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New grant program for innovative tourism ideas coming to the North

Northern Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab introduces the “Spark” Program to Northeastern Ontario
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Successful applicants will be matched with an innovative tourism mentor and given a $3,000 grant to get their idea off the ground

Anyone in Northeastern Ontario who has been sitting on a new tourism idea now has the chance to take it to the next level. 

On Sept. 19, Destination Northern Ontario and Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab announced the “Spark” Mentorships and Grants Program which aims to support tourism in the region. 

Successful applicants will be matched with an innovative tourism mentor and given a $3,000 grant to get their idea off the ground. 

The goal of the program is to help individuals, startups or established small businesses and non-profit organizations to conquer the challenges of bringing a new tourism idea to market. 

“We're trying to grow the tourism tent,” said Justin Lafontaine, the project lead of the “Spark” Program. 

In addition to a mentor and a grant, applicants will also gain access to a support network of tourism innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. This is something that many applicants find useful, especially if they are new to the industry. 

The goal of the program is to enhance current offerings, address gaps or challenges in the industry, motivate travel and longer stays in the region, and increase year-round visits. 

The “Spark” Program found previous success in Windsor Essex in 2018, and now plans to expand to different regions across the province. 
Applications are open to 18+ individuals who live in Northeastern Ontario or small businesses and non-profits with 10 employees or less. After a region-wide call for applications, selected finalists will pitch their ideas at the Northern Ontario Tourism Summit in Timmins on Nov. 19. Three successful applicants will be selected from the pool. 

Lafontaine emphasized the fact that anyone can apply. 

Some of the most interesting ideas that the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab has seen so far include ideas or partnerships from people who aren't already in the tourism sector. 

“We like to hear ideas from businesses that are not maybe in the tourism fold,” he said. “They often have really innovative ideas to connect because they are providing a different perspective on the tourism industry. It's really open to anyone in the region.” 

Destination Northern Ontario is an organization funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. Their purpose is to lead economic growth in tourism in the region. 

The Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab is a non-profit based in Windsor Ontario. It was created as a hub for tourism innovators and entrepreneurs to foster and support new tourism ideas, experiences and partnerships in the province.  

Applications for the grant program will be open until Oct. 21.