By Marcia Love
Several businesses and organizations in the Southwest are in the running for Saskatchewan Tourism Awards of Excellence this year.
The Cypress Hills Destination Area (CHDA) is up for the Fred Heal Tourism Ambassador Award and the Gil Carduner Marketing Award, and Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures Ltd. is a finalist for the Business of the Year Award with under 20 full-time employees as well as the Service Excellence Award. Harvest Eatery & Fresh Market in Shaunavon is also a finalist for the Service Excellence Award, and Shaunavon Plaza Theatre is up for Rookie of the Year. Windscape Kite Festival in Swift Current is a finalist for the Marquee Event of the Year Award.
CHDA executive director Gail Kesslar is thrilled to have the marketing organization up for two awards, as well as two of its members – Eco-Adventures and Harvest Eatery.
She said it speaks to the level of service the CHDA is providing as a tourism ambassador. It’s goal is “delivering quality tourism experiences.”
“We’re looking at that not only to our visitors, but also to our members,” Kesslar explained. “So for people who are wanting to get into the tourism business, we’re helping them; people who are wanting to find information about the area, we’re helping them.”
She added members are doing their part with marketing as they help promote the CHDA on their own websites and in their own marketing materials.
While the organization was formed in 2012, Kesslar noted it has been in the making in one way or another for many years.
“It’s always been a group of people that are passionate about the area and they want to share it,” she said. “So this doesn’t go just for the Cypress Hills Destination Area Inc. as it is and stands today. It goes back to those people who originally believed in it and worked together collaboratively, even though they weren’t working under the umbrella of an organization. They laid the foundation.”
A business that’s been operating since the 1930s may not seem like a “rookie,” but after being closed down for almost a year to undergo an extensive makeover the Shaunavon Plaza Theatre is like a completely different place. Owners Herb and Leslie Goldstein shut down for 10 months to renovate and restore the building to a 1920s feel and installed new digital equipment, then reopened on Nov. 1, 2013.
The theatre has been in Leslie’s family since her grandparents Lewis and Lily Durham showed the first movie there in 1930. The Goldsteins have been running the theatre since 1989 when it was passed on to them from Leslie’s mother, aunt and uncle.
“My mom always said as long as she was alive we couldn’t sell it,” Leslie said.
When her mother passed away in 2013 – just one month shy of her 99th birthday – the couple was left with the big decision of the future of the theatre. After taking a break to think about it, they decided to complete the upgrades.
The theatre continues to be a family-run business, with Herb and Leslie’s youngest granddaughter even helping out at the age of 10.
The fact it has been in the family so long makes being a finalist for an Award of Excellence even more special for them. Through the renovations, they wanted to make it a comfortable and welcoming environment for everyone.
“It’s been an interesting variety of audiences that come,” Leslie said. “Every time a person comes to one of our movies we want them to feel like they’re out at a special event.”
They will be marking the theatre’s 85th anniversary on June 30.
Both Eco-Adventures and Harvest Eatery are finalists for the Service Excellence Award.
For Eco-Adventures president and CEO Jori Kirk, the meaning of the awards has changed since the popular tourist attraction in Cypress Hills Park won the 2011 Rookie of the Year Award – its first of many awards from Sask Tourism. While the Awards of Excellence offered credibility in the early years, it’s now more about celebrating the industry in the province, he said.
“It’s a good way to get together and network with the people that are doing business in this province and tourism and trying to work together to bring people to certain regions,” Kirk explained.
Since opening four years ago, Eco-Adventures and Kirk himself have earned five Sask Tourism Awards of Excellence as well as several other provincial and national honours.
Last summer was a busy one for the tourist attraction, with 18,000 visitors coming through. Word of mouth has made it a popular place, with about 60 per cent of the crowd being either returning customers or visitors checking it out after hearing about it from a friend.
While it’s still a young business, it is already expanding with a new zip-line tour at Elk Ridge Resort just outside Prince Albert National Park set to open in June. The Cypress Hills location has 18 employees and the new one will have 15.
Harvest Eatery also isn’t unfamiliar with the spotlight, winning the Rookie of the Year Award last year.
Garrett ‘Rusty’ Thienes, who runs the establishment with his wife Kristy, said they are grateful someone would take the time to nominate them for the Service Excellence Award, which speaks most to the fantastic work being done by their staff.
“That’s what we’ve preached with the culture of the restaurant from the get-go. We don’t refer to anybody as customers, they’re all guests in our establishment,” the chef explained. “You can talk about it as much as you want, but without great staff to execute it, it’s just words.”
The business still operates with the same staff it started with in 2013, but they’ve now added two more as it expands for a total of nine employees. It has extended hours and the Thieneses now cater weddings, fundraisers and other functions – some as far away as Swift Current and Medicine Hat.
Rusty is thankful for all the support Harvest Eatery has received from across the province.
“It’s one thing to open a gourmet restaurant in a small town and keep your fingers crossed, but the fact that we’re coming up on two years in business and still getting stronger, it’s a testament of the love we’ve gotten from all the locals in the entire area,” he said.
The Awards of Excellence gala will be held in conjunction with the HOST Saskatchewan Conference in Saskatoon April 16-17.
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