Earlier this month marked the one-year milestone of our relaunch of Oshawa Tourism and its newly built-out brand. Looking back, it’s quite striking for our little team to reflect on the incredible journey that has unfolded. As both a person born in Oshawa and the CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce and Oshawa Tourism, this journey has also been a fulfilling mix of the personal and professional. It’s a journey of transformation, growing pride, and a deep commitment to our community.
A Vision Unveiled
One enormously liberating aspect of launching this brand was that Oshawa had previously never had a visual brand for tourism or even a website. Our decision to launch the first-ever visual brand for Oshawa Tourism was driven by a vision, and that vision was informed at all steps by our community. I honestly forget how many dozens of survey results we sifted through, but after polling our neighbours, tourism operators, and any general busybody types who wanted to be heard, a central theme emerged: “Whatever you do, make sure it’s honest and real.” We (all of us, it seems!) wanted to create a brand that truly encapsulated the essence of Oshawa—its rich history, diverse culture, and vibrant community. I know – everyone uses those words to describe their community; that’s precisely why it was so important to lean into all things most authentically Shwa. The goal was clear: to begin telling our compelling collective story to others and to instill a profound (perhaps even newfound?) sense of pride among Oshawa’s citizens.
Yes, There’s a Strategy
Earlier this year, we gathered representatives from all corners of what could be considered Oshawa’s tourism operators community: restauranteurs, retailers, hoteliers, civil servants, venue operators, art gallery bosses, sports tournament organizers and the like. Over several months, led by the good folks at Central Counties Tourism, we crafted and published Oshawa’s first-ever multi-year strategic plan for growing tourism. That building up of civic pride I mentioned above and will continue to refer back to? It’s baked right in there.
The Road to Reimagination
Our path was not without its challenges, with funding being a central hurdle and “Oshawa Tourism? Never of heard of it” being the main secondary hurdle. However, we embraced the ‘do more with less’ mindset, treating our tourism practice as a startup. We found creative ways to optimize our resources and leaned on the support of our community whenever possible. More on this to follow.
Shaping Perceptions and Community Pride
One of the most rewarding aspects of this journey has been witnessing the earliest transformation of Oshawa residents’ perceptions of their city. As someone born and raised in Oshawa, I’ve long believed in the city’s potential to offer enriching cultural experiences, but let’s be very honest: the road to doing this is neither smooth nor particularly well-lit, and it occasionally runs through some sketchy territory. Realizing this potential required a suitable platform to share the city’s stories cohesively, which we finally have the beginnings of via our websites and various social channels. Despite their speedy growth, they’re still really only a starting point. Even so, it’s already noticeable that some of this work is changing how Oshawa people see their city, instilling a newfound sense of pride and appreciation for the diverse and vibrant experiences that Oshawa has to offer. And THAT is our first goal in this practice: help this city be a little kinder to itself in the bathroom mirror each morning.
Unique (We Hope!) Initiatives that Make a Difference
The first year in the market was marked by a series of exciting ‘firsts’ for Oshawa Tourism, and these initiatives have been pivotal in shaping the brand and attracting visitors to our city.
Oshawa Tourism “Sizzle” Video
We unveiled our first-ever Oshawa ‘sizzle’ video, a captivating and shareable visual experience meant to leave viewers exclaiming, ‘I had no idea!’
Dedicated Social Media Properties
We launched dedicated social media channels for Oshawa Tourism, providing contact points for engaging with our community and sharing the latest events, updates, and underappreciated experiences.
Digital Campaigns for Local Tourism Businesses
We initiated digital campaigns such as Skip The Apps and The Hometown Tourist Challenge, designed to support local tourism businesses, especially those most severely impacted by prior quarantine measures.
Oshawa Culinary Compass
An eight-month endeavour resulted in the creation of the Oshawa Culinary Compass. This beautifully crafted dining guide takes you on a culinary journey through our city.
Santa Claus Parade of Lights
Months of preparation went into taking on and preparing for the highly anticipated 2023 Santa Claus Parade of Lights once the previous volunteer committee stepped down earlier this year. As I write this post, we’re nervously preparing to execute the event for our first time a few days from now.
Convergence Music & Art Festival
The crown jewel of our first year in operation was the Convergence Music & Art Festival, featuring dozens of artists, makers, food trucks, circus performers, wrestlers, films, and live music acts.
Shaping the Future
Looking ahead to 2024, we have some exciting plans on the horizon. One of the key initiatives set to launch is a comprehensive tourism experiences discovery guide similar in scope to the recently unveiled Culinary Compass project. Our team has been hard at work, capturing the essence of Oshawa throughout the year. This extensive photography and journalism project will provide a visually compelling representation of a year’s worth of activities in our city. Additionally, we’re eager to revive the Oshawa Halloween Parade, a unique tourism experience with the potential to grow into something truly significant for our city.
Beyond these new marquee initiatives, we remain committed to optimizing and iterating on the work we initiated in our first year. We firmly believe that these endeavours hold strong potential to increase their impact and contribute to the ongoing growth of Oshawa Tourism.
A Journey Just Beginning
As we celebrate this one-year milestone for Oshawa Tourism, I want to emphasize that we are just getting started. (Shoot! Everyone says that too, don’t they?) Each day, we’re diligently working on strategic initiatives to share the unique story of Oshawa and extend a warm invitation to new visitors to come and experience our city. However glibly it may sound when we state it out loud, we view this as a decades-long project. The transformation of Oshawa into a premier tourism destination is not an overnight achievement.
We consider ourselves fortunate to be part of this early phase in the journey to redefine Oshawa tourism. It’s a privilege, and we are fully aware that dedication and hard work will be required for decades to come. Our commitment to shaping the future of Oshawa remains unwavering, and we are excited about the endless possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead.
Oshawa’s Bounty of Experiences
I’ve long admired the state motto of North Carolina, “Esse quam videri,” a Latin phrase which, translated into English, means “To be, rather than to seem.” Many communities make deep investments of time and resources trying to reimagine themselves in a way that will appeal to tourists, perhaps in the hopes of deriving a positive economic impact from their “World’s Largest Stapler Museum” projects and what have you. We don’t have to engage in any such thrashing about.
Oshawa is genuinely fortunate in its offerings; offerings that are already right here and only need their stories shared. Whether you’re seeking authentic rustic experiences like farm visits and forest zip-lining or urban adventures such as exploring a world-class art gallery and enjoying the music of a symphony or a dive bar punk show, it’s all within the city’s borders. (Did I mention our culinary scene?) Oshawa’s diversity shines through in its experiences, making it not only deeply interesting but also exceptionally welcoming while staying authentically Oshawa.