Flexible accommodations coming to Norfolk

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Courtesy of Parks Canada

Courtesy of Parks Canada


Hotel chains have a hard time figuring out places like Norfolk County.

There is plenty of business in Norfolk in summer and autumn thanks to the lake shore, festivals, fall fairs, agri-tourism and the like.

But winter and much of spring are challenging because there is little going on and most people are not in vacation mode.

This feast-or-famine dynamic makes it difficult for anyone to plan and establish full-time accommodations. And that, Norfolk County has concluded, is costing the local area money.

To that end, Norfolk has teamed up with Elgin County and Haldimand County to find new and innovative ways of creating flexible accommodations that pay off during the peak season but don’t claw back those gains in the “shoulder seasons.”

Clark Hoskin, Norfolk’s manager of tourism and economic development, laid out a strategy for this at Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council.

Norfolk and its tourism partners are excited about the potential of the Internet and web apps such as AirB&B in terms of connecting day-trippers who want to stay a little longer with homeowners, cottage owners, boat owners, farmers and landlords who have convenient lodgings at the ready.

A lot of money is at stake.

In his presentation, Hoskin said the typical day-tripper in Norfolk will spend between $7 to $77. Get that person to stay overnight and that rises to between $180 and $1,200, Hoskin said, citing Ministry of Tourism statistics.

Data collected by Norfolk, Elgin and Haldimand says the three counties will register about 600,000 overnight visits in a typical year. If the counties could increase this by just 10 percent, Hoskin said collective tourism revenue in the tri-county area would increase by $15 million annually.

“We’re getting the word out – getting people to start thinking about this,” Hoskin said.

Due to building code and health unit regulations, there is more to establishing commercial lodgings than hanging out a shingle and telling guests where the facilities are. The process required for entering the hospitality industry can be complicated, time-consuming, expensive and intimidating.

In counterpoint, Hoskin and his colleagues want to simplify the process and get approving authorities in other municipal departments thinking along these lines. Tourism officials envision the creation of manuals and on-line how-to guides offering step-by-step advice on the creation of flexible accommodations.

“This is not a new concept,” Hoskin said. “It’s happened in many jurisdictions. We don’t want this to become so complicated that it confuses people.”

The feedback from council was positive.

Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton suggested that a lot of what Hoskin describes is already happening, albeit under the table and on a cash basis without the usual approvals.

Simcoe Coun. Peter Black also likes the idea -- just so long as flexible accommodations are created without associated neighbourhood frictions.

Black noted that the “sharing economy” the Internet and mobile communications have made possible has great potential for municipal operations.

As an example, Black told council that the small community of Innisfill south of Barrie has addressed its transit needs through a partnership with the ride-sharing application Uber.

Rather than contracting with a bus line like Norfolk has, Black said Innisfill has harnessed private drivers and private vehicles through a subsidy program that has reduced the fare for a ride within the municipality to just a few dollars.