A lot of people don’t know this, but back in the day I did a gig with what was the early incarnation of the Miramichi River Tourism Association (MRTA). It was an administrative type position, acting as the Liaison for the Village of Blackville.
It was kind of a new thing for me. I had done a lot of admin jobs of course, and I had unconsciously worked in the tourism industry for a few years as both an owner/ operator of a club and then as a waitress at a local restaurant, but I had no formal education in tourism administration, event planning, or even marketing. I didn’t know the industry buzz words or the partnering organizations and government departments responsible for overseeing and help fund it. At the time it was kind of exciting to bring my skill set of writing, editing, and creative out of the box type thinking into what felt to me like a kind of strict institutionalized industry.
I had so many ideas and was so inspired by tourism in the greater Miramichi region! There seemed to me to be so many opportunities for partnerships, new businesses, and other growth.
I was one of those people who grew up in the Miramichi and couldn’t wait to escape when I graduated high school. Because there was “nothing around here for young people”, even back in the 1980’s. And escape I did! I fled to the big city lights of Toronto, fell in love with all its hustle and bustle, and started to make a life for myself. I went to university and then I worked. It all lasted about seven years before I finally decided I had enough.
I realized if I made my permanent home in Toronto I would never travel like I had always wanted to do. Because every vacation and holiday I would come home to the Miramichi to be with my family. I realized the hustle and bustle was wearing me out. I would never write a book like I always wanted to do if it was just GO! GO! GO! all day, every day. I loved Toronto (and I still do) but I knew the occasional visit every now and then would be enough to fill my need to be in that city. If I moved back to NB I could easily spend tons of time with my family and be free to travel on holidays. I knew the pace would slow and I might get in touch with my creative voice and actually have the time and peace of mind to start writing creatively. I never regretted the move home. I returned with a new perspective, the ability to see this place clearly for the first time. Wow! I was so lucky to have been born here, to be able to live here!
And this was the perspective that I brought to my tourism gig, that we are so lucky to live here and anyone who finds out about us will want to come visit for sure. I even had an idea for a new business myself. A Murder/ Mystery type of Miramichi tour. I was thinking day adventure, rather than several days, though now in retrospect I suppose the longer the tour, the more that could happen. At least one of the people in the tour group would be an actor, so he or she could be murdered during the day. The group would actually tour the Miramichi going to places like the Woodsmen Museum, Beaubears Island, ziplining, paddle boarding, or whatever and do the regular things that people do when they go to these places, but also if they were paying attention they would be gathering clues to solve the mystery. At the end of the tour everyone would give their theory on who the murderer was, the motive etc. and if someone got it right we’d have them arrested. The person who solved it would get some sort of keepsake saying they solved the great Miramichi murder or something.
It was an elaborate plan that would have required many partnerships in order to work. I had pages and pages of notes. I could get excited about it from a participant point of view. If I went some place and they had something like that, they would not be able to sign me up soon enough. And if there were different versions, I would want to do them all. But as an entrepreneur, I was less excited about actually getting down to the nuts and bolts of it and making it happen. It was one of those great ideas that you wish someone else would do.
The point is that I had (and still have) a wonderful passion for the region and an excitement about the opportunities to bring tourists here. And I met some like-minded souls through the tourism association who were very forward thinking and progressive and open to working together to really capitalize on what we have here. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of negativity, people had been beat down, beaten up over hard years, and couldn’t find their hope. There was distrust, similar businesses were viewed as competitors, the enemy, as were other communities in the region, everyone fighting for their small sliver of the tourism pie. And everyone knows you only need one Negative Nelly to bring a whole room down.
I only worked in the tourism industry for the few months of my contract and then I moved on to my current position which is more in keeping with my education and experience. Throughout the years our paths have crossed still though, and I’ve heard about different plans and studies and things that have happened or attempted to happen. Some of it sounded great, some of it was depressing. Nothing ever seemed to come of any of it … until now, that is.
Two weeks ago I attended two events. The first was a Boot Camp on PR, Marketing, and Media Relations. The second was the MRTA Annual General Meeting dinner. The Boot Camp was the first of a series of upcoming Boot Camps put on by a company called Redpoint that have been hired to completely change our tourism industry and get the word out to the world that we are here, we are FABULOUS! And people need to visit us! One of the facilitators, Chris, was also the keynote speaker at the AGM.
I didn’t know what to expect, like I’ve said throughout the years there has been a lot of different strategies and things but nothing ever seemed to come of anything, so I thought this just might be another thing. But let me tell you, this isn’t just another thing. I am so excited about the future of our tourism industry after attending these events. Redpoint is a young and vibrant company with great ideas. We are being re-branded as Atlantic Canada’s Great Outdoors, which capitalizes on everything that we are already doing. I have no doubt they will be able to point the spotlight on us. All levels of government are behind this effort. It is being supported by the Feds, the Province, and the City. This is HUGE! For the City and the Region to be working together … WOW! This shows we have some progressive thinkers finally breaking through the Old School. And then there are the tourism operators … to see a room full of them representing every area from the Headwaters to the Bay and nodding their heads in agreement, having that excited twinkle in their eyes, at the idea of working together for the common cause. Standing up to comment to the group that they realized we are often our own worse enemies … It blew my freaking mind!
There is a four year plan in action, currently taking off. This group have a successful track record of doing the same thing for similar clients. To begin with, they are going to be doing all the PR and marketing. During the course of the Boot Camps they will be teaching all the owners/ operators and the organization how to do everything for themselves. They are all about partnerships and collaboration. If one hotel is sold out it is good for all the hotels because they will get the spill-over, same for restaurants, and likewise for everyone else. I could see the light bulbs popping over peoples heads. For some, this is a new way of thinking and they may have heard it a million times before, but now they’ve been told by someone from New York City and have finally heard the message. Because that’s been the way of the Miramichi for such a long time, sometimes we need to hear the voice of someone from away … and sometimes we don’t! But this time, I think we did.
I can see how this can snowball. How more and more people will jump on board as this thing takes off. Now is the time to join the MRTA if you have anything that can be marketed to tourists. Now is the time to start that little business in the industry you’ve been thinking about. The train is leaving the station! It is definitely time to get on board!