There is seemingly a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, and the former Regional Tourism Organization 12 (RTO12) wants to make sure they are well-equipped to ensure Muskoka is well-positioned to succeed.

They will no use the RTO12 name, instead going by “Great Canadian Wilderness just north of Toronto” (GCW). “Pre-pandemic we were focusing more and more on international markets,” Executive Director James Murphy tells the newsroom. “With porter coming into the region securing international air service, there was an eye on international markets.”

The name change also signals a shift in focus for GCW – also known as Explorers’ Edge. They will still look to bring international visitors to the area, but Murphy says there will be a renewed focus on bringing in visitors from the Greater Toronto Area and the Golden Horseshoe. “We don’t want to lose our lustre,” Murphy says. 

He adds the Explorers’ Edge brand will be used as a consumer brand designed to continue to create ideas that bring visitors to Muskoka.

“It’s not just about getting more people here,” he goes on to say. The reason so many people visit Muskoka is to see its natural beauty, which is why GCW will also work to protect the natural environment. “If we are going to promote the wilderness, we also have to help protect it, and encourage travellers to do the same,” Murphy says.

With more people get vaccinated every day, Murphy says we’re able to start envisioning life after the pandemic, but it’s still tough sledding for many small businesses. The biggest handcuff is the indoor and outdoor capacity limits, adding that many small businesses have taken on a lot of debt which will prove to be an issue for them as well. “The workforce is a major problem as well,” Murphy says. He doesn’t want to be “doom and gloom” because Ontario starting to reopen is good news, but there is still a ways to go – especially for small business owners.

“They’re still very resilient, they’re doing the best they can but behind the scenes, small business owners are faced with substantial challenges that many people may not see,” Murphy says