Provincial program rewards tourism innovation

Justin Lafontaine of the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab, far left, winner Amy Saba, third left, and Gordon Orr of TWEPI, second right, pose at the Spark Program award presentation at Caesars Windsor, October 25, 2018. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Those who have thought outside the box to boost tourism in Windsor-Essex are being rewarded for it.

The Spark program, launched earlier this year by the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab and promoted by Libro Credit Union, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport; and Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI), announced the winners in a competition designed to encourage residents, non-profits, and business owners to use their talent as a springboard to promote local tourism.

Justin Lafontaine of the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab said 23 applications were received in Windsor-Essex. These were narrowed down to five finalists, who were invited to pitch their ideas in front of a panel of judges at a reception Thursday at Caesars Windsor’s Classic Club. Three winners were chosen and Lafontaine said they make up a diverse field.

“One comes from a local craft brewery, there’s another one that has an idea to bring more people down to the waterfront, and the final one was someone who is working outside of the tourism industry, but is seeing this opportunity to have tourism as another way to grow his business,” said Lafontaine.

The three winners, Amy Saba of Crafted On Riverfront; Jen Desjardins-Grondin of GL Heritage Brewing Company and Michael Difazio of Michael Difazio Reclaim Artistry; are receiving a $3,000 grant to help cultivate their idea and get it to the next stage. They are also receiving, along with finalists Elizabeth Cheng and Susan McLeod, a mentoring opportunity, which TWEPI’s Lynnette Bain said will be tailor-made for each finalist and involve other tourism idealists.

“We’ve brought together tourism innovators from across the province today for this meeting,” said Bain. “We just wrapped up the Ontario Tourism Summit, and it was a great way to invite anyone who’s been a finalist or an award-winner for the Ontario Innovation Tourism Award.”

The Spark program attracted applicants through a marketing campaign that was in action throughout the summer. About 25 community partners and sponsors are also involved in the initiative.

Complete information is available at the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab’s official website.