Karen Warner may have spent many years travelling around the world and facilitating Sacred Site Travel, but home for her has always been Ontario’s Highlands. When she decided it was time to settle down for good, she and her partner decided to start a firewood business, a path that ultimately led her to tourism.

Not many people would make the leap that a firewood business could possibly be related to tourism, but for Karen, the connection was obvious.

“When you live in a rural area where tourism is the dominant industry, then everyone is in the tourism industry. When I was elected to the board I didn’t have a tourism business, I had a firewood business, but I felt we were in the tourism industry,” said Karen. “With every load of wood we delivered, we also delivered information on what is happening in the area. People would ask us about restaurants, events, activities. Providing tourism information helped our firewood business and the community. We came into tourism in a backdoor kind of way.”

Karen is a firm believer that when you live in a rural area you need to come together as a community, to make sure there are opportunities to attract people to the area. When she began thinking more about tourism, she finally settled on her own business idea that would draw people to the area.

Today, Karen and her husband, Rob Watson, steward Gaia’s Den, a Sacred Sanctuary in Nature where many transformational tourism opportunities are offered on 74 acres of private, forested land where there are three secluded waterfalls. Their signature product is ‘Spirit of the Waterfalls;’ offering five customized, guided, Shamanic Nature Experiences in the wild setting of Haliburton Highlands, each one focusing on a different aspect of Nature.

Coming onto the Board of Directors was a learning curve for Karen, who understood going in that OHTO’s board of directors was a governance board, not an operational board. Three terms later serving on the Board, Karen’s favourite part of being a director is making a difference being part of an organization that is really well run and progressive when it comes to tourism.

“I really feel that the organization is a leader in setting tourism trends, whether these trends be experiential, transformational or sustainable tourism,” Karen said.

Karen is especially proud of the organization’s efforts to de-colonize tourism by honouring and respecting the contributions of Indigenous Peoples, for “there is no part of this province where tourism in untouched by the Indigenous Peoples, their culture, traditions, history and sustainable way of life,” said Karen. “This region is making a big difference using the minimal resources that we have. We haven’t just impacted this region, we’ve impacted the province of Ontario and have a broader, international impact. That’s special to be part of.”

Being on the Board has helped keep the information flow for tourism related news more present for Karen to incorporate into her own business. Karen explained that when she first came on the board the focus was shifting from destination tourism to experiential tourism, and for many years it was hard for people to grasp what that meant.

Having access to the cutting edge concepts and shift in focus impacted her business and business model.

“The direction in tourism at that time was really important and helped me and my business grow a lot…the truth of tourism is it is experiential and we are combining that experience with making the region a destination.”

Karen said she would encourage anyone interested in the Board to “just do it.”

“I think it’s a good organization and a good Board to work with. There’s a group outcome, a business growth opportunity and a personal growth opportunity.”

Interested in being on OHTO’s Board of Directors?

Share your vision for the future! OHTO’s Board of Directors is looking for energetic, positive and collaborative strategic thinkers to contribute to the growth of tourism in the region by volunteering to serve as a Director of the Board. Opportunities to fill vacancies are available to our members and interested individuals able to commit to a three-year term, are encouraged to review and complete the online application. 

Submit your online application here.