Clear Lake Golf Course offers new cuisine in 2009

I have had the opportunity to experience the cuisine of Executive Chef Ilse Mohn and Sous-Chef Chad Robinson on more than one occasion this year. As well, a number of other local people have been experiencing their flavors this summer. The verdict: very good quality, great service, new!

Bison carpaccio appetizer with Manitoba Bothwell cheese

Bison carpaccio appetizer with Manitoba Bothwell cheese

One group that we had here last week had requested a unique lunch menu as part of a customized GPS adventure quest that we created for their sales team.

I worked with the team at the Clear Lake Golf Course (Riding Mountain National Park) to create an imaginative and never-before delivered combination of flavours, textures and presentation that left our group not just satisfied, but clearly surprised and delighted.

I love this aspect of experiential tourism – crafting one of a kind experiences that under-promise mystery and intrigue, while over-delivering surprises, moments of delight, and in the words of one member of our group, “I’ve been here before several times, but never had this…It was great.”

Great cuisine is something that people will travel for long distances, to experience.  In particular, we featured local bison, Manitoba cheese, local herbs, local baking, local recipes, and local berries in the saskatoon tarts (that we made under the watchful guidance of Ilse herself).  Congratulations to Ilse and Chad and the entire team at the Clear Lake Golf Course restaurant.  Keep it up!


We are not an island

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.

Canadian elite athlete sees culture as a key element in “the travel experience”

The person who sat beside me could be called a “celebrity”. After all, she is one of three elite athletes in Canada – a Canadian junior Pentathlon competitor. In 2008, she was the Junior National Champion, Senior Provincial Champion and represented Canada at the Junior Worlds in Cairo. The Modern Pentathlon website provides a more comprehensive insight into this gruelling event – five sports in one day. Competitors earn points for their performances in each of the five disciplines: pistol shooting, epee fencing, swimming, riding (equestrian show jumping) and cross-country running. Rachael is the recipient of the 2007 Stacey Levitt Women and Sport Scholarship.

Rachael Gardner, at once humble and wistful, smart and gracious consented to my request to ask her a number of questions about her global travels, and how those experiences have helped her to travel experiences, as a Canadian. After all, we had seven and a half hours from Montreal to Zurich….we were travelling. She to take part in a fencing competition in Budapest. Me, as a Canadian representative going to Austria to present a workshop about experiential tourism in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) tourism seminar in Bregenz, the capital city of the province of Vorarlberg. You can download an excellent paper “The Impact of Culture on Tourism” here.

“Culture is the reason I like to travel.” Well, that opening line was amazing…because I was travelling to an OECD seminar, where I would be contributing to a discussion about the links between culture and tourism. “I like seeing the way people do things.”, she continued. ” I love the way people greet each other…In North America, a handshake. In Switzerland, three kisses, alternating cheeks. The French, two kisses, and in Mexico, one kiss.” Taxi drivers are amazing. They have stories to tell.” Listening to Rachael was both an exercise in being pragmatic and hopeful.

She loves travel, and understands and is concerned about the planetary impacts of travel. She shared some of her observations about sustainable practices in different countries, from low flush toilets to eating locally. “We are going to have to find a new source of energy for travel. I can’t see people stopping travel. There is no turning back. We will either disintegrate or make it (travel) sustainable.” That statement stopped me coldly. Pretty much it!

What are three things we can do immediately to travel in ways that emit less carbon, I wondered aloud?  Rachael suggested the following:

  1. When travelling locally in a foreign country, take public transit. Don’t rent a car. 
  2. Carry a water bottle (stainless steel) rather than buying plastic bottled water (where it is possible), a bowl, and spoon to eat locally. Go to the market and find local foods. Don’t buy packaged goods. 
  3. Take every means to go self-propelled. Go for a walk in the market. Seek out self-propelled experiences. Rent a bike. Walk, hike, canoe, take a gondola. . 

As she looks back at her country, through her eyes as a modern Pentathlon athlete and Canadian resident, she looks forward, with finger on her chin, and muses……”Travel makes me feel I know my own country better. We are polite. We are tolerant. We have pride in our toughness to our cold weather. We are hospitable to others. I have a disillusionment with conventional tourism. What I remember are marketplaces, not resorts. I love the taxi rides. I’t s not about the pyramids; it’s the Cairo feeling. I admire Europeans for their capacity to learn and be fluent in so many languages……South Americans are very friendly. Always, in travel, it’s the small things that I remember.”

As tourism leaders in Canada, let’s keep practising what Rachael suggests above. It’s who we are. It makes us authentic in the eyes of travellers. Let’s not get caught up in “selling stuff”, “selling hotel rooms”, or listing things on websites. As tourism business leaders, can we ask ourselves …”What’s the Toronto feeling? What’s the Riding Mountain feeling? What’s the Canadian folk music feeling? What’s a walk in a Canadian forest feel like? How does it feel to walk on water (snowshoe) or put one foot after the other on a beach at night on the north shore of Prince Edward Island?”

The Canadian experience is about feeling Canada, not selling stuff. The quicker we realize this, the quicker we will find guests travelling to Canada for the right reasons, to the right places in Canada, and for the right reasons. By integrating responsible tourism practices into every aspect of our business, we will be a world leader in sustainable tourism – that’s good competitive positioning as well! Download the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) Green Business toolkit now to find out easy steps to take to make your tourism business a green business leader.

Thank you Rachael, for your company on the plane flight. Thank you, also, for helping me to focus on making sure that I keep finding ways to keep “the Canadian experience” alive in every aspect of my tourism operation. I feel that we have a great representative for Canada, for the voice of youth, consciously making choices that opt for sustainable travel.

Earth Rhythms offers customized travel experiences in all seasons for travellers into Riding Mountain National Park.  We find ways for our guests to enjoy the Canadian experience in Manitoba.  Sustainable golfing, behind-the-scenes learning to make cane furniture, making Easter Breads with the Babas in Dauphin, or snow-shoeing off trail to track elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, and sometimes the ghostly traces of wings from owls or ravens.

Planning Meeting for Best Practices Mission


Best Practices Mission Planning Meeting in Dauphin, Manitoba

Best Practices Mission Planning Meeting in Dauphin, Manitoba

Today, a group of us met in Dauphin, Manitoba to confirm planning arrangements for a number of unique experiences that will be taking place February 17 in Dauphin.  A group of tourism operators coming from Atlantic Canada will be taking part in outdoor activities in Riding Mountain National Park on their way to Dauphin.  They will visit a local honey producer, experience Ukrainian hospitality, cuisine, and music.  

Earth Rhythms, specializing in the crafting of customized learning adventures, is hosting this Best Practices Mission.  The participants in this week-long business development study trip will be taking part in a variety of Manitoba experiences to learn new aspects of experiential tourism product development, business partnerships, and will be doing so in a “hands-on” way with many of Earth Rhythms facilitators and partners.  It’s great to see that Manitoba has an export product in the form of experiential tourism.  We look forward to hosting these folks in mid-February.