INDIAN HEAD, Sask. — A simulation of speed dating was one of the unique tools used at an inaugural Tourism Talks session held at Indian Head recently.
Tourism Saskatchewan launched the Tourism Talks series of meetings to reach out to people involved in various aspects of rural tourism.
The pilot project brought together more than 30 participants representing tourism businesses, events and attractions from southeastern communities. It attracted participants from large and small communities throughout the region.
“One of the things that we have been concerned about as an organization representing tourism in Saskatchewan is that we need to connect more with our industry and we need to understand your needs more,” Tourism Saskatchewan chief executive officer Mary Taylor-Ash said at the opening of the meeting held at Indian Head’s refurbished Grand Theatre.
In 2012, Tourism Saskatchewan became a government entity rather than the arm’s-length, membership-based agency. That led to a more distant connection between tourism providers and Tourism Sask. Tourism Talks is an initiative to try to bridge that gap.
“In the breakout sessions, our staff talked about services and programs we offer and we found we had great questions, great feedback and a lot of people saying that they didn’t know what we could do to help them up until that point,” said Jonathon Potts, executive director of marketing and communications for Tourism Sask.
The morning session featured an overview of Tourism Saskatchewan resources and guided networking groups that listed and discussed southeastern tourism offerings.
“I think one of the really significant outcomes of getting together was the impact of knowing what is happening regionally and how we all have incredible communities and wonderful volunteers that are making so many things happen, many of which we’re not even aware of,” said Indian Head town councillor Gwen Johner.
The afternoon session of the meeting focused on answering questions from participants. A speed-dating format was used to cycle participants to different tables highlighting industry supports offered by Tourism Saskatchewan.
Regional representatives of events, tourism businesses and attractions were able to ask questions of Tourism Sask. staff members, who specialized in product development, social media, event hosting, staff training and co-operative marketing.
Potts said the meeting provided networking opportunities and a chance for participants to learn about Tourism Sask. resources.
He added that a co-operative advertising program, which offers a 50-50 cost-sharing program to tourism operators, proved to be of great interest at the meeting.
“It’s a well-subscribed program now but certainly there’s opportunity for more people in the industry to take advantage of it. Some didn’t even know it existed,” said Potts.
He added that rural tourism providers need to work with Tourism Sask. to expand their events and businesses because rural tourism is a vital part of the economic health of the province.
Traveller spending in Saskatchewan totalled about $2.15 billion in 2014, with 49 percent of that spent in communities outside of Saskatoon and Regina.
“There’s been a real evolution in rural Saskatchewan in the last decade or so in terms of the establishment of neat restaurants and B&Bs, and things like berry festivals and music festivals springing up all over the place, so rural communities like that will draw people out of the cities,” said Potts.
He added that some rural tourism developments like Maple Creek’s cowboy theme and Ogema’s Southern Prairie Railway have potential to draw people from outside of the province as well.
Tourism Sask.’s three guiding principles are: land and sky; time and space; and community. Potts said rural Saskatchewan is perfectly situated to showcase all three.
“In terms of what rural communities can offer, it really touches on all three of those things, starting with that sense of community and touching on all those things that people associate with small-town Saskatchewan like friendliness and being welcoming,” said Potts.
Based on the success of the first Tourism Talks session, Potts expects similar meetings to be held in other regions of the province in the coming year.