Ontario tourism operators, gathering for a meeting in Thunder Bay this week, say government cuts are hurting the industry in the north.

The owner of a fishing lodge on Red Lake said the province’s decision earlier this year to close tourism information centres may seem like a harmless way to cut costs but, she said, it’s not.

"We just would like it if people wouldn't kick us in the shins, you know," Brenda Baughman said during the annual Nature and Outdoor Tourism Conference.

"When you're a person coming in and you see ... those big signs that say 'closed', it makes it look like nobody wants you," she said.

Doug Reynolds, the executive director of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario agrees.

Investment in tourism 'not handouts'

And he said recent cuts to provincial parks compound the problem.

"Parks are where we manufacture our future consumers," Reynolds said.  "People who eventually go to a lodge get interested in the outdoors because they started out by going camping."

Reynolds said the closures and cuts don't make sense economically.

"We need to have governments understand that investments in tourism are not handouts, they're not welfare for a disadvantaged region like the north," he said. "Those are investments."

More investment is also needed in communications infrastructure in northern Ontario, according to Reynolds.

"Our guests ... just assume that telephone and internet connectivity will be available.  And it's not available," he said. "Even along the major highway corridors."

Reynolds points to patchy cell service between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie as a particular problem.

The NOTO conference wraps up on Wednesday.