| May 08, 2019

When the Land O’Lakes Tourist Association (LOLTA) folded at the end of 2017, it left a vacuum of sorts in the region, one that has partly been taken up by the Frontenac County Economic Development Department and by the two regional tourism organisations that are active in Frontenac County. The northern part of the county falls within the catchment area of the Pembroke based Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization.

But without a member-based organisation such as LOLTA, a new generation of tourism operators have not had as much of an opportunity to work together as the fishing and hunting lodges in the past, who formed LOLTA in the 1940’s.

One of the first initiatives of the Sharbot Lake Business Group, which was formed last fall, was to look at the tourism sector in the region. One of the business group’s members, Greg Rodgers of the Rockhill B&B in Sharbot Lake, chaired a steering committee that decided to put together a one- day conference in order to gather up to 50 disparate tourism related businesses.

The conference, which was held on May 4th at Camp Kennebec near Arden, was built around the experiences of key note speakers from Haliburton and Renfrew Counties. They talked about how they have worked with a disparate group of other local businesses to develop a thriving tourist region.

That was followed by 5-minute presentations from 5 local business owners who talked about their own experiences and where they see their businesses going. Sarah Hale from Arden Batik, talked about her 40 years experience with the local arts community. Kim Perry talked about the founding of her Food Less Traveled store in Verona and the agricultural and food community. Sandra White from the Sharbot Lake Country Inn and the Crossings Pub, talked about the evolution f that business over the 7 years since they purchased it. Sarah Nilson from Unusual Acres in Clarendon, talked about how, among other ventures, Unusual Acres is developing a Halloween theme as a draw for visitors in late October. Finally, Gord Brown, who is not in the tourism business but was heavily involved in developing the Kennebec Wilderness Trail, talked about how community efforts can tie in to tourism.

These presentations set up the meat of the conference, tourism sector based group discussions which were an opportunity to talk about common challenges and individual experiences.

“One thing that I noticed when looking at some photos of the day, were the number of side conversations, animated conversations, that were picked up at random by the camera,” said organiser Greg Rodgers, in a phone interview after the conference.

One of the main goals of Rodgers and the committee that organised the conference, was to see an ongoing community tourism effort come out of it.

At the end of the conference, 17 of the participants committed to attending a follow up meeting where setting up a Rural Frontenac Tourism Group will be the main item on the agenda.

Rodgers said that the response to the conference from Nicole Whiting, OHTO Executive Director, and Richard Allen and Alison Vandervelde from the Frontenac County, was extremely positive.

“But more importantly, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a much greater sense of desire to keep the ball rolling among the participants than I had ever really imagined,” he said.

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