It is one thing to talk a good game it is another to show a return on that talk.
This year the Growing Rural Tourism Conference spent three days rolling out success stories, some with their roots deeply engrained in the conference others showing just what can be done out on the Prairies to generate dollars and traffic to a region.
“You hear their challenges, you hear their successes and the things they had to overcome and things they’ve been able to challenge,” said Tourism Camrose executive director Jennifer Filip, who was at the conference as a delegate. “It’s that really down home practical side of things.”
This was the 17th year for the conference hosted by the Camrose Regional Exhibition, and this year it attracted 150 delegates from across Alberta for the three-day event from Tuesday to Thursday last week.
Two of the success stories that were delivered were from the winners of last year’s Entrepreneurship Award – Pursuit Adventures and Metis Crossing. The $10,000 and $6,000 prizes allowed those running the businesses to get the ball rolling on their goals, They were able to do things that they would not have been able to do had they not sate down put together a creative business plan and pitch their ideas to the conference.
“It was a proud moment for the conference to see them come back and be so excited and see how the impact of winning the entrepreneurial challenge grew their business and grew their areas and regions and grew more of the rural tourism,” said Camrose Regional Exhibition general manager Chuck Erman.
This year they changed up the program and awarded one winner and for the first time it was voted on by the delegates of the conference. Uplift Adventures out of Crowsnest won a $10,000 grand prize, the assistance of a business coach and help to film a promotional video.
Uplift Adventures will offer unique tours of the Crowsnest Pass region, emphasizing education first, teaching people how to backpack safely, or giving horticulture and animal tours of the back country, or even taking mountain bikers down trails and treating them to meal created by food harvested in the area.
“It’s a very cool concept,” said Erman. “The thing that I like is she’s including her region and it fit the conference, a partnership and working together and creating an experience with not just her company but the region.”
Key to the conference is the opportunity to network and discuss what the keynote speakers talked about in groups. It gave delegates the chance to find out how others have used those steps or done things differently. The flow of information is about keeping an open mind to new ideas, something that is difficult for many to do.
“Everybody is scared of change,” said Filip. “It’s not comfortable, but people are recognizing the importance (of change) and the need to be working together and to build those partnerships and collaborate on ideas.”
It is something Tourism Camrose president Janine Carroll would like to see more local businesses and organizations take advantage of. She says the conference was a missed opportunity for many locals who can just roll out of bed and be at the conference without the added expense of gas, food or lodging. There were many important lessons to learn, but what hit home with her was the impact of how tourism dollars trickle down through the community at large and affect everyone in Camrose.
“For every one tourism dollar spent in Camrose, it changes hands within the community seven times,” she said.
This was the second year of a three-stage process by the conference. The first year of the rollout was themed ignite change with this year being called Experience the Change. Next year will be Be the Change where the conference organizers from the Camrose Regional Exhibition will put into motion many of the recommendations received by the delegates into motion.
“We thought what better to use this conference than as an example,” said Erman. “We have set up an advisory committee and it’s geared from all different regions of the province … so we can have from tourism products to tourism groups, to agri tourism to culinary tourism, we want to cover that whole gamut of the rural and how can we help you with the tools.”