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Rural areas important in regional tourism promotion

By Paul Knowles (first published in The New Hamburg Independent and other Metroland community newspapers)

When the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation invites visitors to “Explore Waterloo Region,” the invitation really means what it says – explore the whole region. Minto Schneider, who is CEO of the corporation, told the Independent that the townships are a key part of the tourism sell that her agency promotes.

(Photo: The John A. statue, part of the Prime Ministers Path at Castle Kilbride)


“The townships are very important,” she says. “We promote Waterloo Region as a place where ‘Preservation meets Innovation’ and actively promote the areas surrounding our urban centres.”

She cites specific examples of the rural attractions on offer – “farmers’ markets, farm gates, boutique inns, spas and wedding venues (Puddicombe House, Castle Kilbride), restaurants and breweries (Heidelberg Restaurant Tavern & Motel, Anna Mae’s, At the Crossroads, Bitte Schon Brauhaus), corner stores, historic bridges, historic sites (Castle Kilbride, Prime Ministers Path) and more.”

She was asked what special features Wilmot and Wellesley townships bring to the regional tourism mix, and was quick with her reply: “Rural landscape and lifestyle.”
Schneider adds, “People from urban areas or other countries want to visit less populous areas – by bike or by car. If we want people to linger, we need to make sure there is thing for them to do – concerts, festivals and so on.”

The regional tourism body focuses not only on attracting visitors from other areas, but also on promoting “staycation” style visits – such as encouraging people who live in the urban areas of Waterloo Region to spend some time in the small towns and countryside.

Schneider points out that Waterloo Region’s tourism attractions are not all city-centred. She notes some of the biggest – and they do represent both city and small-town attractions: “The best known tourism attractions include the St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market, the Grand River, Drayton Entertainment, and festivals and events – Oktoberfest, Kitchener Blues Fest and the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival being three of the largest.”

But she adds, “Having said that, the Mennonite Relief Sale, Moparfest, Baden Corn Fest, the Wellesley Apple Butter & Cheese Fest and cycling events (Steaming Nostril and other Waterloo Cycle events) also attract significant numbers and are very important as we build a menu of things to do while in the Region.”

Schneider believes that no one event is going to be the key to growing tourism in the Region, or, more specifically, in the townships. “Often it is not one thing that attracts visitors, but a few opportunities, so people will venture out from further away to take part in more than one activity.”

But while Schneider is known to be an eternal optimist, she does admit there are things that the Wilmot and Wellesley could do to improve service to tourists. Asked about weaknesses, she said, “Sunday openings. If we want to encourage cycling in the area (and cycling in the townships is a great activity for leisure as well as competition), we should have place for a bite or to shop open on Sundays. Signage on rural routes is also important and should be coordinated across the Region so that all of the signs have the same look.”

Waterloo Region may not be a tourism hot spot like Niagara, but tourism is significant to the local economy. In 2016 (the latest figures available from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport), the region drew 4.8 million visitors, including 1.2 million overnight visitors.

Schneider says that this meant $357 million in spending to local restaurants, retail, accommodation, transportation, and experiences such as arts and culture, recreation and entertainment. 

There are no break-downs for the number of visitors to the individual municipalities, so there is no way of knowing how many of these people spent time in the townships, but Schneider and her team are intent on increasing visitor numbers across the Region.

And she encourages all businesses with any connection to tourism to work with her agency. Asked what people in the hospitality or attractions sectors can do to improve their draw, Schneider seizes the opportunity for some promotion: “Call us! Check in and let us help you help us to bring more visitors to Waterloo Region. We are the marketing professionals and are here to help. At the very least, make sure that your events are posted on our website – it is free.” The website link to enter an event is