New awards presented at organization’s annual general meeting, awards gala

LITTLE CURRENT— The Manitoulin Tourism Association ( MTA ) held its annual general meeting (AGM) and the inaugural Manitoulin-North Channel Tourism Awards Gala recently in Little Current at the Welcome Centre, reviewing the last year of the organization and recognizing the hard work of the many MTA volunteers.

After a delicious dinner, MTA President Ron Berti and MTA Director of Operations Shelba Millette commented on the importance of the volunteers to the organization, noting that they are the “lifeblood to much that happens on Manitoulin.”

Mr. Berti said that for many visitors to Manitoulin, volunteers are often the visitor’s first impression of the Island and that they “set the tone for the experience ahead of them.”

The World Class Leadership Five Star Award went to Manitowaning’s Marilyn and Hugh Moggy.
The World Class Leadership Five Star Award went to Manitowaning’s Marilyn and Hugh Moggy.

He added that this is the first year for the new awards, but that the MTA plans on continuing to develop and expand the awards in future years.

The first award was the Rising Star Award which was presented to Barb and Keith Flaherty, “up and coming leaders for their exceptional efforts to achieve excellence in front-line service.”

There was a tie for the Shining Star Award, which was given to Carolyn and Fred Hunter and Sheila and Graham Fogal, who were all recognized “for their good spirited nature” and being “exceptionally friendly, outgoing and continuously creating enjoyable visitor experiences whereby making our region shine.”

The World-Cass Leadership Five Star Award recipients were Marilyn and Hugh Moggy, honoured for their “outstanding contributions to tourism and commitment to the industry.”

All the award winners were chosen by their peers by formal ballots prior to the gala and each couple received a 16 GB 10-inch Samsung touchscreen tablet. The awards were partially funded by the New Horizon for Seniors Program.

Additional tourism gifts of thanks were presented to Shirley Bond who helped Marilyn Moggy set up the Assiginack Information Centre and worked in tourism for over 15 years, Tootie Blake and Glen Lewis, who have been extremely dependable and outgoing volunteers at the Manitoulin Welcome Centre for years, and Marcel Gauthier, who has also been a dependable and outgoing volunteer at the Welcome Centre.

MTA Treasurer Sam Nardi reviewed the 2014-2015 financial statements with the MTA board of directors and members present, noting that not a lot has changed in terms of the MTA’s finances. A motion was carried to accept the financial statements as presented.

Next was Ms. Millette’s director of operations report. She began by stating that the MTA employed seven summer students this year, which included four returning senior summer students. She also commented that the senior students did a great job training the new students.

“They also spearheaded additional research and tourism stats collection projects this summer,” said Ms. Millette. “These projects resulted in valuable stats for the MTA and local townships and businesses to help in projecting future tourism trends. These stats were sent out to the MTA membership by email.”

She said that there were two MTA volunteer gatherings held this past year and the volunteer input was valuable and used to improve tourism service by way of updated information and to further a better communication process.

The Shining Star Award Winners are, from left, Graham and Sheila Fogal and Carolyn and Fred Hunter.
The Shining Star Award Winners are, from left, Graham and Sheila Fogal and Carolyn and Fred Hunter.

“Volunteers are the backbone of the Island tourism industry,” said Ms. Millette. One significant change was the installation of a touchscreen computer on the Chi-Cheemaun which had on average 400 hits per day during the peak season. We are planning to implement the installation of more touchscreens for the upcoming year.”

Ms. Millette also reported that both the Manitoulin Welcome Centre and Chi-Cheemaun traffic stats are up over last year. “Although the official stats have not yet been released, ridership is said to have increased in excess of seven percent in 2015,” said Ms. Millette. “The Manitoulin Welcome Centre also saw an increase of seven percent in traffic which can be attributed to the marketing off the Island in the Greater Toronto Area by the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) during the Pan Am Games as well as to the lower Canadian dollar.”

Rita Gordon, MTA member and Gordon’s Park in Tehkummah owner, added that many of her patrons throughout the summer were from Toronto and attributed it to the OSTC marketing efforts.

A motion was carried to accept the director’s report.

MTA board president Mr. Berti presented the board with his annual review. He thanked the board for supporting him the last two years and embracing change.

He said that the year was filled with important meeting with funders and that he believes these meetings will lead to support in future projects.

“People of Manitoulin are aware of the change with the MTA and we have been gaining new members and seeing the return of old members,” added Mr. Berti. “I’m confident that if the board stays focused, we won’t let our fellow Islanders down.”

He stated that the board has been taking a serious look at Manitoulin’s cultural assets, as well as seeking a broader representation on the board.

“I would like to thank all of you for taking on this challenge with me,” said Mr. Berti. “We are a very unique place with a lot of talent. I feel very optimistic about our future.”

After a motion was carried to accept the report, the new board of directors was appointed.

The 2015-2016 MTA board of directors includes Stan Ferguson, Luke Wasegijig, Carol Sheppard, Sam Nardi, Bonita Taibossigai, Lois Keller, Lorie Leeson and Ron Berti. Bonita Taibossigai was elected as the 2015-2016 MTA president, the first First Nation woman to have been voted into this position. Mr. Berti was elected as vice president, while Stan Ferguson is treasurer.

“The MTA is heading in a clear set direction which includes several strategic initiatives to be undertaken in a logical progressive sequence,” Ms. Millette told The Expositor following the AGM. “The MTA’s overall DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) mandate or primary goal is to promote all Island businesses within the tourism sector. One of our first initiatives is to bring about a stronger understanding of the significance of the tourism industry on Manitoulin Island and how tourism impacts all of our lives in one way or another.  Every person or business on this Island benefits from tourism, be it in a direct or indirect capacity. Tourism is a pillar for economic development on this Island and with a healthy tourism industry, businesses and natural tourism assets will flourish along with our quality of life; be it a resort, a restaurant, gas station, art gallery or grocery store,  all Island businesses and their employees reap the rewards of a successful tourism industry.”

Gifts of thanks for their volunteerism went to Tootie and Glen Lewis.
Gifts of thanks for their volunteerism went to Tootie and Glen Lewis.

“Another key initiative being undertaken by the MTA this year is to grow tourism revenues and assets for the Island by way of first sitting down with all key tourism stakeholders such as our MTA membership, townships and funders,” said Ms. Millette. “The MTA will be aligning as many Island tourism strategies as possible in order to develop a high-impact singular and comprehensive regional/Island-wide tourism plan of action which will enable us (us being the MTA as the officially Canadian government recognized Island DMO together with all other actively willing Island tourism stakeholders) to brand the Island for what it is, a much sought after unique Canadian cultural tourism destination. From this broad image branding, together we can further strategize and promote all of our amazing Island communities for the customized places they are and highlight all they have to offer to the tourists (leisure or business), while visiting and enjoying all our whole Island has to offer; we can complement, support and endorse each other, powwows to festivals to great places to shop, eat, play and stay!”

“I am looking forward to this year and working with the new MTA board of directors as well as with our volunteers and membership,” concluded Ms. Millette . “We will be out looking for the support of all Island businesses in order for us to grow our Island tourism Industry in an all-inclusive good way. We fully admit, as we know it’s true, we need everyone’s help for the MTA to succeed at this ambitious long-term yet worth while endeavour––we are all worth it!”