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Growing Trend Towards Experiential Tourism

Practically every traveler has taken in a gallery or museum as part of a vacation. However, a new trend in tourism is growing that adds unique and personal value to excursions. It's called experiential tourism and some rural communities and businesses are embracing it as an alternative or addition to traditional attractions.

Experiential tourism is all about adding value to a tourist's experience, explains Mark Clarke, manager of market development at Travel Manitoba, which promotes Manitoba locally and internationally has been ramping up its efforts to assist with this market.

And while many entrepreneurs and communities have been offering value-added eco-tourism and agri-tourism for years, such as eco Travel Manitoba "sees a big growth potential for the sector."

"Milking a cow may not be very exciting for someone within a rural background, but what about the thousands of people in Manitoba alone – including newcomers – whose only experience with nature involves booking a camping spot," he says.

Dr. Heather Hinam agrees. She owns and operates Second Nature, which offers guided, education experiences in a variety of fields.

"An experience doesn't have to be on a far flung beach in Maui," said Hinam while recently delivering a training session to members of Fisher River Cree Nation recently. The workshop was sponsored in part by Community Futures East Interlake and the Aboriginal Business Service Network.

"We've been doing this kind of thing since 1974," said George Crate, Fisher River's Economic Development Officer, adding they've had random requests from visitors from as far away as China and Japan. "We just haven't been able to capitalize on all that we have to offer. He points to previous excursions that have been fairly impromptu—like a spontaneous tour of flora and fauna he delivered for some Icelanders who arrived in a bus one day.

Crate wants to develop the potential for more organized and packaged offerings that the community can deliver and market. These could include drumming, dancing, traditional crafts, etc. With its award-winning Leigh Cochrane Memorial Centre as a focal point for festivals in the region, and with recent establishment of the Fisher Bay Provincial Park and Reserve, the time is ripe for more development.

Clarke agreed, adding that while many entrepreneurs and communities have been offering value-added tourism for years, Travel Manitoba "sees a big growth potential for the sector."

Gayle MacDonald, Tourism Manager, Interlake Tourism Association, notes that the community of Warren has used experiential tourism as a way of bringing in tourists and developing local amenities.

"It's not something you need huge infrastructure for. It's a way of adding a new layer to what exists in your community," she advised McDonald. "Don't worry about bringing in busloads or trainloads of people."

The ITA has engaged in experiential tourism over the years, including working with the Prairie Dog Central to bring people out to Warren for afternoons of music, and local foods and crafts. The influx of tourists to the town has meant that service clubs have been able to raise enough money for amenities such as a new skate park and memory garden.

So whether you take the approach of developing experiential tourism from a community standpoint or from a private enterprise standpoint, there can be a lot of benefit to exploring the options, proponents agree.

"The consumer is willing to pay for these experiences, says Clarke. "Market research bears this out."

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About Community Futures

Providing financing and support to rural entrepreneurs to develop their potential. Community Futures Manitoba Inc. (CFM) is an association representing 16 Community Future organizations (CFs) established throughout rural and northern Manitoba.
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