As published in Open for Business Magazine – Dufferin County
Headwaters Tourism is urging businesses and residents to provide visitors with an enthusiastic welcome to “Horse Country” – especially when they arrive next summer for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.
“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,” said Hills of Headwaters Tourism Association (HHTA) Executive Director Michele Harris.
The equine industry is already recognized as a prime driver in the regional economy, with marketing that includes Dufferin, Caledon, Erin and King Township, but when the Pan Am Games Equestrian Competition is held locally, promotional efforts will move into high gear.
The Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave will handle the dressage and show jumping events. It is being renovated with the help of $6.8 million from the federal government.
Will O’Wind Farm in Mono will host thousands of spectators for the one-day cross-country competition. The 5-kilometre championship course will have 30-35 jump efforts, such as water features, drops and log jumps.
“The Town of Mono is excited to welcome the world to our community, and showcase the best of rural Ontario,” said Mono Mayor Laura Ryan. “Hosting the cross-country equestrian event at Will O’Wind will further position our region as a centre of equine excellence in Headwaters Horse Country and provide a lasting legacy for our community.”
The Toronto Pan Am Games will be bigger than the Vancouver Olympic Games, with 20,000 volunteers helping to host the 7,600 athletes coming to Southern Ontario. The television audience is estimated at 380 million households.
“We have a tremendous story to tell,” said Harris, stressing the need to put the equine brand on the area and create a “Pan Am Legacy” to produce lasting benefits in other sectors of the economy.
“Often it doesn’t take a whole lot to up the ante and become a destination. 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?”
The Headwaters Pan Am Strategy says, “The Games will provide opportunities for us to highlight the other visitor experiences available in the region, that make Headwaters one of the province’s most sophisticated rural tourism destinations, just a short drive from the country’s largest urban centre.”
Specific initiatives will include prominent signage on area roads. There will be promotion of local food, arts, culture, 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.”
Even businesses that do not rely primarily on tourists – gas stations, for example – can ensure that staff members make a good impression on visitors. Headwaters will have an ambassador training program available for front-line staff throughout the region.
“We need to promote a culture of tourism,” said Harris. “It’s all about importing money to our community, and those dollars circulate in our own economy.”
Headwaters is one of the most concentrated equestrian regions in Ontario, with premier horse breeding farms, coaching and training facilities, riding schools, boarding stables, equestrian ranches, suppliers (including farriers, veterinarians, feed, bedding and tack shops) and a range of equestrian events.
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’ve had to become a destination marketing organization,” said Ron Munro, Chair of the HHTA, at a Tourism Symposium for local businesses and organizations held in March at the Best Western Inn & Suites.
“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.”
HHTA does not have a budget for major advertising, but provides extensive information at www.thehillsofheadwaters.com, and helps coordinate the efforts of local businesses through working groups. It cooperates with Central Counties Tourism, the agency that markets a broad zone that includes the Headwaters communities, plus the Regions of Durham and York.