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Inaugural Tourism Investor Forum bridges the gap between small businesses and investors

TIAC’s initiative aims to connect entrepreneurs and investors in dynamic sessions fostering collaboration and growth

Anne-Marie Forcier, director of program development at TIAC. Photo courtesy of Digital Journal
Anne-Marie Forcier, director of program development at TIAC. Photo courtesy of Digital Journal

Tourism consists of many different types of travel and intersects multiple sectors — but funding is often focused on the more prominent infrastructure and services involved, ignoring the many smaller and mid-size companies that contribute to the industry.

This discrepancy spurred an idea three years ago, and that idea culminated in the inaugural Tourism Investor Forum. Presented by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC), the event ran from Feb. 11 to 13 and included educational sessions, a fireside chat and one-on-one appointments between investors and entrepreneurs. 

Read about the Day 1 Tourism Investor Forum here

The idea came from a session at the 2021 Tourism Congress, where people felt smaller businesses did not have the same opportunity for investment conversations as their larger counterparts. There’s been longstanding hotel investment conferences, “but there’s never been anything in the market for the small and medium enterprise operators to develop and seek capital or investment in their tourism business,” says Anne-Marie Forcier, director of program development at TIAC.

Photo courtesy of Digital Journal

The 2024 Tourism Investor Forum was designed to offer opportunities for businesses to connect with potential investors eager to fuel their tourism ventures. It’s one of 10 projects under the Tourism Relief Fund National Priority Stream projects that received support and funding from the Government of Canada, and Forcier says it’s the first event of its kind for tourism in Canada. 

TIAC is committed to driving innovation, sustainability and competitiveness in the country and promoting positive measures that help the tourism industry grow and prosper, says Forcier.

Following this week’s conference, TIAC received positive feedback from attendees as the boutique style and size of the event allowed for deeper conversations and connections between tourism operators and investors that usually take more time to organize. Forcier also encourages people to “reach beyond our traditional networks.” It’s an opportunity for the industry to reach outside its own boundaries, and have discussions with people who appreciate the breadth of tourism and want to learn more about it. 

For start-ups looking to scale up, Forcier believes the ability for investment seekers to have more intimate conversations with potential investors was a major advantage. 

Dany Papineau, founder of WeChalet. Photo courtesy of Digital Journal

Dany Papineau is the founder of WeChalet, a self-financed tech start-up that connects travellers with hosts with properties available for rent in nature. Based in Quebec and boasting 2,500 listed properties, they are now seeking funding to help the platform expand to include other Canadian and international territories. 

After operating for five years, two of which were during the pandemic lockdown, the company’s now getting ready for its Series A investment, which is the first significant funding round for startups post-early success validation.

TIAC’s Tourism Investor Forum presents an opportunity for Papineau to connect with potential investors already familiar with the travel and tourism industry. He wasn’t previously aware of the national association dedicated to tourism advocacy, but says he’s keen to participate as they prepare for WeChalet’s next phase. 

“I didn’t really have a specific goal. I wanted to network and meet potential people where we could share knowledge,” he says. “Hopefully, I meet someone that could help us do fundraising in the coming months.”

Tourism is a multi-faceted industry that Forcier views as an ecosystem. 

“The tourism industry is the industry of moving people,” she says. “It’s transportation, it’s experiences, it’s hospitality, it’s the added experiences that a visitor can have whether they’re visiting for business or for pleasure.” 

Photo by Digital Journal

As a result, participants feel it’s necessary to broaden the scope of how return on investment is calculated. Forcier says it’s important to look beyond the traditional numbers, and consider the cultural and social impacts as well. As an example, improved infrastructure may just be perceived as a tourism investment, “but we know … when a community is desirable for visitors, it’s also desirable for residents in the area,” says Forcier.

The forum is part of a larger readiness project that includes webinars designed to help businesses learn how to be investment-ready. According to Forcier, TIAC’s ultimate goal is to “help the industry become more ready and more resilient post-pandemic.”

Papineau believes the event could also help build bridges between provinces that don’t necessarily interact regularly from a business perspective. Sitting with two other entrepreneurs from companies of varying size and stages of growth, they were able to exchange information from their distinct perspectives. 

Following his experience at the inaugural event, Papineau encourages tourism businesses to attend next year to build connections and share their knowledge with others in the industry. In the end, it will help grow tourism on a national and, ultimately, an international scale, he says.

A theme throughout the event’s presentations was drawing attention beyond the usual hub destinations and highlighting other municipality’s offerings. Notably, the forum was hosted in Mississauga, a city west of Toronto and outside the downtown core. 

“We received a wonderful proposal from Mississauga, who really understood the value of not only hosting the event, but also hosting the investors,” says Forcier. Being near the airport also provided a level of connection for which TIAC was looking.

“We’re very pleased with the support that we’ve received from our funders and partners,” says Forcier. “It allowed us to create this boutique-style event in its inaugural year.”

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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