By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization put the cap on another successful season.
The OHTO, which began in 2010, is one of 13 regional tourism organizations created by the provincial government as a means to more effectively coordinate tourism development efforts and increase visitation to Ontario.
It’s mandate is to build and support a competitive tourism region through marketing and product development.
Meghan James, the OHTO’s chief governing officer, said during the group’s Oct. 17 annual general meeting that the region’s tourism operators have bounced back from restrictions imposed with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has been so great to watch as our region has grown, adapted, and moved forward to continue offering many great experiences for our visitors,” she said. “We have adapted and continue to find ways to showcase what we have to offer.”
She said she’s encouraged by the engagement of those in the tourism industry and it’s a reflection of why most participants are in the business.
“It’s a people business and without our relationships and the sharing of ideas, we simply couldn’t be a tourism destination,” she said. “We come together in challenging times and we celebrate success together.”
The return of in-person connections after pandemic lockdowns has enabled the OHTO to continue to work toward a more responsible approach and to strengthen communities through responsible tourism.
And many of region’s businesses have jumped on board with the OHTO’s initiatives.
Much of the success would not be possible without the support of the province through its regional tourism organization program and, more recently, the federal government by way of FedDev Ontario within the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
“We are pleased they recognize our role as an organization to deliver support to the tourism sector in a special part of rural eastern Ontario,” James said.
The rural voice can sometimes be overlooked, she said. But OHTO has worked hard to develop relationships with funders and have encouraged individual tourism operators to impress upon the various levels of government the importance of supporting the sector.
While there’s encouragement in what’s being seen, she said OHTO recognizes the industry’s dynamic nature. That show the importance of input from tourism operators.
James said the organization will launch a tourism community survey in which all tourism stakeholders are asked to participate. OHTO is committed to “responding to the needs of our industry, but we can only do that if we hear from you,” she said.