April 15, 2009
By Carol Cowan

A number of studies have shown that public gardens are important tourism products, whether that tourist or visitor comes from around the corner, or from across the world.

To explore this aspect, the Canadian garden and tourism industries came together to discuss what each could do to grow their respective businesses through the inaugural Canadian Gardens and Tourism Conference held in Toronto, coinciding with Canada Blooms.
The event was organized by Landscape Ontario, with involvement by VIA Rail, Royal Botanical Gardens, Communities in Bloom, Canada Blooms, Toronto Botanical Garden, the Quebec Gardens Association and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism.  

Speakers at the conference represented some of the luminaries of Canada’s garden and tourism industries, as well as three international speakers:  Pascal Garbe, director of the European Gardens and Tourism Conference, held biannually in Metz, France, Mary Pat Matheston, director of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and Paul Gray, head of commercial events at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew in the U.K.

“I think we could easily double garden tourism numbers in five years,” said conference founder Michel Gauthier, who manages the VIA Rail Garden Route program.

According to Canadian gardening guru and conference co-host Marjorie Harris, “In Canada we have wonderful gardens that rival any in the world, but no one seems to know about them.”

Rogier Gruys from the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) agreed.  “You must make gardens front and centre,” he said, “especially as the most recent Travel Activities and Motivation Study states that among affluent mature and senior couples, visits to gardens rank among the top ten things that they want to do while on a pleasure trip.”

The other conference co-host, Alexander Reford, who sits on the board of the CTC and the Quebec Association of Gardens, as well as the director of Les Jardins de Métis, added, “We have a legitimate cultural product and we should aim to become a leading tourism product for the next decade.”

The conference, which couldn’t have happened without the support of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, VIA Rail Canada, the Royal Botanical Gardens and Landscape Ontario, ended on a high note with the formation of a steering committee, the National Coalition of the Canadian Garden Experience.

Like the European conference, after which the Canadian Gardens and Tourism Conference was modeled, Gauthier plans for this to also be a biannual event. For regular updates leading to the 2011 conference, visit www.gardensandtourismconference.com.
Carol Cowan sits on the steering committee of the Canadian Gardens and Tourism Conference and is president of Zebra Promotions, a company specializing in horticultural communications, programs and events.