By Gabe Maggio
(WINDSOR, ON) – For a second time in the last three years, our family has taken solitude in what we now consider our confirmed favourite vacation destination; atop the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, TN.
Taking a break from the hustle and bustle is found not on a commercialized beach but rather in a cabin, living amongst the greatest gift to mankind next to life itself; treed nature.
Although surrounded by endless green splendour, the cabin in which we stayed was still just a five minute drive to Pigeon Forge and downtown Gatlinburg. So we got to enjoy the best of both worlds within minutes or each other.
While on vacation I am the type to take notice of the minute details of the differences between destinations. With more than a week of observation I was convinced that my conclusions as to what makes a destination popular were substantiated; that is the many small things, not the big visions.
If Windsor is seeking to diversify its tourism industry and re-establish our tourist numbers, much can be learned from what Pigeon Forge has done, and what Gatlinburg keeps on doing, and improving on.
There is so much to see and do on each side of the Appalachian Mountains that one visit is not enough, hence why we made it a point to head back a second time to take in more. And we will be returning again, hopefully soon.
But while down south this time I realized what makes this such a strong tourist attraction. It is not the attempt at being world class with one or two multi-million dollar venues, but rather it is instead a multitude of privately operated, small and medium sized attractions suitable and marketed to all ages.
From a sky-needle to 5-D theatres, from Ripley’s Aquarium and Museums to over the top go-carts, just to name just a few. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have it all.
I must repeat that these attractions are not spawned by the municipality developing them with taxpayer dollars. They, instead, did exactly the opposite of what our current council has done. Gatlinburg has set the stage for development by supporting small businesses and creating a surrounding environment suitable for business creation and retention.
A municipality’s role is to support businesses by setting the stage for population growth and business investment. A city must guard against strangling business profit margins with unreasonable tax rates, development charges, and exorbitant fees for permits and other nuisance applications.
Instead, a municipality ought to pay attention to details that surround the whole town and give it the class and quaint feeling that is complimentary to the private investment. The city should give value-for-money for investors, not only in traditional services but as well as above and beyond maintenance, beautification, and progressive enhancements of the infrastructure.
Details matter. Impeccably clean sidewalks free from gum and not just pothole free streets, but streets that are attractive themselves, benches for tourists to sit, and clear and evident signage for direction, and ample classic garbage bins so trash doesn’t overflow, are just a few examples.
I already released one idea that was proposed for Windsor in its master plan back in the early 90’s, but was never implemented. It is the ride around town on a nostalgic trolley bus.
In Gatlinburg, the trolleys take tourists from here to there, and mostly everywhere, for as little as 50 cents. I also experienced the same in Cleveland where the trolley was free, running through the core strip.
Now we don’t have to do exactly the same but, on a smaller and more limited scale, Windsor businesses may benefit from this kind of nostalgic shuttle.
How is that for hospitality?
Another detail I observed in Gatlinburg was the attention paid to fringe architectural features which made the world of difference. Cultured stone, ornate benches, and wrought iron railings, slate stone and cobble pathways, and the rustic use of barn board all tied into a Bavarian theme. Even the drainage grates were ornate.
This is what spurs visitors upon their return home to cheerlead and spread the word about their recent travels. This is how even more tourists are drawn to a city. Just like in any business, your best advertising is based on word of mouth.
Let’s make Windsor a referral destination.
Gabe Maggio is the candidate for City Council in Ward 3.