Success Story: Safety and flexibility made possible at OWL Rafting thanks to TRIP funding

When COVID-19 entered the world stage, we all naturally turned to the outdoors as a destination for vacations, weekend getaways, and just to generally relieve a little pandemic stress. With an abundance of prime natural settings, Ontario’s outdoor experiences were in high demand, and particularly the Ottawa Valley’s signature experience, whitewater rafting and paddling.

Located on the Ottawa River, OWL Rafting has been providing high quality whitewater rafting experiences on the Ottawa River for more than 40 years, and when COVID-19 entered the picture at first glance they were in a good position. They offered an experience which was almost entirely outdoors, and they also offered an accommodation option.

As the pandemic progressed and the pressure increased on outdoor experiences, OWL realized they needed to stay ahead of the game to ensure they were able to offer the safest experience possible and protect customers and staff from possible exposures to COVID-19.

“We were looking for funding to build new systems and structures to provide safely distanced experiences during the pandemic,” explained Stefi Van Wijk, co-owner of OWL Rafting.

In early 2021, OWL submitted an application for OHTO’s Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program – Capital Projects funding stream to allow them to re-open safely after the early 2021 lockdown, while reducing transmission risk for customers and staff. The application requested $25,000 in funds to add additional covered seating to increase dining capacity outdoors, including separate collapsible tent canopies, along with the construction of additional fire pits and stone seating areas to maintain physical distancing for guests.

“OHTO’s grant allowed us to increase the capacity of our restaurant and resort by 50 per cent,” said Stefi. “During a time where space is the main limiting factor to an already limited number of guests, this helped us maintain viability throughout the pandemic.”

Stefi went on to explain that the application process was made even easier this year with the online portal where each applicant was able to create their own personal profile.

“OHTO staff supported us throughout the funding process and reporting was made so easy with the online portal…OHTO knows how to support our region’s tourism,” said Stefi.

Heading into a new year, Stefi, staff, and owners at OWL are looking forward to doing what they do best: delivering high quality outdoor experiences in Ontario’s Highlands.

“We’re looking forward to bringing people to, through, and into the Ottawa River this summer.”

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Outdoor patio keeps Temple’s Sugar Bush hosting and celebrating weddings in 2021

We hear a lot about the industries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – restaurants, or accommodations, for example. But there is one industry that is often overlooked when it comes to struggling through the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions for in-person gatherings: weddings.

Temple’s Sugar Bush is a maple syrup production facility and wedding venue operating out of a beautiful timberframe building set in the hardwood forest of a working sugarbush. Each year, Temple’s provides the setting for hundreds of brides and grooms to join together in love and matrimony.

With two stunning outdoor wedding venue spaces to choose between, brides and grooms would typically say their vows outdoors before heading inside for a reception and dinner surrounded by family and friends.

Unfortunately, COVID restrictions introduced strict limits to the number of guests who could attend a wedding (often less than 50, sometimes less than 10) leading many brides and grooms to choose to postpone their events, or search for outdoor alternatives that would allow them to increase numbers.

In search of a solution to continue hosting weddings, Temple’s looked for funding to extend their outdoor patio and create a space where brides and grooms could increase numbers within the limits of public health guidelines. The Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) – Capital Projects funding was just the program Temple’s was looking for.

TRIP funding provided up to 80 per cent in funds for capital projects to a maximum of $25,000. Temple’s applied for $20,000 to contribute towards an estimated $50,000 to $75,000 for the patio extension.

“We expanded the patio and renovated the gardens,” said Jamie Fortune, Temple’s Sugar Bush owner. “The TRIP funding was helpful because it allowed us to do a lot more work in that year.”

Jamie Fortune

The result was a beautifully landscaped patio space for receptions complete with a bonfire area where brides and grooms and their guests could congregate for a 100 per cent outdoor wedding, from ceremony to reception. 

“The objective was to provide more space outdoors for people and diners and to put a tent there,” said Jamie. “It pretty well transformed this space from a 20-to-30-person spot to a 50-to-100-person spot.”

The newly expanded space provided a base for a tent that could be used for diners during the reception in the event of inclement weather. The increased space allowed for more physical distancing in accordance with the provincial regulations in effect at the time.

Jamie explained that without the outdoor patio many couples may have cancelled their weddings as it wouldn’t have been possible to host their dream ceremony while following regulations provided by the province.

Thanks to the outdoor space, Temple’s was able to host and celebrate the weddings of 40 wedding couples in 2021.

“It was very, very helpful and very well received by people.”

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Bonnie View Inn excels with OHTO’s TRIP Capital Projects

Last spring, Bonnie View Inn was one of many tourism businesses to receive funding from the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO)’s through their Tourism Recovery & Innovation Program (TRIP) Capital Projects stream. Funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, this program provided up to 80 per cent of the total capital project costs for tourism operators making adaptations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Located in Haliburton Highlands, Bonnie View Inn has been operating since the 1940s and when COVID restrictions eliminated indoor dining, 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.

The patio had previously been able to accommodate more than 100 patrons at a time, but with the new restrictions, those numbers were reduced to between 40 and 50. Naturally, this had a big impact on their loyal customers.

“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 Capital Projects provided $20,000 towards costs 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 by purchasing tables, umbrellas, a new canopy, a barbecue and the lumber to extend the patio.

“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.”

With a fabulous view of the water from the patio, it wasn’t long before word of the new amenities and outdoor dining area spread in Haliburton. As a result, Bonnie View Inn’s patio was hopping all summer long.

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

Overall, Ryan found the funding application and approval process was 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.”

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Sharbot Lake Country Inn’s health and safety changes made possible by TRIP funding

It’s fair to say that restaurants and hotels were among the harder hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is something the owners of the Sharbot Lake Country Inn & Crossing Pub know first-hand.

Before COVID-19 struck, the inn was a local hotspot for frequent live music and dinner events, and a destination for travellers to spend the night. Unfortunately, COVID caused several things to happen in quick succession: restaurants were closed, live music was not permitted, and people in general stopped travelling.

This is when the Sharbot Lake Inn owners, Sandra and Frank White, began to seriously think about how to modify business operations to remain sustainable. The goal was to make it through the frequent lockdowns and maintain their staff and customer base in the interim.

Sandra knew that while indoor dining would inevitably reopen, the restaurant at the inn had previously used large, communal tables for diners to use, which would restrict the number of customers the restaurant could accommodate with physical distancing restrictions. This gave Sandra no choice but to modify operations to offer take-out only at the restaurant, something which was not sustainable.

These issues were the impetus for applying for the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) Capital Projects funding in early 2021.  Funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the TRIP Capital Projects program provided up to 80 per cent funding to cover capital purchases, which was just what the Sharbot Lake Country Inn & Crossing Pub needed.

Sandra applied for and received funding for $20,000 from the TRIP program that allowed her to purchase new interior tables for the restaurant, the construction of an outdoor covered dining area, and the installation of a keyless remote entry system for the inn.

“We didn’t know how long we were going to be in lockdown and doing take-out and we wanted to have the area set up so it would be convenient for people to come in and do pick-up orders,” Sandra explained.

The funding enabled Sandra to have new booths made for use indoors that would replace some of the existing tables. The booths were designed to be removable so that when live music returned to the scene they would have more flexibility.

On the covered patio, Sandra noted they could fit 60 in the space but because of changing public health guidelines, they wanted to ensure the tables weren’t moveable, which limited the available space to up to 40 guests.

“I also wanted the patio to be covered rather than trying to buy umbrellas, then you could be out there if there was a little bit of drizzle or rain…it allowed us to continue to operate no matter the weather,” Sandra explained.

The keyless entry for the inn allowed guests to access their rooms without having to interact directly with staff, which protected both staff and guests from possible exposure to COVID-19.

“The keyless entry really helped a lot…with this technology now we don’t have to be site when guests arrive,” Sandra said.

Sandra looks back at the application process and working with OHTO and the application process as easy to navigate.

“They were very easy to deal with, I was surprised by how quickly the whole process came through,” Sandra said.

What’s next for the busy restaurant and inn is hopefully to expand spring hours and provide more opportunities for life to get back to normal.

“We’re looking forward to having a good season.”

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Pizza saves the day at Rosie’s Café & General Store in Denbigh

When COVID-19 struck and restrictions were introduced in Ontario, Jenelle Rosenblath and her husband, Joseph, knew that they needed to act in order to save their business, Rosie’s Café & General Store.

The Rosenblaths turned to the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) Capital Projects to access funding to make changes to their business operations and increase sustainability. The timing for the launch of the TRIP funding couldn’t have been better for the Rosenblaths: after almost a year of restrictions and lockdowns, they were feeling the impact on their business.

Enter the TRIP Capital Projects, funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, provided up to 80 per cent to cover capital costs for tourism-based businesses.

“The funding was phenomenal, it really came at the right time and helped our business,” Jenelle said.

Jenelle and Joseph are relatively new owners of Rosie’s Café & General Store, which they purchased in 2019. When COVID struck, Rosie’s sold gas and offered limited seating of approximately 11 people indoors.

With restrictions due to social distancing, the couple knew they had to make changes that would open up a new revenue stream and ensure they would be able to stay afloat.

“Our square footage is small, 1,100 square feet so it’s very tight quarters in here,” Jenelle explained. “We knew that going forward we might never be able to return to indoor dining…so we thought and thought and thought of different ways to offer food.”

The Rosenblaths applied and were approved for $20,000 in funding through the TRIP Capital Projects to help pivot their business model and introduce two food items that are arguably among the most popular – pizza and fried foods.

“We thought and thought and thought of different ways to offer food,” Jenelle said. “We did Friday night take-out specials for a while and that did really well but our meals took a hard hit….then we thought we’d try pizza.”

After revamping their kitchen space to accommodate the pizza oven and everything that comes with it, the couple also looked for a way they could offer fried foods. They found a Toronto business that sold outdoor event fryers and they constructed a building to protect the deep fryer from the elements.

“Since we added these two elements to our kitchen we have been so busy we are pretty much run off our feet,” Jenelle said. “Pizza has really been an added feature for this area, and it’s kept our business going through the pandemic.”

Moving forward, Jenelle said she and her husband are going to try and sustain what they already built. As a small business with only three employees, they are focusing on sustainability heading into a busy tourism season this summer.

Overall Jenelle found the application process easy and quick, and the OHTO team was approachable and willing to help problem-solve with the Rosenblaths to keep their project on track.

Jenelle explained that when her husband became ill, she worried they would lose the grant completely if they were unable to complete the project as initially described in their application. Fortunately, Jenelle reached out to OHTO to discuss the situation and we were pleased to hear that the project scope could be adjusted just as long as it still complied with the grant criteria.

“My advice to other businesses considering applying for funding through OHTO is don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Jenelle explained. “Don’t be afraid to call the OHTO team and talk to them,” Jenelle said.

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Kings Mill Cider gets creative on mitigating COVID impacts, keeping staff employed

Feature photo credit: Russett Photography

If there are any traits that all successful business owners tend to possess, it’s creativity and flexibility, two characteristics made even more valuable since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Kings Mill Cider, business owners Kees Morsink and Margaret Van Helvoort have both of these in spades.

The couple opened Kings Mill Cider in 2018 and have been slowly establishing themselves in the cider industry, relying on their excellent, high-quality products as their key selling feature. Before the pandemic the cidery sold cider at local farmers’ markets and offered on-site tastings and sales, but when both those markets dried up in 2020, Kees and Margaret knew they needed to find other sources of revenue.

“We really had to expand because of COVID,” explained Kees, noting the cidery had been making a profit in 2019 and had hired eight employees and they were concerned they wouldn’t be able to maintain those positions in 2020 and 2021. 

Both Kees and Margaret realized that if they wanted to keep their employees in place they were going to need to find a way to bring in more money.

 To fill that need, the cidery expanded its offerings in 2020 to include handmade, wood-fired pizzas that guests could enjoy on their screened porch with a glass of cider. With food and drink covered, Kees and Margaret next turned to finding a way visitors could extend their stay overnight, and installed 7 yurts on the property.

This is where the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program (TRIP) Capital Projects funding came in.  Funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, this program provided up to 80 per cent to cover capital costs for tourism-based businesses. In early 2021, the couple applied for $16,800 from the TRIP Capital Projects program to create an outdoor covered dining area that included the purchase of fire pits, and additional yurts. 

As with most their ventures, for Kees and Margaret, finding opportunities to partner and include the community was a priority.

“We put up a big 40 by 20 tent, we bought more yurts, we had flight boards made by a local woodworker, we did these little firepits by a local guy who makes recycled propane tanks…. all these things really helped out,” said Kees.

The tent was more than just a place for people to sit and dine while at the cidery, it provided a community event resource and also became the backbone of Buskerfest, a partnership project with the Stirling Festival Theatre. Buskerfest was so successful that the event will become an annual affair at Kings Mill Cider. 

Photo credit: Russett Photography

Kees was quick to point out that the TRIP Capital Projects funding definitely helped bring in much needed revenue to Kings Mill Cider, but in the end the real winners were the cidery staff, who all kept their jobs in 2021.

“We can do things now, like Buskerfest, we can do weekends here, and the more people see, the more reviews we get, that all brings in people,” said Kees. 

For anyone considering applying for the funding through Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, Kees suggests there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from submitting an application.

“Apply for it…why not? If you get it, it will really help.”

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.  

For more information about other available OHTO funding programs, please visit comewander.ca/programs.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Success Story: Renfrew County ATV Club uses skills development funding to keep the organization thriving 

The Renfrew County ATV Club (RCATV) has made a commitment to supporting continuing education and skills development for its volunteers, and the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program – Skills Development stream is helping them to do that.  

With 1000-kilometres of trails and 400-kilometres of connecting roads to manage for its members, the RCATV considers it a priority to ensure volunteers have the skills they need to keep the organization growing.  

Treasurer Karen Mason is one volunteer who has been able to upgrade her skills as a result of the Skills Development funding, and is now up to speed on the mysteries of Quickbooks that will help when monitoring the books for the organization. Karen took an online Quickbooks course from a company offering eight hours of virtual instruction.  

“I’m now able to do payroll, I’ve learned how to track grants we received, manage how the money is coming in, and how to give financial statements,” Karen said. “Now I’m 100 per cent able to provide what the club is looking for, in detail.” 

Karen volunteered as treasurer knowing she would have some catching up to. As a former accountant more than 20 years ago, she acknowledged the accounting world has changed a little bit since she was last involved with it, and she had to learn how to manage transactions digitally.  

“It definitely upgraded my skills from paper to computer,” Karen said. “This training helps our club, and we are a not-for-profit so we scrimp and save like everyone else.” 

In total between four and five volunteers were able to take advantage of the opportunity to build their skills and support the RCATV club.  

Accessing the Skills Development funding meant the RCATV club did not need to foot the bill to ensure its volunteers had the skills they needed and that would help serve the organization. With COVID-19 still having an impact on operations, these types of opportunities are more important now than ever. 

“Everybody’s under stress with COVID-19, so we’ve really scoured the internet looking for grants we could qualify for, and as a not-for-profit we try to get the best bang for our buck,” said Karen.  

“Now we have more money left for doing what we do, which is keep our ATV trails in Renfrew County up and running.” 

About OHTO’s Tourism Recovery & Innovation Program – Skills Development Stream

The TRIP-Skills Development stream is designed for projects that directly support tourism businesses and their employees to enhance their knowledge and skills in tourism and business development. This program provides up to $2,500 per applicant to support workforce and skills training projects that are to be completed by March 31, 2022. To apply to one of the TRIP funding streams, please visit comewander.ca/trip.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the Agency’s impact in southern Ontario by exploring Southern Ontario Spotlightpivotal projectsTwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

More Success Stories

Get to Know: Ben Hemmings, Ben Hemmings Media  

Filmmaker Ben Hemmings of Ben Hemmings Media is more artist than mere videographer, sculpting stories that connect audiences with a particular message and subject matter. As of late, much of his subject matter has been focused on Ontario’s Highlands, and the results of his creativity have helped to connect audiences with the stories of Ontario’s Highlands’ topography, communities, and the people who live, work, and love here.  

For Ben, marketing through storytelling is more than just making a video that tries to “sell” someone something, it’s about creating the connections that inspire decision making. 

“I think people are past the hard sell, they don’t want to be sold things anymore,” Ben explained. “They want to connect with the business owners, to hear about personal stories and struggles and how they’re dealing with them. To hear real, organic stories that resonate with their experiences.” 

Originally from Liverpool in the United Kingdom, Ben is self-taught in videography and photography, and as with all great filmmakers, his creativity is at the core of his success in visual storytelling. 

“When I was a kid I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, I loved David Attenborough’s films,” Ben explained. “When I finished law school I bought a camera and started teaching myself at every opportunity…I photographed everything while walking around London.” 

For Ben, being able to work in tourism means working in an industry he is passionate about. As someone who has traveled around the world, Ben explains he has seen tourism done right, but has also seen it done wrong. 

“I have been a tourist around the world, I know what bad tourism looks like, I know what good tourism looks like…good tourism can be one of the main tools for economic growth, environmental conservation and political stability. 

It was while working with Destination Ontario in 2018 that Ben was introduced to Julie Mulligan, OHTO’s Marketing Director, and it wasn’t long before he was working on bigger projects with OHTO, most significantly the recent Our Connections campaign.  

Our Connections launched in July 2021 and was an eight-month campaign highlighting the stories of seven of Ontario’s Highlands’ tourism leaders. Thanks to Ben’s skill in storytelling these stories helped audiences get to know the faces behind the names of tourism offerings and experiences across the region.  

“The goal was to tell personal stories from the region, going deep into some of the locals who make the region such a special place,” explained Ben. “We found some really amazing people who jumped on board, trusted us with their stories, and welcomed us into their worlds. For me, that was the most rewarding part of producing this series.” 

The Connections series theme in general is right up Ben’s alley; as someone who is a relative newcomer to Canada, he especially values the connections he’s making in the region where he lives and works.  

“When I first got into filmmaking I didn’t know the thing I would value most would be getting to know people,” Ben said. “It’s such an immediate and deep connection with the subjects of a film…you’re asking them to be open and trusting with their story and to welcome you into their mind and into their world.” 

Expand Your Knowledge with OHTO’s March Webinar Series

It’s hard to believe, but the winter is soon winding down and thoughts about the coming seasons are starting to drift into our minds. To help prepare your business or organization, we’ve lined up a series of webinars (10 if you can believe it!) covering a range of topics that will help different aspects of your operations and are sure to expand your knowledge.

As part of OHTO’s commitment to responsible tourism, we’ve brought together a solid team of facilitators to guide our tourism industry in various areas that are key to responsible tourism. And we will continue to offer similar opportunities and resources that will empower our industry toward creating a resilient and sustainable future.

Get to Know TIAO
Wednesday, March 2 | 10-11am

With special guest, Carol Greenwood, Vice President, Membership & Business Development at TIAO, hear about the many ways TIAO has been actively advocating for the industry and the many resources they have available. You’ll also get to learn about the membership benefits and the ways you can connect with TIAO for support. OHTO is a proud member of TIAO and we strongly encourage our members to become members too.

Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 101
Friday, March 4 | 10-11am

With special guest, Dr. Jessica Ng PhD., Director of Policy & Government Affairs at TIAO, to learn about the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit and what it means for tourism in the region. Have the opportunity to ask questions about the tax credit, what it means for your business and your guests, and how to take advantage of this opportunity.

Camp Tech: Small Business Websites 101
Tuesday, March 8 | 10-11:30am

There is a great deal to consider when you’re building a new website or redesigning an existing one. This beginner workshop covers everything you need to know, from choosing and registering a domain name, to building the website itself, to making sure it’s secure. Join facilitator Nicole Mickelow from Camp Tech and be in the know on small business websites.

Not 9 to 5: How to Improve Workplace Mental Health in Hospitality
Wednesday, March 9 | 1-2pm

Not 9 to 5 is an industry-specific nonprofit organization that acts as a resource for the hospitality and foodservice sector. Join special guest Hassel Aviles, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Not 9 to 5, to learn about the Not 9 to 5 organization, what they do and what you can do to improve workplace mental health support in your establishment.

Camp Tech: Social Media for Small Business
Tuesday, March 15 | 10-11:30am

Social media can be a very powerful tool for business growth, but first you need to know what it is and how it works. In this fun and interactive workshop, facilitator Kristy Guthrie from Camp Tech will look at the basics of today’s popular social media channels—including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest—and decide which are right for you. You’ll develop a social media plan that will drive business results without a big investment of time and energy.

GreenStep Solutions: Intro to the Business of Sustainability for Tourism Businesses
Wednesday, March 16 | 2-3:30pm

Join GreenStep’s Sustainable Tourism Team for this informative webinar to learn how your business, and the planet, can benefit from assessing your business’ sustainability performance. This webinar is for any business owner or manager who is interested in broadening their knowledge of sustainability while seeking ways to get started on their journey to improving their performance while reducing financial risk to their business.

Camp Tech: Digital Marketing on a Shoestring Budget
Tuesday, March 22 | 10-11:30am

You don’t need a big budget to get noticed on the web – you just need creativity! Savvy businesses are using bootstrap digital marketing techniques to amplify your message online. In this hands-on workshop, facilitator Tara Wilkins-McClune from Camp Temp will share with you the tricks and tools needed to market your business effectively on a shoestring budget.

Indigenous Cultural Awareness and Q&A
Wednesday, March 23 | 1-3pm

Join special guest, Aimee Bailey (Màmiwi Anishinàbikwe, Sturgeon Clan) from the Circle of Turtle Lodge, to learn a brief history of the Indigenous People of Canada, the History of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, a comparison of Indigenous & Western Values and the chance to develop your Land Acknowledgement Statement.

Camp Tech: eCommerce Options for Small Business
Tuesday, March 29 | 10-11:30am

It’s never been easier for small businesses to dip their toes into the world of ecommerce. Discover the fundamentals of selling online in this webinar overview of ecommerce choices available for beginners. Facilitator Dara Skolnick from Camp Tech will share with you the options for adding ecommerce functionality to an existing website, selling through a third-party marketplace, and building your whole website as an online store.

JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion) Leaders in Tourism
Wednesday, March 30 | 10-12pm

Through an interactive webinar with facilitator Farah Fancy, learn about what is meant by JEDI (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and how to become a leader in tourism. This session is ideal for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of DEI and is looking for the next steps in how to approach your business or organization from the perspective of DEI.

Have questions?

If you have any questions regarding this webinar series, please contact Kasey Rogerson at [email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions about the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 

Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 

We’ve all heard the talk about the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit and the benefits it can bring by encouraging Ontarians to explore close to home this year. In early January 2022 Ontario officially introduced its new travel incentive program designed to encourage visitation at accommodations across the province.  

The new program provides incentives of up to 20 per cent in tax refunds for visitors’ accommodation expenses of up to $1,000 per person.

As tourism operators in Ontario’s Highlands, it’s important we understand exactly what this incentive means, and how we can market it to our best advantage. Naturally, people have questions, and here at the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, we have the answers. 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about the tax credit and what it means for your business in 2022. 

What is the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 

The Ontario Staycation Tax Credit was created to encourage Ontario families to explore the province and be part of the tourism and hospitality sectors’ recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The program provides a 20 per cent tax refund for accommodation expenses of up to $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 for spouse, common-law partner, or eligible children. That equates to a $200 tax credit for an individual or a $400 tax credit for a couple applied to your 2022 income tax return. 

The Ontario Staycation Tax Credit is a refundable personal income tax credit. This means this tax credit regardless of whether the claimant owes income tax for 2022. 

Who can claim the tax credit? 

Anyone who lived in Ontario on Dec. 31, 2021 qualifies for the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit. 

How can my business benefit? 

We suggest all businesses promote the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit to their customers, whether they are an accommodator or not. The reason for this is because if you encourage visitors to come and spend the night at a local accommodation, they are also likely to spend money at local restaurants, events, and experiences. It’s a win for everyone in the industry! And we like that.  

If you are an accommodator, we suggest you ensure customers staying with you will qualify for the tax credit by providing customers with a detailed receipt that includes the following: 

  • Your location 
  • The accommodation portion of a stay 
  • The GST/HST paid 
  • The date of stay 
  • The name of the payor 

What expenses qualify for the tax credit? 

The tax credit is available for accommodation expenses only. Eligible accommodations include overnight stays (for up to one month) in a hotel, bed and breakfast, lodge, resort, motel, or cottage or campground between Jan. 1, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2022.  

Please note the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit only applies to those accommodation charges where the amount of HST paid is itemized on the bill. 

How can people claim their tax credit? 

The staycation tax credit is claimed on an individual’s 2022 Personal Income Tax submission. Customers must keep receipts from their accommodation booking to submit with their taxes, or keep on hand in the event they are requested. Please note the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit only applies to those accommodations which charge HST and the HST must be itemized on the bill. 

What can I tell my customers and visitors about the tax credit? 

This program is brand new which means it’s a little confusing for customers. As an experience provider in Ontario’s Highlands, your task will be to help clear up some of the confusion and educate your customers about the program and how they can benefit.  

You can do this by the following: 

  1. Post about it on social media – refer customers to the provincial website here
  1. Include it in your newsletters – help spread the message! 
  1. Ensure your staff are informed about the program (particularly important for accommodators). Provide them with handouts if possible. 
  1. Refer customers to the story OHTO developed about the program, available here.  
  1. Partner with accommodations to share information with them and ask them to also refer business your way!  

Have more questions? Register for our Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 101 Webinar March 4

Register for OHTO’s Ontario Staycation Tax Credit 101 session with Dr. Jessica Ng from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, and have all your questions answered. This session is on Friday, March 4 from 10 – 11 am. Registration details to come soon! 

Looking for more information? 

Visit the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit website for more details about the program and a Frequently Asked Questions section. You can also call the Ontario Budget Hotline at 1-800-337-7222.