Thinking back on one of my first packaged tourism experiences – a cruise through Central America – I remember coastal cities, surfing villages, stunning rainforests and beautiful beaches. We went zip lining in Costa Rica and cave tubing in Belize. I checked an item off my bucket list: a visit to the spectacular ruins at Chichén Itzá in Mexico. What I don’t recall are engaging experiences or interactions with local people. I came home with only a vague understanding of the way of life in the places I had visited.
Over the last number of years, travel trends have been shifting. Visitors are no longer looking to simply visit destinations – they want to experience them. Engaging, hands-on interactions with the local people are increasingly in demand. This is where the small, niche tourism business and entrepreneurs often come into play, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador, a destination known for its authenticity. The small size of these businesses means more personal connections, which is at the heart of any once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
Some of the best high-end experiences develop as a result of Newfoundlanders’ desire to show off the beauty of their province or the way of life they grew up with. I’m thinking of businesses like Java Jack’s Restaurant & Gallery in Rocky Harbour. What started as a small café has become one of the most celebrated restaurants in the area. Jackie’s secret? I think it’s fresh, local food – much of which comes from the gorgeous organic garden in front of the heritage home. It reminds me of Newfoundland’s culture of subsistence – growing, hunting and fishing for your own food.
Another great example is the Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook. With luxury accommodations and a stunning location, the lodge often plays host to the rich and famous (and regular people like my mom and me, too!) looking for a true backcountry experience. Barb makes use of every local resource in creating the highest quality outdoor experiences for her guests. These are experiences that Newfoundlanders grew up with – hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and more. And let’s not forget the food. Home-cooked meals served at a communal dining table make you feel like part of the family. It’s a true celebration of what it means to be in Newfoundland.
And who wouldn’t want a local planning their vacation? My first trip to Newfoundland – before I fell in love and moved here – was designed by Vision Atlantic Vacations, a company operating out of Humber Valley Resort. Although owner Maria is originally from England, she has the benefit of seeing things from a visitor’s perspective. Coupled with staff who are born and raised islanders, Vision helps its clients discover the true Newfoundland and Labrador. Much better than entrusting your vacation plans to someone in Toronto who’s never been to Atlantic Canada!
Small, locally-owned businesses are the backbone of the tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. They offer the unique and engaging experiences that today’s travellers demand – and are willing to pay a premium for. It’s our small businesses and entrepreneurs who are shaping our province’s fabulous international reputation as an authentic, must-see destination.
Brittany Taylor is the Marketing & Administration Coordinator for the Western Newfoundland DMO (aka Go Western Newfoundland). The Western DMO is a non-profit organization whose role is to develop and market Western Newfoundland as a world class multi-season tourism destination. You can contact Brittany at 709-639-4787 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Go Western Newfoundland, visit their website: gowesternnewfoundland.com or check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.