Tourism is back after the COVID-19 pandemic, but the visitors Brockville plans to attract this year will be looking for something off the beaten path.
That was Kelly Brintnell’s early assessment of the 2024 tourism season as she settled into her first week on the job as Brockville’s tourism development co-ordinator.
Brintnell is upbeat about the coming season, though she expects there will be less of the once-familiar motorcoach tourism, and more of the self-drive variety.
“The average visitor, I would say, is looking for those hidden gems,” said Brintnell.
Such tourists will be looking for “softer outdoor adventures” that do not repeat what they have already seen, she added.
Brintnell hopes to work in concert with other local communities to draw tourists to the area.
“Together, we are stronger and we will make it a success,” said Brintnell, who is working under the newly-established Brockville Tourism Corporation, and reporting to the city’s manager of cultural services, Anne Shropshire.
The arrival of 2024 marked a shift in Brockville’s approach to the crucial economic sector of tourism, as it brought delivery of those services back into City Hall after more than two decades.
Brockville council voted last April to bring tourism in-house, after contracting out tourism services, mostly to the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce, and then, for the most recent three-year tourism services arrangement, to a group led by the Aquatarium.
The tourism economy clearly looks very different today from how it appeared when City Hall last ran tourism services. When council made the decision to contract tourism out, the dominant local event was still Riverfest, the Instagram destination selfie was not yet a feature of the tourist experience, and COVID-19 would have sounded like science fiction.
Just what the new service delivery model will look like in 2024 remains to be seen.
Brintnell met last week with the leaders of the previous contract group, and as she settles in she hopes to draw from best practices in the area. The city will bring back the summer students, but more specific practical matters, such as where the storefront will be, remain to be determined.
American and international tourists are coming back, but the American numbers could be affected by how much public attention is dominated by what promises to be a tumultuous 2024 U.S. presidential election season.
“It will affect everything, including tourism and travel,” said Brintnell.
While the Aquatarium and the Brockville Railway Tunnel are generally seen as the city’s dominant tourism attractions today, the new co-ordinator said it’s important to include everyone.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” she said.
“It’s not a one-stakeholder draw.”
Brintnell is also getting to work on familiarizing herself with the city’s tourism master plan and how best to implement it.
And she has been talking to the area’s neighbours, on both sides of the border. While tourism officials in Brockville have long considered fellow Thousand Islands communities such as Gananoque and Rockport to be competitors for tourist dollars, Brintnell stresses the potential for complementarity.
“Where are their gaps, what can we help fill and what can they do for us?” she suggested.
Originally from Trenton, Brintnell has found her way back east after working with Explore Waterloo Region. Before that, she worked at Queen’s University, and was formerly with Tourism Kingston.
“I’m an Eastern Ontario gal. It really is a homecoming,” she said.
“It’s nice to be back.”