Hastings County has a new program for trailblazers in the tourism industry. Called the Trailblazer Experiential Tourism E-Training Program, it offers tourism operators the opportunity to learn together, share their stories, be inspired to collaborate and create new and enhanced tourism experiences region wide. Kasey Rogerson, the tourism development coordinator with Hastings County who developed the program, says they are accepting applications from eligible participants located within the 14 municipalities of Hastings County, and submissions were due on March 19. For more information, go to www.hastings.ca/trailblazer-experiential-training/
Hastings County’s experience with experiential tourism started off with a partnership with Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization in Dec. 2018, when their staff participated in the Ignite 2019 program through a sponsorship through the Regional Tourism Organization.
Rogerson says that they looked at this partnership as an opportunity to engage tourism operators who are engaged in the industry and their local communities and educate them on the new Hastings tourism brand and how to incorporate it within their own business and marketing efforts.
“In April 2019, Luisa Sorrentino [Hastings County’s marketing coordinator] and myself, and 17 other operators attended the Northern Edge Algonquin for the Ignite Experiential Tourism training program. Since this training took place, Hastings County has prioritized experiential tourism development in the region,” she says.
Rogerson says that over the course of 2019, the new tourism development plan 2020-2022 for Hastings County was developed and in Feb. 2020 it was approved by county council. She says the second goal of the plan is focused on shifting the culture of tourism locally from traditional to visitor-centric, so they can ensure that the industry can meet and exceed the expectations and needs of their connected explorer, Conrad’s persona, as well as raise the bar on experiences offered regionally.
“I began to develop an experiential training program based on the foundations covered through the Ignite program and would be developed locally. This program would provide the education and resources for developing memorable experiences and partnerships. This program is developed with the intention of providing the training annually, and potentially bi-annually, for at least three consecutive years and then evaluate the program for adjustments,” she says.
The initial experiential training program had been planned for last April as an in-person event at Parks Creek Retreat in Tyendinaga Township, but had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. The Hastings County Tourism Task Team, which was established through the Hastings County Economic Recovery Response Plan, recommended that the training program be held over until the spring of 2021 and be done virtually.
“In January, 2021, I started planning the new Hastings Trailblazer E-Learning Tourism Program to deliver a virtual experiential training program locally. We have hired STEM Consulting to develop and train staff to deliver the program, which was funded in part by the province and Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization through the Tourism Recovery and Innovation Program. The sessions will be co-facilitated by Eva Gutsche, the owner of STEM Consulting, and myself,” she says.
Gutsche says that she’s worked on similar programs in other regions of Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada. She says the first workshop will be in April and that there are two different intakes.
“I’ll do intake one and the team from Hastings County will be there observing and working with me and then they will do the second intake and I’ll observe. So, we’ll work in partnership. They’ve got all the content. Kasey and the team have already done all the work in experience design so it’s just taking some new content and a different way of delivering it, but they seem very well versed already,” she says.
Rogerson says that in terms of interest from the tourism industry, they got a dozen applications for the initial program last spring, who were disappointed when it was cancelled. With the virtual program, they can offer the same content and training for operators and not have the logistical concerns of the in-person program.
“Since last spring, I have had numerous operators reach out and inquire about the possibility of such a training program being delivered again soon. I’m thrilled to be able to reach out to last year’s applicants and the operators who’ve expressed an interest, to tell them the news about the program being up and running again.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times