It’s a place where town meets country.
St. Catharines and Lincoln have long been urban and rural neighbours, but they’ve now teamed up to market their individual attributes as a joint destination.
“The goal is really to match the bench experience with the urban experience. We have assets that complement each other,” said Karen Doyle, tourism marketing officer for St. Catharines.
“We have a larger accommodations sector, they have more winery partners. They can complement each other but we’re still offering a common experience between the two municipalities.”
Doyle said the idea is to recognize the value of visitors to the areas and try and get them to stretch their spending money between the two communities so all businesses get out ahead.
A sub-regional tourism marketing partnership was formalized last week with St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton signing a memorandum of understanding.
Banding together means the two municipalities can go after funding through joint applications, which Doyle said could mean access to large sums of money and bigger marketing campaigns.
Paul Di Ianni, economic development officer for Town of Lincoln, said the town undertook an economic development strategy a few years back. Tourism came out as its biggest opportunity for growth and job creation.
A tourism strategy then looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the sector in Lincoln and what it could be doing better.
He said the town has farmed out tourism to its destination marketing organization for a couple of decades and while it’s done a good job, the strategy found there was an opportunity to bring other private and public sector partners to the table to help grow the sector.
The town then started conversations with St. Catharines to see if it would be interested in joint marketing initiatives.
“There’s some natural synergy between our rural tourism landscape and their urban tourism landscape,” Di Ianni said.
“We’ve got the rural, craft beverage, culinary, eco-tourism landscape. They have the downtown, the accommodations, the cultural.”
Di Ianni stressed the new Lincoln and St. Catharines destination isn’t in competition with Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake but is meant to complement the overall tourism market in the Niagara region.
And he said there’s potential to bring other municipalities on board to create a destination that extends beyond the two municipality’s borders.
The move comes at a time when tourism has taken a drastic hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Di Ianni said experts are saying tourism in Canada may not hit pre-Covid numbers until 2024 or 2025, so recovery efforts are important.
“We recognize our opportunity is to encourage Ontarians to visit their own backyard,” he said, adding there are millions of people within an hour away from Niagara.
Earlier in the pandemic, Di Ianni said Lincoln launched a Shop Lincoln campaign and did joint marketing with St. Catharines, which ran a similar initiative. They pointed people back to their websites to encourage them to shop local and have local tourism experiences.
Doyle said their main focus right now during the pandemic is destination awareness.
“We do have businesses that are open. We have businesses that are following safety measures and all the protocols in place,” she said.
“You can come to St. Catharines, you can come to Niagara, you can come to Lincoln and you can feel good about your visit. It’s beautiful weather. There’s lots to do outside.”