If you build it they will come. This is the foundation of tourism success – before you can expect visitors to flock to your destination, you need to lay the groundwork to learn what tourism experiences you have to offer, ensure your community is ready to welcome them and target the right visitor demographics.
Laying the groundwork is something the Carleton Place & District Chamber of Commerce embraced with its successful Regional Tourism Relief Fund (RTRF) application to support the development of a Destination Development Plan (DDP). In total, the Chamber received $50,000 for the project, which delivered a completed DDP to guide the community in maximizing tourism dollars and opportunities.
The RTRF funding is providing tourism entities with contributions of up to $100,000 for up to 50 percent of eligible costs for for-profit businesses (and 100 percent of eligible costs for non-profits), to support product development or enhancement of tourism experiences. The RTRF is supported by the Government of Canada’s Tourism Relief Fund and delivered by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO). OHTO received $3.67 million from FedDev Ontario to help local tourism organizations and businesses safely welcome back visitors, recover from the impacts of the pandemic and prepare for future growth.
Developing a DDP was a project that had long been on the town’s wish list. The Chamber of Commerce manages the visitor information centre and tourism for the town of Carleton Place so it made sense to submit an application when the RTRF program opened for submissions.
“It was a quick but intense project,” Jackie Kavanagh, Manager of the Carleton Place & District Chamber of Commerce said of the initiative that was completed within six months.
As a swiftly growing community located less than an hour from Ottawa, Carleton Place has seen continued growth in visitation for day trippers and visitors. Seeing an opportunity for a more focused effort on the tourism and new resident front, the Chamber jumped on the opportunity to work with the town of Carleton Place to create a more structured plan around visitor attraction.
The town of Carleton Place’s Communications Coordinator, Amanda Charania, explained that from the town’s perspective, developing the DDP was a win-win for the community and local businesses.
“COVID-19 showed us that local tourism was important,” Charania said. “With so much growth from visitors as well as people moving here, we want to make sure we are honing in on ways to make visits more memorable and longer.”
The Chamber of Commerce contracted with consultants, Bannikin Travel & Tourism, to develop a three-year plan with an associated action plan. The plan was able to contextualize Carleton Place within the larger tourism landscape, identify the potential of Carleton Place’s tourism assets and sense of place, engage tourism stakeholders for input, and gain clarify on current positioning and promotion of the town, with opportunities for the future.
The DDP not only assessed the mix of assets and attractions in Carleton Place to build on the local visitor economy, but arguably more importantly, it identified for the town a path forward to supporting tourism projects that will further cement the community as an ideal destination and continue its upward growth.
Kavanagh explained that one of the important takeaways from the planning process was the opportunity to engage with stakeholders and get their feedback on the state of Carleton Place.
“There’s a lot of opportunity around industry engagement and one of the key pieces that came out of the DDP action plan was how are we engaging with our stakeholders and what we could do better,” Kavanagh said.
With a plan in hand, the next step for the town of Carleton Place and the Chamber of Commerce is to identify a short list of achievable goals to work towards. For 2023 those goals could include wayfinding signage, stakeholder engagement, ambassadorship, or more.
“We’re looking at growing our social media presence and bringing in other marketing pieces like posters, billboards, or a really cool marketing campaign with strong imagery and clear call to action,” Kavanagh said. “We have a goal now and we’ll continue to work towards ensuring Carleton Place is on the map when it comes to tourism in eastern Ontario.”
Ultimate Recipients of the Regional Tourism Relief Fund received non-repayable contributions of up to $100,000 from Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization to adapt and recover, attract new visitors and drive economic growth in the area. This is part of an overall Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) of more than $78 million for 11 Regional Tourism Organizations and Indigenous Tourism Ontario.