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A Spark for Tourism in Ontario’s Highlands

 A Spark for Tourism in Ontario Highlands

A group of tourism operators from the Ottawa Valley recently travelled together to explore the current success and future potential of experiential tourism during IGNITE Ottawa Valley, an interactive, three day workshop hosted by Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO). A total of 19 operators and supporters participated in this program, honing their skills and developing their understanding of experience-based tourism practices.

 
The team spent the time off the grid at Northern Edge Algonquin, a solar-powered eco-lodge in South River, ON, learning new ways to engage travellers. They experienced first-hand the success of crafting unique and targeted visitor experiences, which are recognized as Canadian and Ontario Signature Experiences.
 
The purpose of this custom, in-depth and hands-on program is to inspire tourism businesses and allies to leverage their own resources to build new and exciting visitor experiences with an appreciation for the importance of community collaboration. Attendees came away with a deeper appreciation of the value of creating memorable experiences tailored to the interests, motivations and desires of travellers.
 
“Todd Lucier, owner of Northern Edge Algonquin and Program Facilitator put an enthusiastic group of Ottawa Valley participants through their paces last week on the topic of constructing impactful tourism experiences,” says Don Deakin, owner of The Deakins on Mountainview Bed & Breakfast in Killaloe. “The primary mode of instruction involved staging a myriad of experiences and following these up with small and large group discussions. I came away with a renewed appreciation of the key elements of good tourism – hands-on engagement, skilled and committed presenters/partners, planning for spontaneity, locals with stories to tell - just to name a few.”
 
Over the past few years, OHTO has shifted towards a visitor-centric, experience-based approach to tourism development and marketing and recently revealed their experience-focused Come Wander brand platform at stakeholder sessions across the region . The IGNITE program supports this approach by helping to equip the tourism industry with the means to create memorable experiences that will resonate with visitors and to begin connecting around product development ideas.
 
“Participants were carefully selected for the IGNITE program,” says Stephanie Hessel, Tourism Development and Industry Relations Coordinator for OHTO. “Our hope is that they will integrate experiential tourism practices in  their own businesses and communities by enhancing or creating new, marketable experiences that speak to urban target markets through alignment with the regional Come Wander brand.”
 
Participants in IGNITE Ottawa Valley included operators from Whitewater Brewing Co., Bonnechere Caves, Hugli’s Blueberry Ranch, Calabogie Peaks Resort, and Wilderness Tours as well as tourism partners like the Town of Petawawa and the Township of Madawaska Valley.
 
“We want to leave a lasting impression with visitors of the authentic character of Ontario’s Highlands, as well as the people, communities and incredible experiences across the region that make us truly special,” says Hessel. “IGNITE helps participants to see that we already have all the elements needed for experiential tourism and provides an environment to engage with potential collaborative partners to explore how to work together. It’s now a matter of pulling the pieces together to tell that story in a cohesive and compelling way and delivering on that promise.”
 
This is the second IGNITE program hosted by OHTO, with IGNITE Haliburton taking place in the spring of 2015. OHTO will continue to support participants in moving ideas from concept to market post-program, and hopes to continue to expand the IGNITE program into other communities who have a group of operators ready to commit to the experience development journey.
 
For more information about the IGNITE program, please contact Stephanie Hessel at
stephanie.hessel@ohto.ca or 1-855-629-6486. For information about OHTO’s Come Wander brand platform, please contact Julie Mulligan at julie.mulligan@ohto.ca.
 
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About the OHTO
The Ontario's Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) is a not-for-profit organization mandated by the Province of Ontario to increase tourism within the counties of Haliburton, Lanark, and Renfrew and portions of Frontenac, Hastings, and Lennox and Addington. Find out more at www.ohto.ca or visit our consumer website at www.ontarioshighlands.ca.