The pandemic has played political havoc with how the Town of Hawkesbury provides visitor information.

Back on May 25, council rejected a recommendation to terminate the contract with Le Chenail Cultural Centre to operate the town’s tourist information centre for the summer.  The contract was worth $25,000 per year to the town.  In addition to providing tourist information, Le Chenail was also responsible for selling passes to the nearby municipal boat launch and renting watersports equipment.

As an alternative due to the pandemic, staff recommended purchasing up to three electronic, self-serve, touchscreen information kiosks.  Three of the machines would have cost approximately $25,000 or $8,300 for one.

“For this year, it’s a bit premature,” said Mayor Paula Assaly, who added that she still wanted to reach some form of an agreement with the cultural centre.

Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis questioned the viability of the kiosks and wondered who will maintain them and keep the information up to date.  He also said that older visitors might find using a kiosk challenging, and also suggested that visitors could get some of the same information on their mobile phones if a QR code was displayed on a metal sign outside the cultural centre.

Assaly and Tsourounakis, along with councillors Lawrence Bogue and André Chamaillard voted against the kiosk recommendation and ending the arrangement with Le Chenail.  Councillors Raymond Campbell, Robert Lefebvre, and Yves Paquette voted in favour of the recommendation.

At a special meeting on May 29, Tsourounakis said he had met with staff from the Recreation and Tourism Department and the cultural centre to find a way to provide the service through this summer.  He said that the town had proposed an agreement worth $12,500 instead of $25,000 with Le Chenail, but the discussion at the meeting he took part in resulted in a pro-rated amount of $7,500 for only the summer months of 2020. Tsourounakis moved that council adopt the $7,500 proposal.

Councillor Paquette questioned if there was really a need to attract tourists to Hawkesbury this summer and noted that all of the major summer events have been cancelled due to the pandemic.  Paquette said that other municipalities are discouraging tourists from visiting due to the pandemic.

Assaly responded by saying the service exists to answer questions from the public and residents alike and is not necessarily meant to attract tourists to town.  Paquette said that many of the questions people have could be answered by phone because most people have mobile phones now.

Tsourounakis said that even though people have fewer recreational opportunities right now, Le Chenail staff told him that the centre is still seeing visitors with tourism-related questions.

Lefebvre said that for him, the facility is not a question of cost, but a question of the pandemic and if the service should be offered during this time.  He said that services should focus on what is essential for health and safety.  He said that a tourism information centre is contradictory to telling people to stay home.

Tsourounakis doubted that the number of visitors to Le Chenail would be affected whether tourist information is available or not and that people are already going there.

A recorded vote was held and the motion to provide $7,500 to Le Chenail Cultural Centre to operate the tourist information centre for the remainder of the summer and into the fall was approved four to three.  Assaly, and councillors Bogue, Chamaillard, and Tsourounakis voted in favour of the recommendation, and Councillors Campbell, Lefebvre, and Paquette voted against it.