A look at Haldimand’s ambitious new tourism program

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

Four new experiences launching in 2023 thanks to $94K tourism grant

HALDIMAND—During our look ahead at 2023, Haldimand mayor Shelley Ann Bentley mentioned the County’s new experiential tourism program – From Great to Grand: Growing Tourism Experiences in Haldimand – as something that excites her about the new year. 

The Press reached out to Lidy Romanuk, Manager of Economic Development and Tourism, to learn a little more about why this new program is exciting and how the County plans to use $94,105 in funding from Ontario’s Southwest Regional Tourism Organization to implement it.

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“As our community continues to grow, we’ve been looking for new opportunities to help make Haldimand County a unique and memorable destination for travellers and residents,” said Romanuk.

She said the program is designed to help business owners understand what key audiences are looking for when coming to Haldimand, how to incorporate “nuances of storytelling” into their tourism offerings, and in turn “strategically build, price, and market those experiences as revenue generators and sustainable opportunities for their businesses.” 

In some cases, this includes taking an existing product and “creating a higher yield customer experience for ideal guests,” while others might focus on an “entirely new concept.”

While Romanuk praised the region’s diverse array of assets, from waterfront access to charming downtowns, to great festivals and events, she said attracting people to the community also relies on having “clear ways to access these elements.”

The County has been focused on bolstering the tourism sector throughout the pandemic, using funding through the Federal Tourism Relief Fund to facilitate programming designed to “inspire experience hosts to think about creative collaboration, innovation, and raising the bar on tourism services to bring new value to their businesses, community, and the tourism landscape in southern Ontario,” said Romanuk.

The new experiential program, first announced in November, will utilize the $94,105 in funding to focus on local businesses and the people running them to expand destination development opportunities.

The program will introduce four experiential tourism opportunities, designed to showcase the program’s versatility that will be “rolled out over time,” encouraging participants to look for experiences “beyond the beaten tourist paths and dive deeper into authentic local culture” that will “engage the senses and make connections on an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual level.”

Tourism Haldimand partnered with KLB Consulting on the program, which will highlight the four following experiences.

‘The Victorian Houseguest Experience’ 

at Cottonwood Mansion

Guests will travel back in time to catch a glimpse of Victorian-era life in the most authentic way. From immersive hands-on programming to fully costumed hosts, this quaint museum experience will leave guests with a better understanding and appreciation of the unique history Haldimand County has to offer. Enjoy a break from modern-day living with an authentic culinary experience, wreath-making, and more as your host enlightens you with stories of centuries past.

For more information, visit @cottonwoodmansion on Instagram or cottonwoodmansionmuseum.com.

‘Discover the Riches & Spices Within’ 

at Rabi’s Grand Kitchen

Join Chef Rabiya Azeez for an immersive culinary experience at the Riverside Exhibition Centre. Guests will learn about various spices and techniques of East Indian cuisine while enjoying authentic music, story, and food. After crafting a beautiful dish together, guests will gather for a sit-down dinner to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Participants will leave this experience with a deeper understanding of Haldimand’s unique food resources and ways in which they work in tandem with traditional foodways.

For more information, visit Rabi’s Grand Kitchen on Facebook or rabis-group.square.site.

‘Don’t Sweat the Wild’ Experience at Forest Fit

Discover the beauty and wonder of Haldimand’s woodlands on an active forest hike. Throughout this guided and storied exploration led by Sharon Beaudet, you’ll learn about invasive and native plant species, enjoy local foods, engage in exercise, and detach from life’s everyday distractions. From meditation to hands-on immersive activities, guests will leave this experience feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and reinvigorated.

For more information, visit Forest Fit on Facebook or at forestfit.ca/book-your-experience.

‘A Vine Affair’ at The Potting Shed

Guests explore the power of grapes and vines found throughout Haldimand and the surrounding region. This immersive experience sees guests creating unique hand-made wreaths using dried grape vines that have been sourced and salvaged locally. The incredible potential of the grape is fully explored not only through crafts but also through food and drink as guests indulge in the brilliant flavours of jams, preserves, and wine – all created from local products sourced from surrounding vineyards and culinary experts.

For more information, visit The Potting Shed on Facebook or at thepottingsheddunnville.ca.

Romanuk explained that investing in tourism development enables a range of benefits to all stakeholders involved: “It increases income and jobs from tourist spending, helps preserve cultural and natural heritage for tourists, and increases understanding of other cultures.” 

Using Ontario’s Traveller Segmentation, Romanuk said the County is a destination for three primary types of travellers: 

‘Knowledge Seekers’ driven by a desire to explore culture, history, and more; 

‘Mellow Vacationers’ seeking rest and relaxation, often in nature, and often with friends and family; and 

‘Nature Lovers’ motivated by outdoor activities and adventures with a high interest in camping.

“Overall, rural travel is perfect for those who want to enjoy a more relaxed vacation. People who love to travel to rural areas seek out authentic experiences and want to connect to the people and explore on their own terms,” said Romanuk. “Visitors should keep in mind that to have the best experience, especially if seeking roofed accommodations, you should plan your travel ahead of time to ensure that operators are able to accommodate your needs.”

Romanuk listed several local experiential tourism destinations already available, touting them as great options for the colder weather and encouraging the public to check out what local businesses have to offer.

She also encouraged readers to support local businesses of all types: “Whether they’re local tourism operators, independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants, mom and pop shops, or artisan craftspeople – independent and local businesses are what make our communities unique. They are the heart of our charming towns and are major economic drivers.  These businesses are the treasures that we as residents can share with visitors, family, and friends.”   

She concluded, “We at Tourism Haldimand look forward to continuing to share the many great people, stories, experiences and businesses in Haldimand County via our Facebook and Instagram accounts that make our communities what they are – a place full of Real. Potential.”

Watch for experience release details in the coming months for the four experiential tourism opportunities listed above at TourismHaldimand.ca or find Haldimand County Tourism on Facebook.