As we all ramp up for the busiest season for the Ontario’s Highlands, I thought it would be useful to step back for a moment and share with you some thoughts on rural tourism.
Last December a report was released from the University of Guelph in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. A stakeholder survey was conducted that basically asked two questions: “What’s wrong with rural tourism?” and “What are the Innovation Success Factors for rural tourism?”
Since Ontario’s Highlands is the only RTO that is solely rural, it behooves us all to look carefully at these findings.
The first question was summarized under the following headings: Infrastructure; Policy; Marketing; Demand; Funding; Product Development; Collaboration; and Research. Overall, the stakeholders identified failings in all these areas as they pertain to rural tourism.
On the good news side, it was noted that rural tourism has enormous growth potential, and indeed can be the saving grace (albeit not the “magic bullet”) for rural communities struggling to survive, let alone grow. The potential lies in the following areas: Increased Co-ordination; Improved Governance; Enhanced Human Resources; Increased Investment; Better Communications; More Effective Marketing; and Excellence in Research.
So, more good news: OHTO has carefully examined our region’s strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats and is now positioned to address these areas of concern through our strategic priorities and our operational plan.
The important thing to note is that OHTO is basing its prioritization and planning on a research-based decision-making model. It is not enough simply to have a “good idea”; plans need to grow from a detailed analysis of consumer demand matching the region’s best offerings.
And we encourage everyone throughout the region to do the same! While this may seem an overwhelming task, we’re here to help.
Take a look at our destination development framework. This is a toolkit that was developed as part of OHTO’s destination development process that was undertaken before we embarked on the creation of our new strategic plan.
This invaluable toolkit is now available for use at the County and Municipal levels in order to determine which areas should be focused on, based on what the consumer wants and what is market-ready to receive those consumers in your community. From this analysis, a destination development plan can be devised that is both efficient and effective. It will benefit everyone in the tourism industry, from government planners to DMOs through to tour operators.
Worried about funding such an exercise? The OHTO can even provide up to 50% matching funds through our new Tourism Development Partnership Program.
The key component is, of course, that we all work together: collaboration is the key to developing our region as a premiere destination of choice. The more people that get involved, the better our region will be!
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