I was just invited to speak to the Morden area tourism and marketing group on May 7th. The person who invited me was none other than “Blue” (Donna Moffat), who is the general manager of the Timbers Clubhouse at Lake Minnewasta Golf and Country Club. Blue, as many of you know, used to live and work here at the Elkhorn Resort and was very active within the local chamber of commerce. She is passionate about promoting her local community and building tourism capacity within a local community (which she was very active in doing while she was here).
I had never been to Morden before (think Corn and Apple Festival). But, in a short activity before my presentation that Blue facilitated, everyone present (perhaps some 50 tourism business owners and operators and many others who are active in the community) introduced themselves. I was flabbergasted at the richness of the Morden area – zip lines, world class fossil site, outstanding golf, and passionate people. They have vision, entrepreneurial spirit, are articulate and have a will to make things happen. A great blend of traditions, and yet open to new opportunities!
I had been invited, by Blue and the Morden area marketing group to provide an inspirational presentation about experiential tourism. That’s a tall order by all accounts. I dug into my well of experiences and what we have slowly been creating here in the Riding Mountains – a partnership of experience providers for niche markets, and slowly beginning to help shape and define “the Canadian experience in Riding Mountain“. And, I shared some of these examples. One of the people in the audience that night was Emily Goerz. Her family lives in Morden. Two years ago, she had brought her extended family here to the Elkhorn Reosrt to celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday – we had crafted a customized GPS adventure quest for the entire family.
Emily was in the audience at Morden, her gentle smile always tilting back at me. It was at that point, that it struck me that Blue, Emily, and the various artists, musicians, the mayor, and the many talented people in Morden are all part of this beautiful fabric of Manitoba. Our province offers the world cultural traditions, food and regional cuisine that is exceptional, and we are all tied together by the many champions like Blue and her community (it’s where she was born) who selflessly keep drawing others together. Rather, the concept of sustainable tourism in Manitoba that comes to mind is that maybe we are like a living tree with immense possibilities – rooted in traditions, growing constantly, sustainable over time, and cyclical in how we take in energy, sift through possibilities and then make new energy to grow again.
As we contemplate Manitoba’s Homecoming in 2010, I realize that we have an opportunity – to shift from being islands of tourism regions, or islands of tourism destinations, or individual “tourism business” islands, to something new. We are not an island. We are the heart of the North American continent, living, loving, and pulsing with culture, arts, traditions, music, nature, and cuisine that is celebrated and practiced by authentic Manitobans.
If we learn to tell our stories well, we will meet the needs of todays’ travellers who are looking for “the antidote to Disney” – the experiences of our heartland. They begin searching for these experience, in their own homes all over the world, in their own unique ways using their individual keystrokes to give life to “travel dreams”. Let’s be there for them when they hit “return” or “enter” on their keyboard.