“Spark” Program for the tourism industry introduced in Northwest Ontario
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
The “Spark” Program is doing a callout for Northwest Ontario for new tourism ideas, experiences and collaborative partnerships, aiming to enhance the current tourism offerings. The Program Lead of the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab, Justin Lafontaine, said that some of the key focuses of the program are to create new, high-quality tourism experiences, address gaps in tourism products and services, motivate travel, longer stays, and repeat visits, increase year-round visitations and tourism spending.
Municipal Economic Development Officer Vicki Blanchard said, “The Spark program is a small contribution to many other initiatives and relief programs. This is more about recovery. The Municipality’s Economic Development Office has partnered with Destination Northern Ontario, Northwest Training and Adjustment Board and regional resort/lodge owners to address the needs and opportunities to modify the business sector in light of COVID.”
The “Spark” Program works to match selected candidates with a tourism mentor and provide a source of financial support to take their tourism idea to the next level of development or implementation. Lafontaine said that whether it’s an individual, a start-up, an established small business or a non-profit organization, there could be several challenges and barriers to bringing in a new tourism idea, experience or partnership to fruition.
Lafontaine said that they hope for “businesses to come forward, which might see new opportunities. Likely reflecting in the current challenges, but also seeing what interest from a visitation perspective is. We believe that partnerships drive innovations.” He mentioned that they help connect the tourism businesses/individuals to potential partners in town. They can then collaboratively work to “offer a joint experience and something that might be a small group experiences,” he added.
“The current economic condition is bleak, especially with the continued uncertainty of the reopening of the border. Our regional operators have indicated that if they are still uncertain as of January 2021, the 2021 season will be lost,” said Blanchard. This was concurred during a breakout session held last Friday by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario along with EDO’s from throughout Ontario in attendance, she added.
This is the first time that the “Spark” Program is running in Northwestern Ontario. “We are really excited to make that connection, and if anyone has questions about the program or about applying, they can contact us through our website www.tourisminnovation.ca/northwestontario,” Lafontaine concluded.
The application deadline is October 9.
Destination North Ontario works with the tourism businesses and professionals at a local, regional and global level to build a strong tourism industry in Northern Ontario, and is one of the Program’s several partners. An author of the organization, Sara Dekker said, “I think it’s a great program. This gives a financial and a mental support to help any small businesses take their tourism idea to the next level.”