A large influx of visitors this summer and fall has been a huge benefit to Huntsville’s business owners.
Whether in hospitality or retail, many have noticed an increase in tourism this year compared to the few preceding it.
Even some have said this summer and fall have been like “the good old days” where Huntsville, and Muskoka as a whole, saw huge numbers in terms of people and the dollars they spent here.
Kelly Haywood, the executive director of the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, says 2015 was very good as well but that businesses are attributing this to the full Ironman event which saw midweek training and advance arrivals of the competing athletes.
This year, without the benefit of a full Ironman event as an added attraction, there has still been a boost to the business community from tourism.
“Anecdotally, I have heard from many businesses that this has been a banner year for tourism,” says Haywood. “People are saying it’s just like the old days, I hear that a lot.”
Manny Buttus of Little Place By the Lights says they did substantially more business this summer compared to last. The business has also seen a large amount of customers through the fall.
And that’s just in the restaurant portion of the operation on Main Street. The new Little Place By The Lights Italian Café Gelataria and Market, which can be accessed via River Mill Park and the Town Docks, has also been quite busy, especially since a patio seating area was put in.
The new cafe allowed Little Place to service more people who were looking to just drop by for a quick coffee or gelato.
“The patio really helped out too because customers were able to get a nice coffee or gelato and sit near the Muskoka River,” says Buttus.
Mike Reijnen of Muskoka Jewellery Design on Main Street says spring, summer and fall have all been very steady.
“It was definitely a busy summer,” says Reijnen. “I’ve noticed a lot more U.S. and European visitors coming through our store and in the downtown core.”
Reijnen also says he’s noticed a lot of local business in the area as well. He says there are more people doing “staycations,” rather than travelling to other places when taking time off from work.
Reijnen also points out the increased tourism and business didn’t just start in 2016.
“Basically, the last two years have been great,” he says.
Hidden Valley Resort general manager Scott Doughty says they were incredibly busy from summer through fall. He says the resort was “booked solid” throughout and attributes at least some of the business to the warm and sunny weather which came to Huntsville this summer and stayed in the autumn.
“It’s been awesome,” says Doughty. “We’re extremely pleased with the amount of visitors we’ve had this year.”
Traditionally in September and October, there are a large number of bus tours from Europe and Asia visiting, however this year there seemed to be an increase in those coming as couples or with family members to enjoy the fall season.
Several people commented that there was a line-up of cars stretching from the provincial park’s West Gate entrance all the way to Ragged Falls in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Monday (Oct. 10). Many were on their way to Algonquin Park to enjoy the brilliant display of Autumn’s colours.
And the vast amounts of tourists coming to Huntsville didn’t stop on Thanksgiving weekend, just walking around town on Tuesday, Oct. 11 this writer ran into several families who picked our community as their vacation destination.
Haywood has spent years marketing the community she lives and Muskoka as whole to the rest of the world. She says there are several factors which are contributing to increase in visitors to the area.
“Certainly weather plays an integral role in people’s desire to travel, particularly when it is so hot in the urban centres,” says Haywood. “With that being said, we have seen a noticeable increase in American and International (particularly European) travellers this year, and while the weather most definitely would have enhanced their visit, in my opinion these travel decisions are made long in advance of a weather forecast.”
Haywood says she would attribute the increase of international travellers to a concerted effort in marketing efforts. She notes there has been a very well organized collaboration between the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce and other marketing agencies to promote the area utilizing fresh ideas and unique content in their campaigns.
“Our marketing initiative has partnered with Muskoka Tourism and Explorers Edge for several years, and I do believe the fruits of our labour is starting to pay off,” she says. “I think the partnerships and investment that we have seen from our business community and from the Town of Huntsville have paid off.”
Haywood says they started “aggressively marketing” the Huntsville and Lake of Bays area in 2006. She says the initial focus was sport tourism, followed by event tourism and they are continuing to support both while adding in as much of a cultural tourism aspect as possible.
Haywood uses the 2006 Ontario Paralympic Games as an example of how marketing the community through sports tourism can have long lasting effects. Four hundred athletes, plus their coaches and supporters, were in town for the event.
“We received countless letters of thanks and dozens and dozens acknowledgements from across the country,” says Haywood. “I use this example because at the time, the event did not necessarily fill every room or bring customers to every retail shop. But, I am convinced that by welcoming this many people, and by showcasing our community so exceptionally we will continue to see results by way of return visits year after year.”
Haywood points to events like Girlfriends Getaway Weekend, the Ironman, the Muskoka Maple Festival, Band on the Run and the Ontario Youth Games as more than just regular events to be enjoyed by attendees and spectators.
She says these events are also “very specific campaigns targeting the demographic that we have identified as the perfect fit for visitors, investment and potential relocation.”
Looking ahead, Haywood believes there is a bright future for Huntsville and the surrounding areas in terms of bringing in more people to enjoy all the community has to offer. She points to several community organizations making great things happen as a sign of things to come.
“We have seen a number of local organizations build and expand events,” says Haywood. “The Downtown Huntsville BIA, Huntsville Festival of the Arts, Band on the Run’s Running Series and so many more. I think there is a fabulous infrastructure in place to hold state of the art events and a brilliant alliance working together to support these types of initiatives.”