Lance DeCaire: EDO – Wahta Mohawks
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1. What made your community want to get involved with tourism?
We have a cranberry marsh and created a partnership with the community of Bala to be involved in their annual cranberry festival. So we became involved in tourism as an off shoot of the bigger economic development project, which is our cranberry marsh. The marsh started in 1969. We have been harvesting wild cranberries for over 100 years and then we started very small with growing cranberries commercially and now we are one of the largest producers in Ontario.
2. Please share some background info about your tourism venture(s).
The Cranberry Festival started in Bala around 30 years ago since 1984. It is organized by Bala which is the cranberry capital of Ontario. Our community’s role was small at first, then it grew from there. It takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Some Americans come and a lot of people from the Masquoka region. Extends the tourism season by one week.
The Wahta community sells cranberries, we have had a small pow wow in the past, we give tours of the cranberry bog during harvest and have visitors witness the process such as flooding the fields – they float to the top and there is huge rafts of red berries – it’s a site in itself.
The festival has led to spin offs like stores and smoke shops, and other small businesses. That weekend there is a lot of traffic.
3. What is your most popular visitor experience?
Apart from the cranberry festival, some people are interested in experiencing our reserve and seeing a different culture.
4. How long have you been in operation for?
5. Approximately how many visitors do you accommodate per year?
The festival brings in about $870,000 economic impact per year. 82% of visitors are non-local, estimated 17,500 visitors.
6. What were some of the main challenges you encountered throughout the years and share how you’ve overcome them?
Getting people to work and relying on volunteers is one of our biggest challenges.
The Cranberry Festival has a lot of full-time employees and harvest time we employ about 30 people. There are also vendors and small business ventures where people set up their own booths during the festival. In Bala they have different vendors and the community has a booth. Every 15 minutes they have a bus that runs between Bala and the community so visitors can visit both marshes during the festival.
7. What does it take to run a successful tourism business?
Communication and getting people involved – volunteers – they are first and foremost what it takes to run a successful tourism business. It’s also important to start an in house tourism/festival committee.
8. Do you have any advice to share with other communities, tourism businesses, and entrepreneurs out there?
Our involvement with Bala and working together with the community to create a win-win situation is so important – partnerships are key! Working with the larger community has led to great benefits. We have limited resources so having help is a real plus.
Balacranberryfestival.on.ca is where you can find more info.
9. Would you like your business to be featured on the Ontariotravel.net site and the ATO site?