They're doing something right. That's what two board members of The Eastport Heritage Society took away from the cultural tourism conference in Trinity Nov. 18-20.
"We're on the right track," said Walter Pinsent, president of the board that operates the Beaches Heritage Centre, home to a theatre and art gallery in Eastport.
Pinsent was one of a handful of operators who sat shoulder to shoulder with tourism associations and government agencies at the conference hosted by the Bonavista Institute for Cultural Tourism.
Participants learned about making the most of a region's culture to attract tourists, and heard the latest trends and best practices in cultural tourism from the best in the field - provincially, nationally and internationally.
From culinary culture to "intangible heritage," the conference touched on a host of ways to turn culture into an economic success.
For his part, Dale Jarvis believes intangible heritage - that is the expressions, stories, knowledge and skills that make up a culture - are what draw tourists to a region. More than pretty scenery or a nice hike, it is the cultural experiences that will make them return.
Jarvis, a renowned storyteller, heads up the province's Intangible Cultural Heritage Strategy with Heritage Newfoundland. He's the go-to man for anyone looking to exploit the knowledge and culture that oozes from every fishing stage and cellar in the province.
"People will stand and watch a man tie knots in rope," Jarvis said, by way of example. These skills are passed from generation to generation, but it's not just the history of a place that captures imagination. New art and dance are equally valuable to a region's cultural experience.
Jack Stanley, manager of the English Harbour Arts Association, shared his experiences with projects that drew on local history, even if the artists come from away.
The organization uses local material, knowledge and resources for its projects, a tack which has drawn residents and tourists alike to painting, sound and drawing workshops.
As for the Eastport Heritage society, they're confident they've tapped into the cultural heritage of the place.
Festivals, concerts and entertainment focus on the heritage of the region. An accordion festival celebrates musical heritage, while the agricultural exhibition plays up the farming history of the Eastport Peninsula. The art gallery showcases local works, and characters inspired by local residents grace the stage of the Eastpen Players.
"We're learning that what we're doing is good, and that we can be doing more," said Pinsent. "Over the years we've grown to represent the culture of the area - we've learned we've already done that."
The society didn't start out with a tourism mandate, but its focus on regional culture has brought tourists in droves. The Eastpen Players formed the society to secure the old three-room schoolhouse as a headquarters in 2000. The centre followed a year after.
"It's a community venture that attracts a lot of people, including tourists," said Walter.
"We're not like Trinity. Trinity shuts down, and starts up again in May or June. We've got stuff going on all this month and December, and we'll have at least one or two events during the winter.
"We operate for the community, not just the tourists. We're cognizant of what locals would enjoy."
Norma Pinsent, program planning chairwoman with the society, said now they will look at expanding the offerings.
"We're a hands-on board, but we need full-time hired help," she said. "We need more partnerships with government. Program funding and expansion is our priority."
While the society already partners with the Canadian Legion, Terra Nova National Park and Kittiwake Tourism, Walter agrees the conference has given them a chance to network with the kinds of people who may be signing the cheques in the future.
"We're so pleased with the delegates," said Marilyn-Coles Hayley, managing director of the institute. Tourism Atlantic, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Heritage Canada, as well as funding agencies such as ACOA and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador were all on hand.
"The purpose was to bring together experts and key influencers within the cultural tourism industry to identify latest trends, so we can move forward with world-class visitor experiences," she said of the conference.
With speakers from across Canada and Vermont, she said there's been "a global perspective on cultural tourism" over the course of the three days.