Offering a “spark” for tourism in the Bay of Quinte region

Brock Ormond   January 30, 2020   News, Quinte

A new provincial tourism incubator program is aiming to deliver a “spark” to individuals, start-up companies, small businesses and non-profit organizations in the Quinte region.

The Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab, along with the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board and representatives from surrounding municipalities and organizations, came together Thursday in Corbyville to launch the Spark Mentorships & Grants Program for Bay of Quinte.

Project Lead from OTIL Justin LaFontaine said the program is meant to provide mentorship and guidance to help enhance or create tourism ideas and experiences, particularly in the winter shoulder season, and offer a source of financial support to help attract more visitors to the area.

The “Spark” Program provides $3,000 grants to support tourism idea development activities and helps people and groups access a support network of tourism innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders.

Lafontaine explained there are three tourism idea categories that they’re calling out for, including water-based (winter swimming, kayaking, boat tours), food and beverage-based (culinary attractions, brewery tours) and open (any unique idea that can be developed or expanded).

Executive Director of the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing Board Dug Stevenson explained the tourism sector in Quinte is growing consistently among the younger demographic and people who are looking for more activity-based experiences in the wintertime and “experiential” tourism ideas that can grow the region.

“We look at ice-fishing as a draw, as well as outdoor skating. We’ve got 33 conservation areas in this region for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and winter exploration,” said Stevenson.

“We take them for granted, because we wake up in the morning and have it in our backyard,” he continued. “But, folks who are two hours away in the city and surrounded by concrete and pavement, love to come here to get away and have something to do. It gets them spending the night, spending money on hotels, going to the restaurants and hopefully finding their way into something else.”

Stevenson added this type of program and partnership with OTIL will lead to a better approach regarding tapping into areas that are not as much in focus during the winter period, such as activation of approximately 1200 kilometres of waterfront.

“They want to get out, do something active and experience nature. We’ve got a lot of waterfront here, but not many people are taking advantage of it from a business point of view. We don’t even have that many patios on the water, let alone canoe, kayak and boat tour opportunities,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do here – and this is the reason the program is called ‘Spark,’ is we’re trying to spark ideas, get the region talking and hopefully get us working together to create new levels for people to experience.”

The launch event also featured a Q&A session between the Regional Marketing Board’s Business and Program Development Manager, Trevor Norris and owner of Henry’s Place and Signal Brewery Richard Courneyea.

Courneyea told his story about his “passion project” of turning the historic building that once housed the Corby Distillery company into a multi-faceted tourist attraction, including a craft brewery, restaurant and musical entertainment venue.

He added they’ve started a beach volleyball league on the property, which has been a part of attracting 100,000 unique visits to the brewery last year alone and more than 150 live entertainment shows in its history.

“The primary thing we’re doing to aggregate people in the community is to celebrate the arts,” Courneyea explained.

“The arts are a piece of the canvas of our community where there’s been a massive void. It seems the arts are now starting to build, there seems to be some new energy – not that it was ever gone, but it’s amplified that creative space and people who are creative.

Applications are now being accepted until Feb. 28 and will be reviewed by a panel of local and provincial tourism innovators and leaders.

Following a finalists pitch session in late March, designed as a Dragon’s Den-style tourism event, three winning applicants from Quinte will be selected.

Bay of Quinte is the sixth Ontario region to launch the program, following Windsor-Essex, Bruce County, Chatham-Kent. Northeastern Ontario and Sarnia-Lambton.

The program is being offered through support from partners such as the Regional Marketing Board, Trenval Business Development Corporation, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and Regional Tourism Organization 9.

For more information, visit the Ontario Tourism Innovation website.