The Fort’s Next Chapter
By Elia Marini
Last winter, I brought you a story about how we are working towards creating a new visitor experience strategy for Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site. This winter, I want to update you on our progress and provide a sneak peek into the process of visitor planning at the site.
To re-cap, a Visitor Experience Strategy is a planning tool used by Parks Canada for developing, implementing, and evaluating a site's programs, services, and amenities. The strategy is based on direction from the site's management plan, and creates a direction for visitor experiences.
The strategy is broken down into four pillars: (1) information gathering, (2) analysis, (3) options, and (4) action. The first two items were completed by a team of partners, stakeholders, and staff last year. We are now in the final stages of the strategy.
First, the team assessed the site's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Next, we developed an "Essence of Place" statement outlining the fort’s unique qualities, which serves as the foundation for building all our new experiences. At this stage goals are set. The team came up with three:
1. Improve visitor centre infrastructure and revitalize exhibits;
2. Create new programs and opportunities for visitors; and,
3. Create a promotional strategy for the site.
This is my favourite part of the process because under this pillar we get to break everything down. There are two steps in this pillar:
1. Understanding the visitor; and,
2. Evaluating the current services, amenities, and programs.
To understand our visitors, we needed to ask: Who are they? Where are they coming from? What are their wants, likes, and needs while travelling? To find the answers we used market reports generated through on-site surveys or postal code collection, and spoke to site staff whose daily interactions with visitors provide a good understanding of visitor expectations.
Turning our attention to what the site currently offers, we created an exhaustive list of our programs, services, and amenities and evaluated each one, asking questions like: Will this help meet Parks Canada goals? Does it represent the elements of the "Essence of Place" statement? Does it satisfy the needs, wants, and likes of visitors? This information helps us see where we are doing well and where we need to improve—what to keep, modify, or eliminate.
Finally, we get to everyone's favourite part of the strategy: coming up with NEW programs, services, and amenities! This is where our interpretation staff shine, as they research and develop the best possible programs for our visitors.
In this final step, which we are currently working on, we bring everything together. We create a timeline for new projects to roll out, make sure there is a solid promotions plan in place, and create an investment plan to ensure we have the necessary resources.
Parks Canada’s ultimate goal is providing visitors with meaningful experiences while visiting Fort St. Joseph. So, what do we have planned for the site? I invite you to come down and check it out for yourself. Let's just say you’re in for a BANG of a good time!