Wow! What an amazing day at our annual tourism symposium on Monday, March 20. It was a long day and I thought that by the time I arrived home, I would have just enough energy to re-heat some dinner leftovers and crash on the couch. But the vibe in that room, the conversations I heard during breaks, and the sincere thanks we received at its conclusion, left me so energized that I couldn’t help but be at the computer later that night typing this out.
If you weren’t able to attend, you did miss out on something special. But don’t dismay too much because in this newsletter you will find links to the presentations. And, because I scripted myself during the opening remarks, you can find a copy of my speech by clicking here. I promise I didn’t deviate too much…
What I really loved was watching the table conversations spark and grow. All 180 delegates were troopers and rolled with the prescribed seating arrangements, which purposely put all of our stakeholders with people they may not have met. The theme of the symposium was all about collaboration and one of the best ways to do that is by getting to know your neighbours, in this case your tablemates. It set the tone for the day and the energy in the room was almost palpable. We wanted to keep the content relevant and compelling, getting you thinking about your business and its role within the greater visitor economy. After Dakota Brant’s presentation regarding collaboration with indigenous peoples to build indigenous tourism, I realized that we are going to have to get her back sometime this fiscal to do a full-day workshop/seminar. I learned so much in that one hour and I don’t think we even scratched the surface. Stay tuned for that.
Philip Mondor, with Tourism HR Canada, was amazing and while things are looking a little grim on the labour front, I love that his organization is providing tools that we can all implement to attract and retain quality staff. One of the neat things he talked about really fit the collaborative theme of event and that was formal staff sharing. I witnessed this first-hand when I was in Tofino in August of 2021 and really showcased a sense of community. There were so little staff serving staff in Tofino that year that only three restaurants were open for lunch on a Thursday. When we sat down for lunch our server was a local teacher who, along with others from town, were working shifts in different restaurants on a rotating basis so that all of them were able to keep their lights on. These three restaurants were open Thursdays but closed Fridays so that other restaurants could survive. I was blown away by the collaborative effort being made by business owners and residents to keep their town vibrant.
The other thing that was great about Phillip’s presentation and the Social Media Panel, is that much of the content they delivered came right from questions the attendees posed when registering. I loved listening to the different viewpoints of our social media experts and especially liked knowing that they too sometime struggle to navigate the ever-changing landscape of both what is trending and the algorithms that are determine what is relevant. I often struggle with figuring out what is best for GlowZone 360 when it comes to social media and I was happy when they applauded Holland Marsh Wineries for allowing their staff to develop content. I realized a while back that the people using TikTok don’t want to hear from me so what we did was purchase a camera for each location and signed up as GlowZone 360 for many of the social channels. We then had a team meeting in each location and spoke to the values we wanted to continuously portray through our stories. We then handed them the phones and said have fun. We started off strong and after today’s discussion, I am going to reenergize the staff to produce more content.
One of my favourite parts of the day were the stakeholder panel discussions, and that’s not just because I got to moderate! In both sessions, we got to learn from people in our communities about how they have learned about, embraced, and are benefiting from the visitor economy. And they didn’t sugar-coat it. It takes work and planning. Flexibility and trust. But the end result is businesses working together, expanding their offerings and enhancing the vibrancy of their communities. I think that Brandon Pickard, Manager of Tourism for Durham Region, summed it up best when asked what his advice was for anyone thinking of doing a community tourism plan, “Just get started.” This was echoed by Sandra Bannon during the stakeholder-led experience panel. It is very fitting and I hope that our sold-out crowd all left feeling energized and ready to “just get started”!
This incredible day would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors and I want to once again thank each and every one of them for their support.
Destination Markham Corporation
Tourism Vaughan Corporation
Town of Ajax
York Region (The Regional Municipality of York)
This year, we also had table sponsors who donated amazing goods to decorate each of our tables and give everyone a sample of their offerings. It was an incredible hit with all attendees and I encourage everyone to check them out.
Fanjoy Culinary + Wellness Centre
The event left the staff wondering how in the world we will be able to top it next year. But don’t worry. We have a full year to research, plan and execute.
Have a great day!