Digital economy offers countless tourism opportunities

Anyone wandering into the quagmire that is the online comment section on social media sites might quickly sink into a quicksand of despair for the future of humanity—but the information superhighway provides huge opportunities for the North, particularly once the promise of broadband has come into full fruition out here in the digital hinterland.

With so many workers digging their heels in on returning to the office with the lifting of pandemic restrictions now that they have tasted the benefits of eschewing the morning commute to concrete towers and those ubiquitous Dilbert-style cubicles, huge opportunities are opening up for a new brand of tourist—those seeking literally greener pastures for part of their working week.

Not everyone wants to relocate to rural regions like those Manitoulin has to offer (we know, sacrilegious as it might be, it’s true), but when it comes to spending vacation time here, the Island has long been a Mecca for those desiring a more pastoral existence for a couple of weeks. Now, with the advent of remote working, for many workers those trips to lake and forest are not limited to vacation days but have become an option throughout the working week.

This is something Manitoulin tourism operations should not only embrace, but actively pursue as this new market remains largely untapped. Of course, there are challenges, but Manitoulin communities (and those along the North Shore) will soon be far better connected through fibre and the potential to leverage that connectivity will be huge.

Instead of only seeking out those who wish to disconnect and escape the working world for a couple of weeks respite, resort and other accommodations operators will be able to tap into the growing herds of part-time digital nomads looking to dip a line during their off-hours or go for a hike on a bush-lined trail of an evening. Unlike the economies of the past, today’s work-a-day-world will make such sojourns possible.

The potential of tapping into the part-time digital nomad phenomena for rural Northern communities looking to stem the tide of outward migration to urban centres may well prove to be a side bonus, as this new tourism stream acts as an opportunity for people to sample the rural lifestyle.

Manitoulin has a plethora of things going for it that can be leveraged to attract a new and younger clientele. Relatively lower housing costs, especially in shoulder seasons, a grid that is almost totally green (those much-maligned wind towers that look to be here to stay actually make Manitoulin an almost net-zero energy community) and fresh clean air and water—perfect for many seeking to escape the concrete jungle and the Hades that is a 401 commute.

With stabilized, and even growing, populations, small rural communities may be able to retain the schools, health centres and other services that they have long been in danger of losing as their user base declines.

It is an ill-wind that blows no good, and the internet may well yet prove to be more of a societal good than the moral disaster so often lamented, but it will be up to all of us to mine the gold from the dross to improve our collective lots.