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What’s your innovative tourism idea?

Grant and mentorship program aims to ‘spark’ new tourism offerings
Spark program
Thanks to the Spark program, Udderly Ridiculous has expanded from selling goat-milk ice cream to offering unique, sustainable tourism offerings on its Ontario farm.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Udderly Ridiculous was an Ontario company specializing in gourmet, goat-milk ice cream.

But with the help of a mentorship and funding program through the non-profit Tourism Innovation Lab, the company has expanded to offer so much more.

“We do a number of experiences from goat yoga to goat recess, we do alpaca walks and picnics and encounters with them, and we also do a more in-depth signature experience, so people get a chance to learn about all the different animals and agriculture and food production and do tastings along the way,” said Cheryl Haskett, the company’s CEO.

The unique, sustainable tourism offerings were an instant hit, all made possible by the Tourism Innovation Lab’s Spark program.

“It helped us kind of put a bit of a stake in the ground, to keep going and to do it,” Haskett said of the $3,000-grant and mentorship opportunity awarded through the program.

Now, the Spark program aims to inspire local entrepreneurs in the Sea to Sky and beyond to find similar success.

Until Oct. 6, entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits can submit their applications, from which five finalists will be selected for a virtual pitch session.

Of those five finalists, a separate jury will select three winners.

“It provides [the three winners with] $3,000 in seed funding, and more importantly, I think, it connects current entrepreneurs or those that are not currently working in the tourism industry … with a mentor to really help them start to flesh that idea out and bring it into reality,” said Jenn MacIntrye, manager of industry development with Destination BC.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage new tourism experience developments, and we’re excited that this program is one of the tools that we’re going to try out to see how it works.”

Destination BC is running four Spark programs across the province, MacIntyre added: in the Sea to Sky, the West Kootenays, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and one with Indigenous operators province-wide.

While it’s too early to say what might come of that, the process in the West Kootenays attracted about 15 applicants covering a broad range of pitches, MacIntyre said.

“It was everything from arts- and culture-based projects, it was transportation projects, there was some accommodation projects there, [and] some really innovative kind of events proposals came in,” she said.

“So it really sort of covered a broad spectrum, and I anticipate that we’ll probably get a similar scope of projects along the Sea to Sky as well.”

The idea to bring the program to the Sea to Sky was born out of the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s COVID-19 recovery working group—more specifically, the group’s tourism sustainability team, which started to develop a similar concept back in October 2020, said economic develop manager Toni Metcalf.

“We had worked for a number of months as part of the Whistler Recovery Working Group to detail out a workplan, outlining the scope and structure of the Sustainability Lab (as we were calling it at the time), and a launch plan ready for a spring implementation,” Metcalf said in an email.

But after a provincial regional economic development team meeting in February 2021, the idea was expanded to a regional focus, and the Tourism Innovation Lab was eventually brought onboard.

“Overall, it is about supporting Whistler’s vision as a year-round destination, so new ideas that contribute to smoothing visitation through shoulder seasons, or extending our visitors’ length of stay, would all be positive outcomes,” Metcalf said, adding that some of the gaps or challenges the program might address include weather-independent tourism offerings, or those with an emphasis on conservation or protection of the natural environment.

From Tourism Whistler’s perspective, “this is a really fantastic opportunity to continue to invest in small grassroots but potentially very creative entrepreneurial opportunities that could make our tourism industry stronger, and could make it more resilient in the long run,” said president and CEO Barrett Fisher.

As for what ideas could come out of the program, “it might be something that we didn’t know we were missing,” she added.

“Someone might have a creative new experience that they want to create, or an event that they want to create, or a new business that they want to create that we haven’t even heard of yet, but it’s leading edge and it’s innovative and it’s creative or it’s new.”

Information sessions for potential applicants are planned for Thursday, Sept. 16 at 11:30 a.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m.

Find more info at tourisminnovation.ca/seatosky.