MTA students briefed on local offerings by Island business operators

The summer students from the Great Spirit Circle Trail and the MTA, which include Welcome Centre summer manager Lindsay Orr, Bethany Williams, Jordan Moore, Jeromy Elliott, Darian Mandamin, Jacob Desjardins, Thomas Anderson, Dillon Abotossaway, Jeanette Frith, Cindy Hu and Kerrigan Dubeau are joined in a group photo by Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport regional advisors Micheline Baxter and Joel Gauthier and MTA president Ron Berti, Great Spirit Circle Trail board rep Bonita Taibossigai and MTA director of operations Shelba Millette and local heritage buff Doug Tracy.

LITTLE CURRENT—A group of students working at the Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) Welcome Centre in Little Current and the Great Spirit Circle Trail took part in a stationary fam tour (familiarization tour) held at the welcome centre recently. Tourism business operators and municipal and First Nation economic development and tourism officers provided presentations about their operations and the services they offer to visitors to the area.

Some operators, like Mindemoya’s Maja Mielonen and Rockville’s Carol Sheppard, even brought in some home baked treats from their businesses for the students to sample. Most of the presenters also brought brochures and handouts with information about their operations and services.

Justin Peltier, product development officer with Wikwemikong Tourism, spoke to the students at length. “Even many people locally are surprised by all of what we have to offer visitors to Manitoulin Island,” noted Mr. Peltier following his presentation. “This was a great opportunity to highlight the many places to stay and things to do in our community with the students who are often the first faces that people see when they arrive on Manitoulin Island.”

“It really has been a great opportunity,” said Northeast Town Economic Development Officer Kristin Luoma. “It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to make the students more aware of the services that we have to offer in the municipality for visitors arriving by boat and by car.” Although she did admit it was a little tricky to jam all that information into a five-minute session.

The Manitoulin Expositor was one of the presenters and the publisher of Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper, Rick McCutcheon, was pleased to share information about the many offerings Manitoulin Publishing has to offer. Those include the paper itself, an invaluable reference containing local events throughout the year, the Manitoulin West Recorder, which focuses on the West End, and the online accessibility of the paper’s resources. Mr. McCutcheon also noted that Manitoulin Publishing has two key publications that focuses on the Island’s summer season, Manitoulin’s Magazine and This is Manitoulin. This is Manitoulin is also now available online, with a spanking new website created by The Expositor’s award-winning online design team.

The sessions needed to be short, in order to fit in as many operators as possible, noted Shelba Millette, MTA director of operations. “Even at that we were not able to accommodate everyone that wanted to present,” she said. “We look forward to being able to accommodate an extra day’s worth of MTA membership presentations next year, as they are invaluable to our summer students and volunteers.”

Darian Mandamin of Wikwemikong, one of the students working at the welcome centre in her second year, is pretty familiar with what is available in her own community and learned a lot about the Island’s other communities through her work with the MTA, but she said that she still found a lot of the information very enlightening. Ms. Mandamin is working toward her early childhood educator diploma.

Jacob Desjardin, another student from Little Current, is working his first year at the centre. He is a long time resident of the Island, but he still found there was plenty to learn about Island operations. Mr. Desjardin is looking to pursue a career as a millwright.

“We are building a foundation,” noted MTA president Ron Berti. The concept, he noted, is to build a sense of place among the students, as well as increasing their knowledge about local tourism operations. The changing tourism market is placing different demands on tour operators these days, a change towards a visitor seeking more experiential and authentic experiences, but with less structure and formal interaction.

“I think we have turned a corner on people ‘getting it’,” said Mr. Berti. “There are a lot of unique educational experiences available here on the Island. Those are the kind of experiences that people are seeking. They want to know how people here live, what they do and how they do it. It isn’t all about the big expensive package these days, sometimes it is just a little inexpensive interaction with ordinary people that they are looking for.”

The sessions with the students were being filmed and Mr. Berti said that the MTA is working with a group of young students interested in learning more about filmmaking and editing to record small vignettes with many Island businesses.

“It is going to be an extremely productive and exciting summer for the MTA,” said Shelba Millette, “in large part because we have 12 bright, respectful and resourceful students who, as I am sure they told you, are all looking forward to this brand new ‘MTA Youth Tourism Team Building’ experience.”

Ministry of Tourism regional advisors, Micheline Baxter and Joel Gauthier, dropped by the sessions during the afternoon. “This is very impressive,” said Mr. Gauthier. “You can see the enthusiasm of the students in how they are paying attention to each presenter.”

Mr. Gauthier was on a fam tour of his own, introducing Ms. Baxter to the Island and its communities.