Meet the Board: Chris Hinsperger, Bonnechere Caves

It is an understatement to say that Chris Hinsperger is passionate about tourism. For Chris, tourism is not only something that involves his business and professional life, it’s a key component to sharing cultural stories and histories, to bringing people together.

It’s that passion that Chris brings to his business, Bonnechere Caves, but it’s also what he brings to his role on the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Board of Directors.

“Tourism is how we share who we are as a people to gain better insight into those who are different from us,” Chris explained. “Now more than ever, tourism is a part of healing as we move forward following the pandemic. Tourism is how the world will heal…sounds profound, but it’s very simple.”

Chris’ current term on the OHTO’s board isn’t his first kick at the can, he was on the board for three years early in the founding of Ontario’s Highlands as a Regional Tourism Organization (RTO), but stepped away when he became chair of the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA).

Now, he’s back, bringing with him (if it’s even possible) more enthusiasm for the role and what he can bring to it.

“I’m older now and more experienced and I can bring that wisdom to the board,” Chris said, noting that he still has a child-like view of how things work and is open to new ideas.

“I’m not someone who says this is the way we’ve always done it…things change, we have to modify our approach to meet the objectives of our organization.”

A desire to be part of growing tourism in Ontario is a big part of the attraction for Chris, but in his own words, he enjoys being around like-minded people and being on the board gives him inspiration and a source of energy that he really enjoys.

With so many different personalities and skills on the board, there is plenty of collective experience to help shape the organization in a positive way.

“I like being part of an organization that mines the group “gold” and takes everyone’s input to make decisions,” Chris said. “And that’s OHTO.”

His current term on the board gives Chris a chance to do what he does best, which is become a conduit to help others be successful in tourism, and especially in his own community. By being a director, he is able to hear about new initiatives at the provincial or regional level and apply them to his business.

“At the same time, I become an example and can share my experience to benefit my industry,” Chris explained.

He recommends that other tourism operators or stakeholders take the time to join the board themselves, and “put themselves out there.”

“Our industry is one that has a number of different pieces and very dynamic businesses, but everybody brings something important to the table.”

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.

Meet the Board: Meghan James, Somewhere Inn Calabogie

After nearly a decade spent working in tourism, including nine years at the Pembroke Best Western, Meghan James has taken on virtually every job on the books. From restaurant manager to sales, marketing, events, community outreach, and public relations, Meghan has literally learned the industry from the ground up.

After making the move from the Best Western to Somewhere Inn Calabogie as their General Manager earlier this year, Meghan is also taking on her next new role in the industry, as an OHTO Board Member. The move to board member was the logical next step for Meghan, who seems to have found her calling in tourism.

“My goal has been to promote not just our property, but the Ottawa Valley area, and Ontario’s Highlands,” Meghan explained. “I feel like if we get the word out about how much there is to see and do here, we can get people coming back to experience everything we have to offer.”

It was after finishing college and taking some time to travel that Meghan began to see that tourism is key in other countries and a big part of the reason why she enjoyed her experiences while travelling. Combining a love for the outdoors with a love for community, Meghan was set for success in the Ontario’s Highlands’ tourism scene.

Meghan sees collaboration as pivotal to tourism success and has been walking the walk in her own professional endeavours.

“At Somewhere Inn Calabogie, we’ve been collaborating with so many people in Calabogie, but I love the idea of doing it farther afield, too,” Meghan said. “Hospitality has been hit really hard but in 2022 we will see growth in the industry which is exciting.”

It’s an auspicious time to join the OHTO board, as the industry struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Meghan is looking forward to working with the other board members to help guide the industry out of the pandemic and be a part of the recovery.

“I love OHTO’s sustainable tourism initiatives, which aligns perfectly with our brand…when I heard there was an opening I jumped at it. It’s a great opportunity to learn and contribute to Ontario’s Highlands and be part of something bigger.”

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.

Successful connections: Looking back at 2021

With a new year comes a chance to look back at the challenges and success of the previous – and what a year it was in Ontario and around the world.

In spite of the changing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, when summer came and lockdowns were lifted, the marketing team at the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) was ready to hit the ground running with a brand-new marketing campaign with a goal of community building and developing brand messaging through local storytelling.

This campaign was carefully crafted using a mix of research and experience, all of which told us that a large trend in destination marketing was community building and authentic connections through the local experience.  With this information, OHTO’s marketing team brainstormed how to create a campaign that was pandemic proof and could be rolled out despite shifts in COVID restrictions.

The solution was the ‘Our Connections campaign, a content series featuring the stories of seven inspiring locals and their unique connections to the region, anchored by mini docu-series and content shared via social media.

The Connections docu-series introduced the concept of connections to the water, the land, the people, and more, and invited locals to relate to, rediscover, and support everything that’s truly special about Ontario’s Highlands. The series launched in July 2021 and ends in March 2022.

Local Connections

Did you see one of these stories in your newsfeed and were inspired by the stories of people who live and work near you? If you missed one or more, you can find all Connections content here: https://ourconnections.ca/

The stories we shared were inspiring, exciting, and 100 percent local! Here is a list of storytellers featured through this series:

By the Numbers: Connections Successes

The biggest success from the Connections campaign came from the increased knowledge of the people and stories that help shape Ontario’s Highlands and the connections that were created with the audience. It has built community and got locals feeling a heightened sense of pride in place, they engaged with that message, and they shared that message.  These stories and videos were shared far and wide, across the province, and beyond.

The metrics from the campaign exceeded expectations and are a reflection of the interest locals have in connecting to their communities, and the interesting people who live and work there.

Here are a few highlights of the campaign’s successes:

Other Marketing Stats

Beyond the Connections campaign, Ontario’s Highlands stories and advertising reached far and wide in 2021.

  • There were 104 stories created and distributed through social media and marketing campaigns in 2021.
  • Stories generated 277,440 page views between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021.
  • There were more than 34,000 clicks to operators in 2021, which means direct referrals to operators by customers interested in the experiences they are offering.

Meet the Champions

Also in 2021, OHTO created a Community Champions program to recognize the efforts of locals in the community. Through this program, Ontario’s Highlands’ residents nominated local groups or organizations that had gone above and beyond over the past year to strengthen the local community, advocate for the environment, or help preserve the natural wonders of Ontario’s Highlands.

Following the nomination period, the public voted on the finalists to determine which organizations would receive $3,000 in support to continue their initiatives. OHTO received nearly 30 nominations for 20 organizations or businesses in the region.

And the winners were….

Each of the award-winning organizations received $3,000 to continue the work they do for their communities.

Here’s to looking ahead to an even more amazing 2022!

Meet the Board: Corina Mansfield, Deep Roots Adventure, Harcourt

If there’s a common theme to those who come to the Ontario’s Highlands region, it’s a desire to get closer to nature, and Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) Board Member and Secretary, Corina Mansfield’s story is no different.

After a decade spent working in the city of Toronto as a Law Clerk, Corina was ready for a change, and a chance to get back to where her heart has always been, the outdoors. She may have launched a career in Toronto, but her heart has always been in Ontario’s Highlands.

“I think that my formative years were spent in Haliburton Highlands…I loved the outdoors, I just feel like when you leave the city and drive up to the Highlands, there’s this point along the way that your shoulders start to go down and the stress leaves your body…I just love it.” said Corina.

Corina explained that growing up she always had this dream of owning an adventure company, but that back then it didn’t feel like a “real job,” there weren’t as many university or college programs she could take, and finding role models of women running adventure companies, or representing adventure sports, was challenging.

Corina made the move back to Ontario’s Highlands in 2018 with the goal of starting an adventure company. After working hard for many years to make the move to full-time entrepreneurship while raising two little girls, she finally launched Deep Roots Adventure in 2017.

“For me there are a lot of industries that we have here, but tourism is the heartbeat of the Highlands,” said Corina. “I love it when people leave a class and they are empowered and excited, they have this glow about them, that’s why I do this, I love seeing how people are in the outdoors, how they feel empowered, how they learn, how they let go of their comfort zone.”

Once Corina began working in the tourism realm, she saw more and more opportunities to connect and network with others in the industry. She took part in Ignite Haliburton, hosted by OHTO, and was excited at the collaboration she saw taking place there. She then joined the OHTO governance committee before deciding to take the plunge and join the OHTO board, a natural next step.

For Corina, being a director has been empowering, both professionally and personally.

“Getting to interact with other people and see their perspectives has really helped me to grow and given me an appreciation for the different tourism sectors,” Corina said. “I get a bit of a buzz from connecting with others who are so passionate about tourism and the community.

Her favourite part of being a board member is seeing the energy that the board brings to the table and the impacts that energy has on policy and the direction of tourism in the region.

She would recommend any tourism operator take the plunge and volunteer for the board, but does have some tips and suggestions, particularly when it comes to overcommitting.

Corina suggests being honest with yourself and how much you can give to the board, or any volunteer endeavour. She acknowledges that entrepreneurs are often the types of people who have big hearts and want to help a lot in the community, so end up volunteering a lot. These people in particular have to be careful to have a realistic view of time commitments.

“I have a mug that stays ‘Stop me before I volunteer again’ because I love to take on new projects,’” Corina laughed. “I think all entrepreneurs have to say ‘what’s my realistic opportunity to contribute’ and then put that energy where they can, without burning out.”

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.

Meet Julie Mulligan: OHTO’s Marketing Director

(Photo caption: Julie Mulligan (left) is with Melissa Marquardt (right), from the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association, on a photo shoot for OHTO.)

From the rugged mountains of B.C. to the wilds of Ontario’s Highlands, Julie Mulligan has been carving a path in the tourism world.

It was eight years ago that Julie moved back to Ontario from Vancouver, and after 12 years of living in BC and working at various tourism hot spots such as Tourism Whistler and Mount Seymour Ski Resort, she was primed to tackle tourism in Ontario. Having grown up skiing, Julie’s always had an interest in working at a ski hill, which was a natural overlap with the tourism industry.

“I love the atmosphere, the snow, the hills, it just makes me happy to be skiing and out in the fresh air, so if you’re able to work in an industry that makes you happy, that’s what I was looking for,” explained Julie.

After returning to Ontario, Julie was excited to join the team at the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) as Marketing Director, and bring her experience from B.C. to the Ontario world of tourism. Landing a position with OHTO was a chance for Julie to spread her wings and really think outside the box about tourism, and be creative with marketing initiatives.

“It was exciting that a job came up in a field that I was passionate about,” Julie said. “The tourism industry is exciting, I love seeing tourists come and explore, it’s nice to be a part of that. I love to see the impacts when things start to stand out, you can start to see change.”

Transitioning to a home-based role with OHTO was an adjustment for Julie, who was used to working at a ski hill where she was in constant contact with others, but it didn’t take long for her to get accustomed to working from home.

Over the past eight years, Julie has watched the Ontario’s Highlands region transition from a new tourism organization to a recognized brand and coveted destination, which has been an exciting process.

“In some organizations, you can’t see what kind of impact you’re having but with OHTO we’re a small team and we could really see the growth over the years,” Julie explained. “It’s nice to see impacts on the places where you’ve built memories.”

Julie is looking forward to summer and once again hitting the roads in a region she’s come to love. Her insider tip for discovering Ontario’s Highlands? Simple. Be part of the Come Wander brand and be ready for anything, because you never know what’s ahead of you when you’re open to wandering in Ontario’s Highlands.

“Explore the backroads, because you never know what you’re going to find. Come Wander.”

Connect With Julie

Operators and stakeholders are invited to connect with Julie to learn about what marketing opportunities are available and how they can partner with OHTO. Julie can be reached at 613-629-6486 (1-855-629-OHTO) ext. 202 or via email at julie.mulligan@ohto.ca.