Pictured are: Lynnette Bain, TWEPI Vice President, Tourism Programs & Development; Justin Lafontaine (seated), Project Lead, Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab —Windsor-Essex Pilot and Gordon Orr, TWEPI Chief Executive Officer. Photo courtesy of TWEPI.
Do You Have A Fantastic Tourism Idea?
“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an expression many know. What it means is that extensive knowledge of, or close association with, someone or something can lead to a loss of respect and/or appreciation for them or it.
I think of this often in terms of how some lifelong Windsor Essex residents see their region — both from the past, the present and in its future possibilities. We can become too complacent about all the amazing things our region has to offer us. Oftentimes, it takes a fresh new set of eyes to awaken us to what we really have, and what we can become.
One new set of eyes who recently chose our city as his new home is 42 year old Toronto native, Justin Lafontaine. He moved to Windsor in the summer of 2017 after stays in the GTA, Montreal and New York City. Upon his initial discovery of Windsor Essex; he “became bullish about this region — its tourism possibilities and all that it has to offer.”
Educated as an “Urban Planner,” Lafontaine made a U-turn in his career years back to become a Tourism Development Consultant.
“Now instead of working FOR municipalities, I work WITH municipalities and economic development organizations to help them build tourism,” he states.
Although Lafontaine is a newbie to living here, he’s been around these parts off and on for the past 10 years having worked collaboratively with Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI; see: VisitWindsorEssex.com) on various projects such as Bike Train Ontario (BikeTrain.ca) and other biking initiatives as well as LGBTQ tourism development, Since Lafontaine arrived, he’s worked with community partners to pilot the WE Bike Bus program (WEbikebus.com) in October 2017. This initiative provides charter bus transportation from downtown Windsor to the wineries and other points of interest in Essex County. Lafontaine identified this as a need since at this time there is no regional transportation system in the county. He is in the process of working with partners in terms of establishing more dates for 2018 and has just received a Multicultural Community Capacity Grant from the Ontario Government. This will assist the group in working with some of the multicultural organizations serving the community in providing cycling training and excursions in Point Pelee.
Lafontaine is spearheading the June 12, 2018 launch of the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab (TourismInnovation.ca). For this pilot project — the first of its kind in Ontario — he has teamed up with TWEPI, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation, and VIA RAIL Canada, and other community partners such as: the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation (WE EDC) Small Business Centre; EPICentre at the University of Windsor; the Accelerator and many, many more local organizations.
Exactly, what is the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab?
Innovation labs are industry-wide approaches dedicated to a 100% focus in developing new product concepts, repackaging existing products, establishing new partnerships, and in identifying possible gaps in products or services. So, The Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab establishes a 100% focus on finding, fostering and supporting new, early stage, start-up tourism experiences, product ideas and collaborative partnerships.
In simplest terms, Lafontaine says “we’re looking for the next great tourism idea!”
This will be open to individuals, micro and small businesses and non-profit organizations based in the City of Windsor and the County of Essex.
According to Lafontaine, “the diversity of this region’s people, tourism offerings, cities, towns and rural areas, unique climate, ecology and geographic location make Windsor Essex the ideal pilot location in the province to develop and launch the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab.”
Lynnette Bain, TWEPI Vice-President, Tourism Programs & Development explains why their organization has partnered in this venture: “We strongly believe in partnerships. It is through collaboration that great ideas come to fruition. The Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab provides a compelling opportunity for start-ups to potentially develop those tourism experiences which resonate with visitors while they are here in Windsor Essex.”
The official June 12, 2018 kickoff involves the Spark Program: Mentorship & Grants aimed at sparking and supporting ideas that will create new opportunities for the industry, and address gaps in our current offerings to make tourism in Ontario more accessible, diverse and competitive.
During June and July, applicants (details to be announced on the site) make their tourism idea submissions via text or other media such as YouTube. Once the application submission window closes, submissions will be reviewed by local and provincial tourism innovators recognized by the industry.
The top finalists will be selected and invited to a “Pitch Session” to be held during the inaugural meeting of the Ontario Tourism Innovators Roundtable to be hosted in Windsor this October. Successful innovators will receive: a three month mentorship with an industry-recognized tourism innovator; a Tourism innovation “Spark” grant; access to a support network of tourism innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders; and a Guide outlining other resources and support services provided by participating partners.
Lafontaine is “excited to be bringing industry-recognized tourism innovators from across Ontario to the inaugural Ontario Tourism Innovators Roundtable in October, and also excited to celebrate our own home grown, provincially and nationally-recognized tourism innovators and businesses such as WindsorEats.”
So, Biz X readers and small business owners, non-profits and entrepreneurs, here is your chance to show off your creativity and make a lasting mark on your community.
You do not need formal tourism experience to participate; in fact, all of us have tourism experience to the extent we act as ambassadors for our region. Will YOU be the next one with the next great tourism idea?