Today I attended a really great culinary tourism conference put on by the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. This was my first conference outside of the world of high-tech. For those who aren’t familiar with my background, I have spent almost 20 years in the software business, most of it in data security. While I have always enjoyed conferences in my field (especially when I get to meet customers), the conference topics can sometimes be a little dry (cryptographic algorithms anyone?). So you can imagine how amazing it is to attend a conference about two things things that everyone loves: food and travel.

The day started off with a presentation by Chef Michael Smith.  Wow – what an inspiring and articulate speaker! I’m going to write up a separate blog entry for his presentation, because it deserves its own article and there’s so much to share.

Next we heard from two very passionate farmers – Fred de Martines from Perth Pork Products, and Jason Persall from Pristine Gourmet. Perth Pork Products sells pork from rare and heritage breed pigs. Pristine Gourmet produces and sells cold-pressed, extra-virgin canola and soybean oils (and related gourmet products). I’ll write more about that presentation in a separate entry.

Next up was lunch, and what a lunch it was! There were multiple stations throughout the eating area, where you could try out various chefs’ creations using local food. To help wash it down, there were multiple wine-tasting stations offering local wine. I ate for an hour straight, and then stopped for a fresh-roasted coffee to counteract the food and wine before attending the next presentation!

After lunch there were breakout sessions. I attended the social media presentation by Barry Martin from Hypenotic. It was great to hear the speaker’s ideas, and I came away with some good ideas to try out for my own agritourism project.

The next presentation was a panel discussion on developing culinary treks, trails, and routes. This was the key presentation that sold me on coming to this conference, since I am researching my own book on agritourism destinations in the Ottawa region. I came away with a lot of ideas for best practices in this area, and I plan to write a blog entry to summarize what the speakers said.

The final presentation was a panel discussion on how to pitch culinary tourism stories to the media. There were three very experienced food and travel writers on the panel. I found this session fascinating, because it’s so similar to how we pitch stories to the media in high-tech. It really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the techniques are pretty much the same. But there’s something so refreshing about seeing things from a totally different perspective. That is one thing I love so much about this agritourism project that I’ve taken on. I get to see product marketing from a totally different angle, which is igniting my creativity and excitement about all product marketing, whether it’s high tech or tourism or something else. Sometimes you need to get out of your regular routine to really grow and see the opportunities that surround you. But that is a totally different topic!

Tomorrow I am heading off on a destination familiarization tour of the Niagara Region (these are often called FAM tours). We’ll be visiting a series of wineries and local food places. I signed up for this tour so I could see how experts in this field arrange a tour of this sort. And also because I knew it would be a lot of fun! I will report on the tour later this week. Also stay tuned for more detailed posts about the conference!