Pilot for Island festival builds sound foundations for future

MANITOULIN—The Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) has been undergoing a sea change in operations and approach recently, with a more outwardly-focussed approach to marketing. Part of that rejigging has been a revamp of the still nascent Taste of Manitoulin Festival, moving from a mostly food-oriented theme to a more broadly based concept involving capturing a niche market of tourists who are interested in participatory and experiential products.

MTA president Ron Berti sat down with The Expositor after the launch of the inaugural pilot for the Festival of 1,000 Skills and he said that he was very pleasantly surprised with the success of the project.

Although uptake in the project from participants was nothing to write home about, the real benefit in the pilot was in identifying people who were interested in sharing their knowledge and the realization that people do not have to be ‘experts’ in something in order to make a valuable contribution to the local knowledge base on a subject.

“We were able to build a lot of solid new relationships,” said Mr. Berti. One of the great connections from his point of view was the number of new connections made with artists in the Gore Bay area. “Over the past five or six months we have made some amazing connections. We need to support each other.”

Mr. Berti pointed out that in the official definition of tourism, “if you are travelling more than 40 kilometres you are a tourist.”

“We don’t normally think in those terms,” he said. “If you look at the four regions of the Island, there are a lot of benefits that can come from learning more about each other and what each region has to offer the other regions.”

Mr. Berti said that he was particularly impressed with his visit to the Tilson property in Honora Bay. “The concept is so different there,” he said. “We are so wedded to the idea of the ‘expert’ coming in to present in a workshop on a subject. But with the land-based opportunities for learning that are taking place there, with many different people adding their parts of a knowledge base, the whole becomes so much greater than the part.”

One person can get up and share their knowledge on a subject and then others taking part in the workshop add their knowledge into the mix. “The process becomes much more organic,” he said.

The concept is definitely a niche, but it is a niche that Mr. Berti said he feels is growing. “Some tourists still definitely want a schedule of events, a clear linear approach to what they will be doing and what they will accomplish, but there is another stream that is happy in taking part in the process.”

The big bonus in this year’s pilot, however, was in finding people who have skills and knowledge and stories that they are willing to share.

“That was the truly great benefit,” said Mr. Berti. “We met a lot of people who came forward that we normally would not cross paths with.”

Mr. Berti said that the MTA was looking forward to developing the concept and expanding it further with what they had learned from this year’s event.