Raising a barn is tricky to do on your own. With a group? It’s a fair bit easier, said Trevor Benson of Bannikin Travel and Tourism.

The key is working together, he said in his keynote address at a Haliburton Tourism and Business Summit on May 16. Collaboration, or “synergy”, is how tourist locations can become well-rounded sustainable destinations.

The event at Sir Sam’s Ski/Ride was organized by the Haliburton Tourism Action Committee (HaliTAC) and the County of Haliburton with support from the Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization.

“We’re seeing the benefits beyond what we’re actually facilitating,” said HaliTAC co-chair Emily Stonehouse, surveying the busy conference room. “There’s a lot of creativity and optimism here.”

Co-chair Randy Pielsticker said Benson’s message of synergy sums up HaliTAC. “Our whole mandate… is it’s one thing to promote your individual business, it’s another thing to promote the County as a whole, and that’s our goal.”

Benson’s firm led a session on co-creating tourism values, and the Workforce Development Board guided tourism operators and businesses in two workshops on navigating the labour market.

In between events, attendees munched on cinnamon buns, sipped coffee and chatted around tables in the Sir Sam’s lodge.

Warden Liz Danielsen told the crowd the County’s destination management plan and the recently-finished service delivery review have begun prompting changes, such as the hiring of a manager of tourism, Tracie Bertrand, and a manager of economic development, Scott Ovell. “I’m really looking forward to the work they bring to us and how they bring us together going forward,” she said.

Bertrand told attendees the day was a chance to “reconnect, refocus, renew and rebuild,” in the wake of two tourism seasons marred by COVID-19 restrictions.

“Some businesses struggled to stay viable, others struggled to keep up with the demand,” she said.

Later, while the room buzzed with conversation during a networking lunch, Betrand said she was “blown away” by the tourism and recreational business industry’s response to the summit.

“The engagement I’m seeing here is by far the highest level of industry engagement in my career,” she said. “The community, the residents, the business owners, they’re going to decide how we responsibly grow the community.”

In another room, breweries, lodges, community services and activity providers mingled at display tables. For many, it was the first time they’d had an in-person industry gathering since before COVID-19.

Laura Harkness of Miners’ Bay Lodge said the day was a chance for her staff to network, increasing their knowledge of the community “so they can then go out in the community to create community-driven experiences when our guests come in the summer,” Harkness said.