Regional Tourism Organization 12 tackled rebranding, workforce development, and bouncing back from the pandemic at its 2021 summit.

RTO12, also known as Explorer’s Edge, is the provincial tourism organization responsible for Muskoka, Algonquin, Almaguin, Parry Sound, and Loring-Restoule. 

Explorer’s Edge announced it will be rebranding into “The Great Canadian Wilderness Just North of Toronto” starting next week. Speaking at the summit, Senior Director Kate Monk said the rebranding is meant to appeal to international travellers looking for an “authentic Canadian wilderness experience,” adding that proximity to Toronto makes the region more accessible.

The organization says it plans to place an emphasis on international visitors as the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, while continuing the “community-centric” approach that kept local tourism afloat over the past year and a half. 

RTO12 also announced it would be resuming work on the Workforce Thrusters Strategy, which includes a subsidized housing program, professional development, and financial literacy training, among other things for tourism workers. According to Monk, many workers in the tourism industry were forced by the pandemic to retrain into different industries.

Speaking to the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom, RTO12 Executive Director James Murphy said it’s a way to breathe new life into the region’s workforce.

“It’s an opportunity for us to step in and help those that are coming to the region, attract workers, develop professionals, and to help offset the cost of housing,” said Murphy. “We had a very firm timeline about a year ago, but the pandemic has thrown everything into flux, so the timeline is, ambitiously, within the next few years.”

Another part of the strategy is to supplement employee wages with funds that can be spent within the region. One potential method would be to add two dollars to the minimum wage, to be used at local businesses. Murphy says this would contribute towards “regenerative tourism,” in which a destination is actively improved through tourism.