A report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released on Thursday said that while the fortunes of the province's tourism operators are improving, Ontario still must attract more international visitors.
The 40-page report, titled Closing the Tourism Gap, Creating a Long-Term Advantage for Ontario, found tourism businesses and other members of the industry support more than 360,000 jobs and generate more than $25 billion in gross domestic product.
Also, the report ranked southeastern Ontario eighth in percentage of total employment at 4.6 per cent. Algonquin Park, Almaguin Highlands, Muskoka and Parry Sound come in first at 15.3 per cent. The Niagara region comes in at 11.8 per cent, second in the province.
Tourism brings in 2.4 per cent of total municipal revenues in southeastern Ontario, ranking the area 10th out of 15 tourism regions in the province.
The region not only includes the Kingston area, but goes from about Prince Edward County along the Highway 401 corridor east to the Quebec border.
Martin Sherris, CEO of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, said local tourism organizations are ahead of the curve.
"They do very, very well in tourism here in Kingston," Sherris said Thursday.
Locally, Sherris said, tourism is a $700 million-per-year business, but to stay successful, Kingston and other tourism hot spots in the province need more support from the provincial government.
Sherris said that between 2006 and 2012, Ontario lagged significantly behind the curve of international tourism, and while things are looking up, Sherris wants to see positive numbers maintained well into the future.
"Everybody is doing better now and we're doing phenomenal in Kingston, but what we're looking at here is beyond the next couple of years. We need a cohesive branding strategy that allows Ontario, and specifically Kingston, to grow and take advantage of international visitors in a big way."
Sherris believes the government can facilitate a way all 15 tourism regions in the province work together for a provincewide tourism strategy, "so that Kingston can market Kingston to the world, but marketing the province itself will have a bigger impact globally."
He also said the government can help Kingston tourism by making it easier for local operators to apply for funding for tourism initiatives and improvements.
"We need the Ontario government to be more open to allowing these industries to be innovative and entrepreneurial, reduce the regulatory burden and cost of marketing themselves."
Allan O'Dette, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said in the report that 2016 has been a good year so far for tourism in Canada, with overnight visits up 10 per cent over 2015.
"While this growth is encouraging, it should also be cause for reflection. Until recently, our province was experiencing relatively little growth in the number of visitors each year, and current visitation numbers remain below historical levels," he wrote. "Meanwhile, the number of visitors internationally has increased steadily, resulting in a widening tourism gap between our province and international tourism trends."
O'Dette agrees that the government needs to active steps to ensure that this year's boost in tourism is sustained over the long term.
"To achieve real growth in our tourism industry, we must tap into growth in the international tourism markets," he said.