As published in The Erin Advocate
Erin’s Jo Fillery has been hired to promote tourism in the Hills of Headwaters area – something she’s been doing on her own time for years.
The former owner of What’s Cookin’ recently sold her business in downtown Erin village. It is now operated by Chef Pam Fanjoy as The Friendly Chef Adventures.
“I’ve been a cheerleader for the town as a volunteer,” said Fillery, who has served with the Hills of Headwaters Board of Directors, the Erin Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Town of Erin Economic Development Committee.
“I have worked 15 years looking for ways to grow our product.”
Now she’s working as the Headwaters field representative for Central Counties Tourism, which is responsible for marketing a broad zone that includes the Regions of Durham and York, plus the Headwaters communities of Erin, Dufferin County, Orangeville and the Town of Caledon.
“Nothing better than getting paid for a passion,” said Fillery. She will be visiting local businesses, working on ways to attract more visitors.
Branding the area as part of a vibrant “Horse Country”, and riding the wave of publicity that Pan Am equestrian events will bring to the Hills of Headwaters next year, were key initiatives discussed at last week’s Tourism Symposium in Orangeville.
Central Counties sponsored the gathering of business people, tourism officials and municipal funding partners – Councillor John Brennan was there on behalf of the Town of Erin.
“We’ve had to become a destination marketing organization,” said Ron Munro, Chair of the Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association (HHTA). “We’re here to help you re-invent yourselves. If you want people to come these days, you have to have an experience. It has to be worth their while to leave the comfort of their living room.
“We’re taking all the experiences that we can get in our region, and trying to knit them together to give people a compelling reason to get out of the house, go somewhere and experience something.”
The equine industry is already recognized as a prime driver in the regional economy, with marketing that includes King Township, but with the equestrian competition of the Toronto Pan Am Games coming here in 2015, promotional efforts will move into high gear.
The Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave will handle most of the events. It is being renovated with the help of $6.8 million from the federal government. It was announced in January that the Town of Mono’s Will O’Wind Farm will host the cross-country competition.
HHTA also wants to boost the equine export market, working with Equine Canada to bring in people from around the world to see what local breeders have to offer.
“We have a tremendous story to tell,” said HHTA Executive Director Michele Harris, stressing the need to create a “Pan Am Legacy” to produce lasting benefits in other sectors of the economy.
“We need you all to spit and polish your door handles. We want to push memorable experiences for visitors. They experience the competition, and then what?”
Specific initiatives will include prominent signage on local roads and promotion of trails and heritage locations. Contests will be held to choose a signature equine image, a signature food and a signature drink for the area.
“It’s not just what people experience while they are here, it’s also what they get to take home,” said Harris. “I’d like them to have the recipe to take home, so they’re always thinking about Headwaters, and have a reason to come back.”
HHTA and Humber College will also be training members of community organizations to promote the region.
“We need all of our community members to be tourism ambassadors, so we actually have a culture of hospitality when visitors arrive from around the world in our area,” she said.
Apart from equine and the Pan Am preparations, HHTA is promoting experiences in four other strong sectors. There is a series of culinary tourism events based on local food, starting with the current Taste of Maple project.
The arts, culture and heritage sector also drives economic development, and will continue to be promoted, along with an array of festivals, fairs and other special events. Then there is the attraction of outdoor sports, especially cycling tourism, and nature recreation – balancing the need to protect natural areas with the desire to show them off to the world.