Entrepreneurs and Rural Tourism in Ontario

An article by Joppke, Brooker and Thomas in the latest issue of Journal for Rural And Community Development contains some interesting nuggets for those of us interested in agrifood, entrepreneurship, rural areas, and Ontario.

Tasty-Tidbits_tileAs part of a larger project that outlined national and international best practices in rural tourism, the authors held a stakeholder workshop to identify the challenges and barriers to rural tourism development in Ontario, and to identify success factors that would allow this sector to be more strategic in its innovation. The 30 participants included economic development officers and representatives from provincial, regional and community tourism organizations (DMOs), including several entrepreneurs who were also board members of some of these organizations, therefore representing a broader group of rural entrepreneurs in the Province.

Participants were asked to identify rural tourism businesses in Ontario that they considered to be innovative and to explain’justify their choices.

Of the 26 rural businesses identified by participants, 11 were connected to agri-food in some respect, based on the descriptions provided. The other businesses consisted of accommodations (resorts, retreats, campgrounds), day spas, adventure activities, tourism marketing partnerships, and a dinner theatre.

The 11 businesses are profiled in Table 1, including a brief description of the business as well as the factors identified that make them innovative. The Table provides some insight into why these businesses attract regional tourism and may provide some ideas to other entrepreneurs wishing to expand their reach. Most or all of the businesses have a website and/or a social media presence.

Table 1. Innovative Businesses in Ontario, Canada as Identified by Respondents

Business Description What makes them innovative
Saunder’s Farm Destination Farm with 35+ attractions Business strategy focused on both farming and tourism.
Smith’s Apples & Farm Market Operational apple farm with visitors’ attractions Business strategy focused on both farming and tourism.
Spirit Tree Estate Cidery Pick-your-own farm operation, bakery and farm-store Lifting, shifting and adapting international culinary tourism ideas
Mapleton Dairy and Organics Organic dairy farm, organic product store and restaurant Business strategy focused niche ‘organic products’ and tourism
Brook’s Farm Destination/adventure farm: 20+ attractions, pick-your-own experience Continuous additions of new attraction, produce, packages
Springridge Farm Fun farm yard, orchard, gift shop, bakery cafe Unique festivals supported by marketing campaigns
Clovermead Apiaries Adventure farm with 32 attractions, tours and gift shop Periodic addition of new products and attractions
Oxford Fresh Chefs, growers & processors create artisanal local foods Creative products/new unique experiences
Elmhirst Resort Lakeside resort; own farm, herb & vegetable garden Fully integrated supply chain & Canadian products
E’terra Luxury accommodation serving organic and local foods Destination experience, ‘forest’ targeting lucrative demographics
White Cress Mushroom Farm Mushroom producer/processor, retail outlet and country store New produce, eg., ‘Arctic Kiwi’; new educational tour

(adapted from Tables 1 and 2 in the article)

Rural entrepreneurs: do they matter?

Amish Horse And Carriage

Collaboration with Media

Workshop participants were asked to comment on the role of rural entrepreneurs in leadership, specifically in planning and development at local, regional and provincial levels. They stated that the most effective way for rural entrepreneurs to provide leadership is at the local level, and by working in collaboration with the media to increase awareness of rural tourism businesses.

Local Engagement

At the local level, leaders can impact product development, packaging, advocacy, training and development. As well, they are able to facilitate business to business collaboration and ensure representation and governance at the grassroots level in local tourism governing authorities.

Regional Engagement

Entrepreneurs can be effective at other levels of governance as well. Regionally, according to the research, they should be seen as champions of rural development. As such, they need to engage with regional level tourism planning and development organizations and provide ideas and direction for planning and action for the development of the tourism sector.

Provincial Engagement

logo OCTAThe role of rural entrepreneurs is seen as much more limited at the provincial level. They could assist in promoting their particular region, working with provincial organizations such as the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, and sitting on both provincial and regional boards and ensure collaboration exists among the ministries and regional organizations. Provincial governance boards tend to be dominated by larger cities, major hotels, attractions, events, suppliers, and volunteer organizations.

Respondents described most rural entrepreneurs as disengaged, largely due to lack of time and limited resources.

For discussion

  1. Can you think of other examples of rural agrifood-related tourism in Ontario?
  2. What other ways might rural entrepreneurs be able to impact policy at the local or provincial or level?

Full citation: Marian Joppe, Ed Brooker, and Kimberly Thomas, Drivers of Innovation in Rural Tourism: the Role of Good Governance and Engaged Entrepreneurs, Journal of Rural and Community Development 2014, 9(4), 49-63.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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