Project Name: Heritage Destination Development – Elora and Fergus

Elora & Fergus (as one destination) represents a prominent, emerging opportunity unequalled in Ontario.

It is a place carved by nature, with a unique gorge setting on the precipice of the 24-metre limestone cliffs cut by the roaring Grand River. A walk around the village’s charming 19th-century buildings, constructed with limestone from the local quarry, confirms its potent connection to the geography. The boldly re-imagined Elora Mill stands a symbol of a place moving into the future rooted firmly in the history of the river.

Just six kilometres along the Grand River, Fergus shares much of the same charm. Together, Elora & Fergus offer a rich selection of arts and culture from the Elora Festival Singers to the Fergus Highland Games. The vision for Elora & Fergus is to become “Ontario’s idyllic experience showcasing its natural setting, heritage towns, and arts and culture.”

After a solid three years of engaged partnerships with the Township and stakeholders, 2018–2019 will be the much-anticipated official relaunch of this destination. This is a story that must be told and amplified for the amazing opportunity that it is: one of Ontario’s last remaining, truly original and authentic heritage towns opening its arms with better facilities and activities than ever. The Elora Mill and Spa, which has sat vacant for almost a decade, is scheduled to reopen in 2018 to palpable interest in its positioning as a resort and wedding destination.

A focus for 2018-2019, therefore, will be a brand awareness campaign in partnership with Destination Ontario to begin the process of re-establishing high provincial recognition for this unique asset to both create excitement and drive intent to travel. All of these efforts are supported through an active and engaged community that includes the Township of Centre Wellington, Pearle Hospitality (owners of the Elora Mill), and five active community tourism committees established during the destination development consultation that are focused on aligning and enhancing the Elora & Fergus DNA.

Background

In 2015, RTO4 selected InterVISTAS through an RFP process to lead the destination development process based on the model of fostering community collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

Six strategic themes along with issues, opportunities and strategic initiatives were identified and agreed upon as the focus for Elora & Fergus:

  • Illuminate our natural assets
  • Strengthen our product offering
  • Increase market readiness of festivals and events
  • Enhance accommodation quality and capacity
  • Increase community support
  • Improve on hygiene factors

Phase II of the Elora & Fergus destination development project in 2016/17 focused on moving from strategy development to implementation and actioning of strategic themes. The destination network has grown and gained strength over the year with the establishment of subcommittees on five of the six identified themes.

These five subcommittees were established with members from the local community. They were tasked with brainstorming issues and working on local projects to provide solutions to issues, challenges and opportunities identified in order to enhance the visitor experience.

The year 2017/18 saw the implementation of a number of successful projects by the various committees to improve tourism in Elora & Fergus. These include The Destination Animation Strategic Co-investment Opportunity, The Google 360 Project, Festival and Event workshops and an Accommodation tour.

The key focus over the next three fiscal periods is to transition the activities and costs undertaken by the RTO back to a local leader – the municipality – supported by the efforts and contributions of local stakeholders. Elora & Fergus is emerging from a dozen years of retooling and is on the cusp of becoming one of Ontario’s most significant heritage assets.

2018/19 will see the continuation of the committee meetings and implementation of projects by the committees.

2018/2019 Objectives

OBJECTIVE #1 – In concert with key partners, the Township of Centre Wellington and Pearle Hospitality launch the Elora & Fergus “Where am I?” campaign to drive awareness and build intent to travel. 

OBJECTIVE #2– Work with tourism partners such as the Elora BIA, Fergus BIA, Elora & Fergus Tourism and operators to improve the natural and heritage setting in the two towns and market them through social media.

OBJECTIVE #3 – Work with tourism partners to create highly shareable experiences that are highly shareable and highly shared though the Elora & Fergus 2018 Destination Animation Strategic Co-investment Opportunity.

OBJECTIVE #4 – Work with key festivals and events to improve their digital and marketing capability; foster collaboration among festivals themselves and other tourism stakeholders.

OBJECTIVE #5 – Work with the Ways and Means committee, the Township of Centre Wellington and tourism operators to accomplish viable and perceived improvements to hygiene factors in the natural setting, improve the online visibility of Elora & Fergus and measure the impact of activities to improve the visitor experience.

Key Activities

  • Continue facilitating sub-committee meetings
  • Launch Where Am I? campaign, website and social media campaign
  • Expand the Google 360 project
  • Launch Year 2 of Elora & Fergus Destination Animation Strategic Co-investment Opportunity
  • Work with industry partners to implement digital sophistication programs

For more details on this project, please visit the 2018/2019 RTO4 Business Plan, pages 20-25.