February 26th, 2011

From: Grand Falls Windsor Advertiser

Local man takes home provincial tourism award

Fred Parsons is a familiar name not only in Grand Falls-Windsor, but also around the Exploits Valley and the province.

Last weekend, his name may have become more widely known as he was honoured with the prestigious Doug Wheeler Award, which recognizes an individual who has made a long-term contribution to the tourism industry.

Terry French, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, presented Mr. Parsons with the award during Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador's 2011 Lookout! Tourism Summit in St. John's on Feb. 18.

"Most people tend to say it came as a great surprise, but in this particular case it was," Mr. Parsons said, adding he realized he was the lucky winner a few minutes into Minister French's speech. "Some of my friends realized that I was getting this award, I was the only fellow left outside," he said. "About two or three minutes into (the Minister's speech) subconsciously you are saying there's familiar words that you're hearing. I look at the 10 people that were sharing the table with me and they were all with the big grins. "This is a very prestigious award and it's a great honour. It's a very elite bunch that you're sharing over the years. I was taken right away."

Mr. Parsons did, however, know he was nominated for the award by Adventure Central Newfoundland.

"Fred Parsons has played an instrumental role in tourism not only in Central but the entire province," said Danny Huxter, chair of Adventure Central Newfoundland. "We were very pleased to nominate him for this award and to recognize the hard work and dedication that he's shown to the industry."

Mr. Parsons has been employed in business management for over 40 years and for the past 26 years he has been the General Manager of Environment Resources Management Association (ERMA), which operates the Salmonid Interpretation Centre and Sanger Memorial RV Park in Grand Falls-Windsor.

"Twenty-six years ago I signed a three-month employment contract," Mr. Parsons said. "That was back in the days when ERMA was starting the development on the river, building all these fishways, stocking the river and all that. Eventually we evolved into the tourism with the centre, the restaurant and gift shop. Then later with the partnership in developing Sanger Park with the Town and we operate that."

Mr. Parsons has long been involved in the development of the Exploits River into a world class Atlantic salmon angling destination. ERMA took a non-traditional approach and opened up the river not to anglers from around the world, but to "catch and release" and educate otherwise non-interested persons on the benefits of preserving the resource. This year, there was an abundant increase in the numbers of returning salmon to the Exploits River system.

"The biggest impact that we've had on tourism in central Newfoundland is really the development of the river," Mr. Parsons said. "It's not a revenue generator for us, but it's a revenue generator for pretty well everybody in the Exploits Valley. While sometimes I can be the mouth piece and I'm the face that everybody associates with that, there have been hundreds of people (involved)."

According to his nomination form, Mr. Parsons currently holds the position of treasurer with Adventure Central Newfoundland and is chair of the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation advisory board for the province.

In the past, he was involved with the Exploits Valley Tourism Association holding the director's position and other positions and was on the steering committee that established the Central Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO). He was also a board member and tourism chair of the Exploits Valley Economic Development Corporation, the area representative on the board of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL), past board member of the Attractions and Campgrounds Association and treasurer and vice-president of the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. He also spent 30 years involved with Broomball Newfoundland and Labrador and 10 years as a municipal politician as a councilor with the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor.

As general manager for ERMA, Mr. Parsons has used many approaches to successfully promote and market the Salmonid Interpretation Centre and Sanger Memorial Park and has developed an active marketing plan for ERMA.

In the late 1990s, he directly marketed the park to RV groups in the United States, which resulted in large amounts of caravans coming to the province - some of which still routinely visit here. More recently, Mr. Parsons has focused on attracting in-province travelers and local residents, opening up his facilities for use by local service groups.

Annually, more than 20,000 people visit the Salmonid Interpretation Centre. Since 2007, traffic on site have increased by 122 per cent at the restaurant, 65 per cent at the gift shop and 47 per cent in admission to Salmonid Interpretation Centre. Bookings at Sanger Memorial Park have also increased by 20 per cent.

"When it comes to the tourism side of it there is a very large effort of coming together for mutual results," Mr. Parsons said. "The only secret to what I do to make things work so good is I surround myself with good quality people that are actually doing the work."

Much deserved

Terry French, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation presented Mr. Parsons with the award during Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador's 2011 Lookout! Tourism Summit in St. John's on Feb. 18.

The award is named after Doug Wheeler, who was a provincial public servant and was a huge promoter of tourism and made numerous significant contributions through the years.

Mr. Wheeler passed away in 1981. The award was developed in the early 1980s and was named after him to recognize what he has done for the tourism industry.

Minister French said there are multiple nominations submitted from across the province for the award each year. A committee made up of people from the industry select the lucky recipient.

"Most of the applications you receive are pretty well established people in the tourism industry so it's quite an honour to be recognized by your peers," Minister French said.

"Fred Parsons is a true, I guess it wouldn't be unfair for me to say, a legend in the tourism industry. I guess some of the things that he's done have been ground-breaking and it really fits well with the vision of the currently tourism industry that's been driven by the tourism board."

At the beginning of this more than 25 year involvement in the tourism industry, Mr. Parsons helped form the Salmon Festival.

"Right off the bat he was one of the founders of the...Salmon Festival, which is one of the province's largest festivals and been ongoing now for a number of years," Minister French said. "He also helped established one of our most successful tourism attractions, that I felt, in the province, and at the same time preserving our natural resources, that's of course the Salmonid Interpretation Centre."

Minister French said not only did Mr. Parsons help preserve the salmon stock to the Exploits River, but he helped develop the river into a world renown salmon angling river.

"I guess, from my perspective, one of the things that really jumped out at me was that Fred Parsons was one of the pioneers in bringing together the various regional tourism associations in central and forming what was then called the Central Newfoundland Tourism Association," Minister French said.