If you’re a business owner along the Trent-Severn Waterway in Kawarthas Northumberland, you can now become certified as a “Trent-Severn Trail Town Friendly Business” and help grow tourism and revenue in your community.
Last August, Regional Tourism Organization 8 (RTO8) — the not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting tourism in Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough and the Kawarthas, and Northumberland — launched the Trent-Severn Trail Town program.
The first of its kind in Canada, the innovative program aims to grow tourism in nine communities along the popular 386-kilometre waterway, which has been enjoyed by almost one and a half million visitors every year.
The Trent-Severn Trail Town program includes the communities of Campbellford, Hastings, Lakefield, Buckhorn, Bobcaygeon, Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, Rosedale, and Coboconk. And, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic still playing out, the program has become an even more important tool to stimulate the economies of these tourism-dependent communities, by helping to promote local businesses along the waterway trail.
RTO8 is now seeking business owners who provide attractions, retail services, accommodations, and food and beverages in each of the nine communities to apply to become designated Trent-Severn Trail Town Friendly businesses.
Julie Whiteman was one of the first retailers in her community of Hastings to receive the Trent-Severn Trail Town Friendly business designation. An avid boater and a local realtor, she understands what visitors are looking for — one of the crucial requirements for a business looking to receive the designation.
“When you arrive, you’re looking for food, where to stay, where to eat, the LCBO, places to visit,” Whiteman explains. “This program makes it easy to share information and, if I can’t provide what someone needs, I send them to other businesses.”
Whiteman operates River’s Edge on Front, where her love of staging homes grew into a décor shop that keeps expanding in the commercial building she has worked to restore. After visitors come to her shop, which features a Trent-Severn Trail Town Friendly decal in the window, Whiteman encourages them to mark where they have travelled from on a map.
“This is such a great thing for Hastings, and it is bringing in people right now,” Whiteman enthuses. “I love meeting people.”
Whiteman’s enthusiasm and focus on customer service is exactly what the Trent-Severn Trail Town Friendly Business program is about. And, less than a year after it was launched, the program is already working — despite the unexpected and devastating impact of the pandemic on Ontario’s tourism industry.
“I’m a real numbers’ person,” Whiteman says. “We’ve had 215 visitors last month and, for Hastings, that is amazing.”
Before the pandemic, Whiteman took her passion for the program to the next level by offering an off-season event that was geared to permanent residents. The Christmas celebration came complete with caroling and showed just how easy it was for local businesses to build on the Trent-Severn Trail Town brand.
“There is something big going on here,” Whiteman says. “This is a great way to promote your business, get on board, and be part of the excitement. That’s exactly what we all need right now.”
The Trent-Severn Trail Towns program includes an easy-to-navigate website at tswtrailtowns.ca as well as colourful brochures inviting visitors to explore the nine communities along the Trent-Severn Trail.
Each of the Trail Town communities welcome boaters, paddlers, cyclists, hikers and motorists with warm hospitality and pride of place. They support the needs of trail visitors by providing attractions and activities, retail opportunities, food and beverages, and overnight accommodations.
In the quaint village of Bobcaygeon, Ann Adare of Dunraven Cottage on Pigeon Lake says the program came along at the perfect time. As a new business starting up last year, her focus was on getting noticed. The Trail Town program helped with that and more.
“It helped us identify what would make us more attractive to visitors, allowed us to be associated with the network of Trail Town businesses, and to tap into a great marketing opportunity,” Adare recalls.
“Signing up for the Trail Town program is easy, free, and lets our visitors know that we are here, what we offer, and what other businesses have available too,” she adds. “Being part of the program provides a valuable networking tool to connect with fellow business owners both here and along the trail. There is no downside so why wouldn’t someone want to take advantage of the initiative?”
Adare loves how visitors can plan their travel along the Trent-Severn Waterway using the Trail Town website, and how promotional materials showcase what her community has to offer. From local activities to where to find bike racks, the program helps visitors avoid wasting time precious vacation time searching for what they need.
While the pandemic means international tourists are currently not visiting the Trent-Severn Waterway, the Trail Town program has now become an effective way to promote the region to visitors from across Ontario.
“People are staying close to home and looking to travel within their own province,” Adare says. “The Trail Town program is helping us show them why the Trent-Severn Waterway Trail is the place to explore.”
In Campbellford, Trent Hills Chamber of Commerce executive director Nancy Allanson loves the impact the program is having, not only by connecting visitors to services offered by local businesses, but by inspiring creativity by business owners who are leveraging the Trail Town brand.
“Several businesses have added what we call a Trail Town Twist to their product offering, from Lock 18 Lager, to the Canoe Dog, to the Relaxin’ on the Trent socks,” she explains.
And because the Trent-Severn Trail Town program connects all nine participating communities along the waterway, each community’s efforts to increase local tourism can also benefit the other communities.
“Challenging times like these call for an increase in partnerships and collaboration, and the Trent-Severn Trail Town program is the ideal scenario for that,” Allanson affirms. “Each community can share what make them shine as individuals, and yet we can all work together to attract visitors to all of our communities.”
Allanson also believes visitors will consider travelling the entire Trent-Severn Trail, which is unique in that it is a waterway trail rather than a land trail, as another challenge to complete. Like other established trails, the Trent-Severn Trail will provider visitors with both adventure and experiences to create lasting memories — and to encourage return visits.
Business owners in Trent-Severn Trail Towns that offer attractions, retail, accommodations, or food and/or beverages are encouraged to apply to become a certified Trail Town Friendly Business by emailing Patricia at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
This story was created in partnership with Regional Tourism Organization 8 (RTO8).