Meet the Board: Melissa Marquardt, Ottawa Valley Tourist Association, Renfrew County

Melissa Marquardt is an Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) board member who has stood the test of time. Melissa was not only one of the first directors for the OHTO board and served three full terms, but after taking a short break she is back again.

One might wonder what keeps bringing Melissa back to this role with OHTO? The answer is: Lots.

“I’m very passionate about tourism and passionate about promoting Ontario’s Highlands as a place to play, live and work,” explained Melissa. “Being around a table of like-minded individuals who want to see the success of our operators and communities is very exciting and something I want to be a part of.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Melissa is someone who lives and breathes tourism. As the Tourism Development Officer for the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association for the past 15 years, tourism is Melissa’s focus professionally, but she also lives and is part of the community in an area renowned for its tourism offerings.

From whitewater to camping, food and drink, and more, the Ottawa Valley is a tourism centrepiece, which gives Melissa plenty of inspiration for her professional and personal life. The best part about tourism, from her perspective, is that it’s always evolving and changing, which keeps it exciting.

Her position on OHTO’s board has given her the tools to use in her day job, but it’s also inspired conversation and thinking on bigger-picture ideas relating to tourism and how they can apply in her region.

“In tourism, we tend to be in a reactionary state, and it’s nice to be in a proactive state and thinking about the future and where want to go and who we want to be,” said Melissa. “Those are the bigger picture conversations we have at the OHTO table.”

This term in her role with the OHTO board, Melissa is taking on the role of Chief Governing Officer (CGO). In essence, this means that Melissa will serve as the chair of the board, but it’s also much more than that.

“It’s ensuring we have an ear to the ground for industry needs, wants, and wishes, while also ensuring we have the finances, skill sets, and resources to meet those needs,” said Melissa.

From a CGO perspective, the focus for OHTO moving forward is to continue down the journey of responsible tourism and the impact that will inevitably have on the region. The board will be addressing issues like sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion and what that looks like from a tourism perspective.

While Melissa is excited about her next term on the OHTO board and particularly in her role as CGO, she’s also looking forward to welcoming new board members to the table and inviting new perspectives for the conversations about sustainable tourism and what tourism will look like in the future in Ontario’s Highlands.

“If anyone has an interest in tourism and wants to have a stake in the future of Ontario’s Highlands, then I would suggest they consider joining the board. It’s not an onerous time commitment and the conversations we have are important.”

Joining the OHTO Board

OHTO is currently seeking new board members to join the team and make changes in the tourism world in Ontario’s Highlands. Anyone who is passionate about tourism and can dedicate a few hours each month, please consider submitting an application. For more information about how to apply and to read more about current board members’ thoughts on what being a board member means to them, please click here.

TRIP Success Story: Bonnie View Inn and Tinhouse Woodworking excel with OHTO funding program

If you’re looking for an easy-to-access grant that offers more than 50 percent cost-sharing, there is one that delivers on both counts.

 The Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) Capital Projects Stream from the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) is easy to apply for, contributes 80 percent of the total project cost, and is having a big impact on participating businesses in Ontario’s Highlands.

This spring, Bonnie View Inn and Tinhouse Woodworking were among the many tourism businesses that received this funding, and the impacts on their operations have been far-reaching.

The TRIP funding program launched in early 2021 and is an application-based program designed to strengthen resiliency in our tourism sector in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The program is separated into three funding streams: skills development, partnership, and capital projects.

The capital projects stream provides funding for small to medium-sized tourism businesses and offsets up to 80 percent of eligible capital expenses incurred to modify operations, up to a maximum of $20,000. It was to this stream which Bonnie View Inn and Tinhouse Woodworking applied and received funding.

June Wells and her husband, Jeff, are owners of Tinhouse Woodworking and Espresso Bar, and June explained the TRIP program provided much-needed funding at a time when things looked bleak due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Located in Coe Hill, Tinhouse Woodworking added in an espresso bar about six years ago and has been serving as a community gathering space and coffee hotspot ever since.

Tinhouse Woodworking & Espresso Bar in Coe Hill, ON – Hastings County.

In March 2020, everything changed for Wells’ and her operations.

“When COVID hit we did a makeshift take-out window for coffee, but it wasn’t ideal,” said June, who explained she wanted to create a gathering place, where people could sit and enjoy their coffee and so they could purchase without even having to go inside the store.

June applied for TRIP funding to create an outdoor patio area, complete with tables and chairs and awnings to protect customers from the elements while they sat outdoors.”

“I added a new deck along the side of the building and built a great take-out window and espresso bar and added tables for people to sit outside and enjoy their coffee,” said June.

The patio turned out to be a big success for the business. June explained that it was not only an added enticement for existing customers, but it attracted a lot of first-time customers because of the additional curb appeal it made for the business.

“It increased traffic by about 15 percent,” June said. “We got a lot of first-time customers, so that made a big difference.”

Tinhouse Woodworking’s success is mirrored by the TRIP project at Bonnie View Inn in Haliburton.

Bonnie View Inn has been operating since the 1940s and when COVID restrictions hit which eliminated indoor dining as an option, in some ways the inn was in good shape. A patio (previously a ‘boatel’) offered a place for diners to eat outdoors, even if spacing was limited.

Bonnie View Inn, Minden, ON – Haliburton County

“Bonnie View’s patio is a bit of a staple in the area, it’s definitely a place people come to in the summertime, and it’s the only one of its kind in the area,” explained Ryan Yates, co-owner of Bonnie View Inn.

The TRIP grant enabled the inn to increase patio space, improve the layout of the patio to free up additional space, and improve the quality of the food they were able to offer from the patio. In total, they were able to add space for another 30 people to dine outdoors.

“With the renovation, we were also able to stop cooking off two barbecues and have a proper cooking space where we could serve a better menu,” Ryan explained. “The added benefit for us is that with no indoor dining able to open this gave us a way to meet the needs of the guests who were staying here and who wouldn’t otherwise have a dining option.”

At Bonnie View Inn, the patio was hopping all summer long, thanks to the extra space and enhanced experience available.

“We were busy all summer long…unless it was poor weather, we didn’t have a slow day,” said Ryan.

Both Ryan and June found the TRIP application and approval process stress-free and easy to navigate.

“It was pretty straightforward,” said Ryan. “It didn’t make us feel like we were having to jump through a bunch of hoops and we received responses to the application quickly.”

June echoes Ryan’s thoughts on the grant process in general, but most importantly, the benefits of having access to those funds to improve business operations. “I would recommend others to go for it and apply…it does make a huge difference.”

About OHTO’s Tourism Recovery & Innovation Program – Capital Projects Stream

The TRIP-Capital Grants stream is geared specifically to small to medium-sized tourism businesses to offset up to 80% of eligible capital expenses incurred to modify operations to a maximum of $20,000 in non-repayable funding, including expenses incurred back to June 1, 2020.  Applications to this funding stream are accepted on an ongoing basis until Dec. 31, 2021, or until funds are depleted.

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit To apply to one of the TRIP streams, please visit

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The Butterfly Effect: A Haliburton Sculpture Forest Success Story

Sometimes small changes can lead to great rewards. When this happens it’s virtually impossible to predict, but there’s an important lesson to be learned here: If you don’t make the change, then it’s guaranteed there won’t be any rewards.

This is something the Haliburton Sculpture Forest experienced first-hand in 2020.

When the pandemic struck indoor activities were restricted, once people were allowed to travel within the province the folks at the Haliburton Sculpture Forest noticed an increase in visitation from the Greater Toronto Area as people flocked to the countryside looking for unique outdoor and cultural experiences that conformed to COVID-19 protocols. People were driving for hours specifically to visit the Sculpture Forest, and the folks at the Sculpture Forest brainstormed how they could capitalize on that.

“We decided we wanted to increase our social media presence so we could have more impact for the things we were sharing,” said Haliburton Sculpture Forest curator, Jim Blake. “We wanted to create a series of short videos called “What’s your story?” which asked people to talk about their experiences at the Sculpture Forest and which sculptures they liked best.”

Even more importantly, the crew at the Sculpture Forest wanted to share the love a little bit. They recognized that people were driving all the way to Haliburton, sometimes several hours each way, just to visit the forest before heading back home and felt there was a missed opportunity there to entice visitors to explore more of Haliburton and get to know the region.

“We wanted to take advantage of the attraction of the Sculpture Forest to boost local restaurants, stores, accommodations and other outdoor experiences. Really, it’s marketing for the region,” explained Blake. “What happened before the pandemic was people would come to their cottage or a resort and say ‘What is there to do?’ and come to the Sculpture Forest but now the Sculpture Forest has become a destination, attracting people to the County. Now we have people asking, ‘What else is there to do?’”

To capitalize on the increase in traffic, Blake applied for the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Digital Marketing Support Grant to boost their Facebook reach, increase followers, record videos, create a map of the forest, and effectively bring more visitors to the area.

The results speak for themselves – after creating 10 videos and increasing their social media posting the Sculpture Forest saw an increase of 100 percent in engagement on social channels over the previous winter and a 50 percent increase in spring engagements. They also were able to increase their social media followers by 40 percent. 

These numbers are fantastic, but even more amazing was the amount of engagement they saw as a result of the funding for social media.

“There was an increase of 5,400 percent in engagement on Facebook between January and April 2020,” Blake said. “We also had a dramatic increase in people posting and viewing photos on our Google My Business page. We had 1 million viewers from June to August. 

The unexpected rewards didn’t end there. The Sculpture Forest noticed a change in the demographic of its visitors since the beginning of the COVID restrictions and reached out to multicultural organizations and media outlets in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and they had three different television stations come to Haliburton to do specials. 

“Our momentum kept growing, so much so that our visitation from before COVID until now has tripled or quadrupled…we have had approximately 40,000 people visit this year,” said Blake. 

The icing on the cake was when the Sculpture Forest was chosen by Cottage Life Magazine as well as Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve as the top two places in Ontario to go see fall colours, a feat which Blake called “kind of crazy.” There are a lot of wonderful places in Ontario to see the fall colours. I think that our social media presence attracted their attention. Although it is a wonderful place to see art and the fall colours at the same time.

“That $2,500 from OHTO made a big difference,” noted Blake, who was quick to point out that the application process for the Digital Marketing Support Grant was not a complicated process, and OHTO staff were there to help talk through the project plan. “OHTO is a joy to work with…as a non-profit, with no ongoing source of revenue, when you have an opportunity like this it’s an incredible gift.”

Take a look at some of the Share Your Story videos:

About OHTO’s Digital Marketing Support Program

The Digital Marketing Support Program offered up to $2,500 in financial support to tourism operators and organizations to go towards the costs of activities ranging from website enhancements, digital advertising campaigns, photo and video shoots, and more. This funding program is now closed and all funds have been fully allocated.

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit To apply to one of the TRIP streams, please visit

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