New initiative aims to drive tourism, celebrate the Highlands

By Mike Baker

Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization has launched a new regional reopening campaign designed to support area businesses, ignite local tourism and stimulate the economy.

The initiative is centred around inspiring individuals to travel locally, and shines a spotlight on the people and places that makes the Highlands so special. The ‘Connections Campaign’, launched this month and operating through to Spring 2022, is anchored by a video series that features the stories of seven “inspiring” locals and their unique connections to the region.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it was evident that people came out to support one another. It also became very clear that it is our residents, the people who live here, who are the backbone to our region and who make it so special,” said Julie Mulligan, marketing manager at OHTO, when asked what inspired this new campaign.

“With that, we wanted to use a documentary series to showcase the people who live here, share their stories, and show their special connection to the place we all call home,” she continued. “With these special connections, we hope that locals use this opportunity to reconnect with the place they live and what they think is special about this area. With this sense of connection, people will rediscover local first and travel local.”

The first Highlands resident to be featured in the series is Stefi Van Wijk, from the Madawaska Kanu Centre near Barry’s Bay. In the video, she shares her story of her “special connection” to water and, in particular, the Madawaska River.

Haliburton-based musical duo Nick and Benton will be the focus of the series’ second video. The pair have been playing together since 2018. They have seen some success locally for their popular Bonfire Sessions, where they provide private concerts to area residents at their home or cottage – preferably around a bonfire, or on a dock.
That second video will go live later this year.

Also, throughout the duration of this campaign, OHTO will also be releasing a number of themed ‘staycation’ itineraries and specially focused content of must-dos within the region, as recommended by those who live here.

The organization has also been working on a new Community Champions Program that recognizes the efforts of local residents. Through this program, Highlands residents can nominate a local group or organization that has gone above and beyond over the past year to strengthen their community, advocate for the environment, or help preserve the natural wonders of the Highlands.

Following the nomination period, the public will vote on the finalists to determine which organization will receive $3,000 to help support their ongoing initiatives.

“This campaign is our way of making it easier to go out and explore, feel a huge sense of pride for where we live and how we can contribute to tourism recovery,” said Nicole Whiting, OHTO executive director.

For more information on this new campaign, visit