What does “Prescott and Russell” mean to someone in Toronto? That’s what Tourism Prescott and Russell hopes it will be able to measure eventually.

The organization has been working on associating “Prescott and Russell” with already big brands, like Calypso water park. The organization, with the help of money from the United Counties and the government of Ontario, partnered with the water park in 2016 for a radio and TV campaign.

“We know that the Prescott Russell brand, per say, still has work to be done,” says Martin Lacelle, executive director of the TPRT. He says the region as a destination is still a “hard sell,” but businesses like Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company and St-Albert’s Cheese Factory are well-recognized and attract a lot of people. “Big brands have really had a great year,” he said.

It can be tricky to measure the organization’s success.”It’s always an issue trying to find the right data,” said Lacelle. Calypso saw a four per cent increase in visitors over the summer, which the managers attribute to the ad campaign. The organization also surveyed 100 of its member businesses, and based on that Lacelle says revenues from tourism for those members were about $85 million in 2016. They measure the effect of the TPRT by asking members what role the organization’s services played in their business. The survey this year found almost nine per cent of revenues could be attributed to recommendations from the TPRT, like the Visitor’s Guide, for example.

But knowing how people perceive Prescott-Russell as a region? “We don’t know, it’s our next step,” said Lacelle.

Also slated for 2017 is an agro-tourism focused campaign with partnerships with local breweries, orchards, and others. Agro-tourism is trendy now, with the province and other tourism organizations investing in it heavily, said Lacelle.

The TPRT gets a large portion of its budget from the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. The amount budgeted for the TPRT has been declining steadily over the past five years, however, and during the 2017 budget meetings, Lacelle asked council for some idea of where the cuts would stop. “I don’t think it’s their prerogative to just completely cut us off,” said Lacelle. “They just want to make sure the funding is going to the right place.” The organization, which promoted cycling in 2016, was disappointed by the cuts to the Recreational Trail in the United Counties budget for 2017, he said. “Ottawa just issued a new cycling strategy, the province is putting a lot more funding as well,” said Lacelle. “So it’s hard for us to understand why they’re cutting this way, but nothing is set in stone.” He said cycling is important to the region, but there’s a debate over whether to invest in the trail or on paving the shoulders of roads. “Best case scenario is we would have both,” said Lacelle. Cyclists like the relatively flat and quiet county roads, especially along the river, but having a paved “highway” between Ottawa and Montreal is a “huge brand that we can develop,” he said. In order for that to be successful, it would need to be paved and well-maintained, he said – but the counties council has been reluctant to invest too much money into the trail, because it doesn’t own the land it sits on.

Members of the new board of the TPRT. (Tara Kirkpatrick)