In Hastings County, the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams has extra meaning: If you build it, they will come. The idea is that if you build and develop purchasable tourism experiences, then visitors will follow. Long debated in the tourism world, this is a concept that is no longer theoretical, thanks to a recent Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) Partnerships Project in Hastings County.
It isn’t often that a community is able to come together to ignite their collective curiosity and drive concrete progress and discoveries. In Hastings County, a project that began with the Ignite program in 2019 with 17 operators and two staff members has led to the prioritization of experiential tourism development in the region, and the development of experiences that will attract visitors now and in the future.
Hasting County’s 2021 TRIP project built on the foundations created by the Ignite program, with a goal of realizing the development of enhanced experiences in the region – namely, Experiential Tourism Development through e-training for local operators.
Through this project, Hastings County hoped to develop a sustainable training experience that could be repeated in future. Andrew Redden, Economic Development & Tourism Manager for Hastings County, explained the project fit with the priority of facilitating the development of more tourism experiences within Hastings County.
“The workshop was a kickstart to achieving our goal of creating more purchasable experiences,” said Andrew. “It created some great connections and connections with local businesses, and we have seen some great experiences implemented as a result.”
In 2021, 11 tourism operators in Hastings County took part in the training, with a goal of creating six new or enhanced experiences within one year of the program. Participating tourism operators included tourism experience operators like Tweed & Company Theatre, Kingsmill Cider, Potter Settlement Winery, The Barn Chefs, among others.
“Some of the businesses that took part are champions in the tourism community, and capable of achieving wonderful things,” said Andrew.
While time will tell how many experiences are developed in response to the training, there is one easily notable success story: Kings Mill Cider. Cidery owner, Margaret Van Helvoort, explained the many benefits the program had on their business, and the ways in which it sparked inspiration for exciting future projects.
“Thanks to the program, Kings Mill Cider was able to make an amazing partnership connection with the Stirling Festival Theatre and in August we hosted the first annual Busker Festival together…it turned out splendidly,” said Margaret.
Margaret noted the opportunity to make connections with other operators was a benefit f the experience. The exercises they took part in were unique – one exercise involved planting and caring for seeds and seedlings which showed how important an attention to detail and follow up can be. Margaret added the other exercises were “invigorating, refreshing, and grounding.”
A follow up meeting is planned for October to learn more about what experiences were developed in consequence to the training, and with new experiences forthcoming, Andrew is optimistic about Hastings County’s role of promoting tourism development.
“If we can work with operators to encourage them to create a purchasable experience, we can assist with the promotion,” said Andrew.
This project is an example of how partnership projects can benefit the community and tourism operators simultaneously. Andrew recommends anyone with an idea for how to grow tourism to consider partnering with Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization.
“Ontario’s Highlands has always been very approachable,” said Andrew. “Whether it’s a small municipality, a tourism operator or organization I would encourage them to give staff a call and ask them for thoughts of how they can navigate through some challenges of the industry.”