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2014 Tourism Conference & AGM Wrap-Up

Fred Sheppard leading a group of OHTO members on a story-telling workshop.
Fred Sheppard leading a group of OHTO members on a story-telling workshop.

The Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) would like to thank all those who attended its fourth annual Tourism Conference & AGM at the Pinestone Resort & Conference Centre in #MyHaliburtonHighlands between October 27 and 28. 

The event, themed “Making the Shift: Realizing the Potential of Rural Tourism”, drew a crowd of nearly 100 active OHTO members and tourism industry stakeholders and focused on the many ways that adapting a new visitor-centric, experience-based approach to marketing and product development can lead to more authentic, personal connections with guests and differentiate our rural communities from “Big City” travel destinations.

OHTO’s New Brand Promise

A key highlight from the first day of the conference was a presentation by Marc Whitehead, Senior Strategist for OHTO’s new Marketing Agency of Record, Karo Group, which unveiled the organization’s new brand promise: a shift toward capturing the spirit of an exciting new visitor profile with the potential to drive tourism to the region by embracing city slickers’ desire to escape, unwind and spontaneously discover their next big (physical and emotional) adventure – right in our backyard!

“The event was a huge success, and it was a delight to meet so many of our engaged, enthusiastic and eager members,” says Laurel Smith, Chair of the OHTO’s Board of Directors. “We appreciated the opportunity to share with members our visitor-centric shift and release of OHTO’s new brand promise, focusing on the concept of ‘wandering’. At the same time, we were able to select the new Board of Directors  for the 2014-15 term, who I am very much looking forward to working with. And, of course, it’s always powerful to have members attend from throughout our region, who may not normally have the chance to network and discuss important tourism issues, to be in one room to do just that. It was exciting to see the different ways that our operators are already working to help ‘make shift happen’ across Ontario’s Highlands.”

“Making Shift Happen” Across Ontario’s Highlands

 A Packed Agenda

In addition to the presentation of OHTO’s visitor-centric strategy, the agenda for the Tourism Conference also included the recognition of hard-working tourism businesses who were awarded an OHvation designation for their commitment to customer service (full list here) and a speech from Richard McKinnell, Assistant Deputy Minister with Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. McKinnell congratulated tourism businesses in Ontario’s Highlands for their great success over the past year, and encouraged them to continue supporting tourism in the region.

Sharing Our Regional Stories

Several keynote speakers took the stage, beginning with Dorothy Payne, President and Chair of Synergy Louisbourg, who kicked off the first day with a presentation showcasing how a nearby Canadian region, located at the eastern edge of Nova Scotia, was able to change its perception with visitors from “dead end” to “destination” by focusing in on the needs of a targeted guest –“We couldn’t be all things to all people,” she says –and honouring the stories found within the community.

Next, Fred Sheppard, an Interpreter with Gros Morne National Park, began his presentation by bursting into song, demonstrating that everyone has a story to tell and highlighting “Rule number six” of storytelling: don’t take yourself too seriously. Sheppard walked OHTO members through some of the key elements of telling their stories in an authentic way, such as focusing on the positive, being themselves and creating experiences that are real, unique and sensory. A key takeaway from his presentation? Grab hold of what sets you apart from your neighbours. “Visitors want a different story when they come to your different communities,” he said.

The second day of the conference, October 28,  enabled tourism operators to identify and share their stories through a series of tourism workshops on topics such as travel media, digital strategies (including TripAdvisor) and an introduction to travel trade.

The OHTO looks forward to working with the industry in the year to come to help identify and share the great stories of our region and create compelling travel experiences for our ideal guests.

*For more photos from the event, check out our Facebook album and tag yourself!

To view our industry video, capturing the ways our industry is making shifts and focusing on the visitor experience (released at the Tourism Conference), please click here.

Post-Event Survey

Post-event survey results for OHTO’s 4th Annual Tourism Conference & AGM are in! Thank you to everyone who took the time to provide valuable feedback about this year’s event. Your comments and great ideas have kicked off the planning for our 2015 Tourism Conference (our fifth anniversary!). To view a summary of what conference attendees had to say, please click here. We would also like to send out a warm congratulations to Shirley Fulton-Deugo, of Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush, who was randomly selected as the winner of our iPad giveaway for completing the survey. Congratulations and make sure you follow @ohtoinsider on your new device, Shirley!

2013-14 Annual Report

Please click on the image below to view OHTO’s 2013-14 Annual Report. This document was released at OHTO’s 4th Annual Tourism Conference & AGM and features a detailed summary of our goals and successes over the past year.

Tourism Conference Materials


Due to popular request, and to provide those not able to attend the Conference with the shared knowledge, we’re making the material from the Tourism Conference’s speakers and presenters available here:

Keynote Presentations (Day 1):
Synergy Louisbourg: A Community Engagement Case Study
Dorothy Payne

Speaking With an Authentic Voice: Sharing Stories that Connect Hearts and Minds
Fred Sheppard

Workshop Presentations (Day 2):

Ontario’s Highlands Success Stories: Industry Panel:

Classic Theatre Festival
Laurel Smith

Ride the Highlands
Chris Hughes  

Madawaska Kanu Centre
Claudia Van Wijk

Recreational Geology
Michael Bainbridge

Need Financial Assistance?: Ontario Ministry & OTMPC Funders Panel 
2014-15 Tourism Event Marketing & Tourism Industry Partner Programs
Visit Ontariotravel.net for additional resources

Reach Your Best Customers: A Deep Look at Your Target Visitor
Kathryn Forgacs (OTMPC)

Score Five Stars with Your Visitors: Direct from TripAdvisor
Andrew Wiens

Take Off With Travel Trade: An Introduction to Engaging with Domestic & International Travel Trade
Holly Blefgen 

Master Digital Without a PhD: Simple Strategies for Connecting with Your Visitors
Gaylene MacDonald

Engaging Employees: It’s Easier than You Think!
Barry Chapman 



“The Tourism Conference was a great time! Lots of valuable information was shared. It was wonderful to be a part of it.”


“I overheard lots of great feedback about the Conference. What I noticed is that people seemed more connected, more excited about the region and the work you’re doing than before the event. That’s a great sign.”


“I had the opportunity to sit in on the travel trade presentation at the OHTO conference and am both inspired but what you are doing and interested in the opportunities that may arise from a partnership.”




2013-2014 OHvation Designations
Tourism Stakeholders in Ontario's Highlands Wander Toward More Authentic Visitor Experiences
2014 Conference Event Feedback

This entry was posted in Announcements, Events, Industry, Initiatives, Media and Communications.

About Us

The Ontario's Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) is one of 13 Regional Tourism Organizations created by the Ontario government to increase tourism to the province. The OHTO covers a large region in eastern Ontario which includes the counties of Frontenac, Haliburton, Hastings, Lanark, Lennox and Addington, and Renfrew.

Government of Ontario

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