Matthew Owl: Ritchie Falls Resort
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1. What made you want to get involved with tourism?
Has been in the tourism industry since the early 90s when ecotourism was a new fad. Matthew has worked with NONTA, Great Spirit Circle Trail, and other Ontario based Aboriginal Tourism organizations. He has always had a fascination with sharing his culture and history with people/visitors not from the area & having people experience new things and to share what we have to offer.
2. Please share some background info about your business and/or tourism venture(s).
Ritchie Falls is a 100% owned and operated First Nation tourism operation with ATV, fishing, and hunting activities. – moosawa – acquisition from the community that led – businesses purchased within traditional territory – reaffirming assertion over jurisdiction – opportunity for the community to put back on the map the traditional areas that they live in – reassert the rightful owners of the area – create economic development – have a 3rd party source.
Ecotourism operation – director – Wabatek tourism initiative – board of directors for NONTA – good fit for being at Ritchie Falls
3. What is your most popular visitor experience?
A lot of individuals want to experience communicating with wildlife and to see first hand how their community/guides communicate with wildlife. That combined with sharing our culture is a true authentic experience and visitors are drawn to that.
Most visitors are from Central Europe and the Great Lakes Provinces and States – Michigan, Wisconsin, New Brunswick, Southern Ontario
4. How long have you been in operation for?
Since 1909 – took over in November 12 – 2012. Setting the standard for delivering the standard with their products and services – adding the Aboriginal authenticity – exceeding expectations of visitors. Repeat visitors – rebrand Ritchie Falls. Maintain clientele – switching with a rebranding – First Nations values.
5. Approximately how many visitors do you accommodate per year?
Approximately 200 – 275.
6. What were some of the main challenges you encountered throughout the years and share how you’ve overcome them?
First – human resources, capacity building – understanding the needs and expectations of the visitors – finding the right staff – understanding how overhead works and budgeting for success – understanding the marketing & your core market – marketing – knowing your market – who’s your target market – marketing, maintaining, and managing.
7. What does it take to run a successful tourism business?
You definitely need a champion of the community – someone that knows the work involved… understands the culture, understands economic development, understands what it takes to go above and beyond and exceed visitor’s expectations.
8. Do you have any stories to share about a memorable experience or encounter you had with a visitor/tourist?
Never judge a book by its cover – He had 2 ladies that showed up decked out in mountain climbing gear and projected that they are experienced in the environment. They had all the equipment and Matthew started leading them through a guided excursion up the side of the mountain – one lady started crying – she said I’m afraid of heights… he said he assumed that they were experienced mountaineers – found out afterwards that it was their first time doing something like that. He then took her by the hand, told her to focus on his hand – focal point on his hand, and they made it up the mountain. At the top she was crying, but out of happiness that she overcame her fears… at the top of the mountain their was an eagle feather. A few months later she sent him a painting of their hands holding one another with the eagle feather and how important that moment was in her life. That is something that he will always remember.
9. Do you have any advice to share with other communities, tourism businesses, and entrepreneurs out there?
Be cognoscente of what you’re doing – understand the operation – know the markets extremely well, – the difference between the European – the Asian market – does take a lot to keep an operation going – in order to pursue longevity – need a core staff to be successful –
The buy and expect people to come strategy does not work – Your tourism businesses need to be well planned with a detailed marketing strategy. You need to understand the entire process.
10. Would you like your business to be featured on the Ontariotravel.net site and the ATO site?
Yes – absolutely! Learning from each other and helping promote sustainability in the industry is so important. Grow the industry together – need the time…