Working together to keep tourists here


If theatre patrons are going to spend more time and money in Petrolia, merchants and Victoria Playhouse have to work together to entice them.

That was the feeling of about 25 theatre supporters, merchants and community group leaders who met at town hall Tuesday to try to figure out how to get more bang from the tourism buck.

Recent figures from the Ontario government suggest between $3.4 million and $3.6 million of revenue is generated from the VPP for the community. But the common concern is theater patrons come to town for just a show – and maybe dinner – but don’t spend a lot of time in local shops or visiting local attractions.

“We need to get the bus tours to come in the morning and have them stay here,” says Jean Bradshaw who was representing Petrolia Heritage.

The group outlined some of the pluses of the community – the theatre, the community centre, being close to the United States and large Canadian cities, the uniqueness of the downtown and the ability to easily walk from store to store.

But they acknowledged there were things missing, including accommodations, transportation for visitors to use to see different parts of the town, a fine dining option or the ability to pick up a picnic lunch and the lack of knowledge of what is available.

“What we are missing is the integration with the VPP,” summarized Richard Poore, director of performing arts “retailers and the VPP have to compliment each other.”

Karen Watson of Petrolia Mercantile and Tea agrees. “We have to do the work to make sure they have the information.”

Watson added there were things in the downtown which need repair to keep the main street looking its best..

Some of the suggestions included meeting with tour operators to better understand how they put a tour together so the town can offer something unique; working with local churches to offer meals or open their doors for tours; offering boxed lunches so patrons can enjoy a meal in one of the local parks; welcoming visitors in stores with signs and linking sales to the shows including playing Elvis music in local businesses the week the VPP hosts Everything Elvis; and making patrons aware of the other events going on in the community.

Laurissa Ellsworth, the town’s marketing manager, says the tour bus operators are already being given the information but more can be done.

The town plans to organize another meeting with merchants, community groups, and theatre supports and invite churches, service groups and others to find ways to provide a more welcoming atmosphere in time for this summer’s season.