An online travel guide of economically-sustainable tourism across the U.S.-Canadian border has received a prestigious community development award. The Heart of the Continent Partnership’s “Travel the Heart” project was recently given an innovation prize by the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations for its unique and powerful collaboration with National Geographic.
The Travel the Heart website and mobile app helps people explore the region, which is tied together by history, culture, and nature, but divided by the international border. The partners see the site as a way to build a common identity for the region, leading to increased travel from both nations and beyond.
This potential is what prodded people in Atikokan, Ontario, on the northern edge of Quetico Provincial Park, to participate. Representatives served on the design team for the website, and they are already pleased with the results.
“We’re just starting to see the benefits to the community right now. The biggest thing is we have an online presence. When you search for Atikokan tourism, we have results now,” said Gord Knowles, community development advisor at the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation. “As they pull up on the highway, they’ll see Atikokan is three kilometers away, they’ll hit ‘what’s near me?’, and they’ll see everything happening.”
The Heart of the Continent launched the new mapguide last year, working with National Geographic, which has developed similar sites in other areas rich in natural attractions, including the Crown of the Continent region in Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia. “Geotourism” is defined as ” tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”
The award-winning collaboration continues: anybody, including representatives of places and the public, can add to the site. In addition to the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation, Travel the Heart partners and participants include Minnesota’s IRRRB, the city of Duluth, Cook County Visitors Bureau, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, PolyMet Mining, and many others.