This past week I was very pleased to welcome Atlantic Canada tourism allies to my Algonquin Park home, Northern Edge Algonquin in the ‘Explorer’s Edge’ region of Ontario. The purpose of this mission was to showcase a range of tourism experiences and tourism providers that demonstrate Best Practices in culinary, cultural, experiential, and nature tourism under the umbrella of sustainable tourism.
Over the past decade I have been privileged to work with tourism industry professionals throughout Atlantic Canada, in particular as a course designer and facilitator for the Edge of the Wedge Program at GMIST where I have shared many stories of innovation and transformation from this community over the years.
I was nervous. It is one thing to offer tourism training to tourism professionals in a classroom or conference centre. It’s also easy to write reports or make recommendations by writing about tourism. It’s quite another thing to offer learning experiences for my colleagues right in my own home (our nature retreat sleeps up to 30 in winter) with our partners and local businesses. I felt quite naked – exposed.
Stories are a great way to learn, but on this mission we spent the week with my team, partners and tourism allies from the surrounding community to learn how our remote, rural community has built world class experiential tourism offerings. Centred at our solar-powered nature retreat on the edge of Algonquin Park, participants experienced first hand how our team is crafting unique and targeted visitor experiences recognized as Canadian and Ontario Signature Experiences.
From this base, we visited inspiring destinations, companies and most importantly – learned from people in the region. Although we learned a bit about business practices we really explored concrete ways to leverage community assets – in people, experiences, and locations to build resilient communities with tourism experiences that involve multiple stakeholders.
Having never organized a Best Practice Mission, I was delighted to be able to put this one together in a way that brought focus to a variety of themes that I have come to realize embody truly sustainable tourism. You won’t find most of these in the manuals on sustainable tourism, but over the past three and a half years since I’ve been living and working exclusively in my community I’ve found them to be the most important components of sustainable, cultural, culinary, experiential and nature tourism.
We wove together ideas/themes including:
Me to We.
I am very grateful to the people I work with who shared their time and expertise with us this week. From our opening session with Ojibwa artist Dan Commanda who taught us about the medicine wheel and helped us create medicine pouches, to a walk in the forest with Tom Bryson, a logger practicing sustainable forestry for more than forty years, Kara Mitchell who taught about sustainable trails and growing Shiitake mushrooms in the forest, yoga with Vicki, Bees with Boards, music with Sean Cotton and Tree Ring Records and so much more. All of it was backed up admirably by my team at the Edge including (of course) Gregor Waters who did so many things I’d have to write another post to get it all in.
My hope is that participants came away with a deep appreciation for the value of infusing experiences will local flavours at mealtime and beyond, and inspiration to leverage their own resources to build new and exciting visitor experiences with an appreciation for the importance of community collaboration.