people we have that we can accommodate, the better it is for all of us. For every attraction, for every trail, more accommodations, that makes us more marketable.”