International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are times to celebrate women and their amazing work that have contributed to making the world a better place.
IWD is celebrated annually on March 8th. WHM is celebrated in March in the US, the UK, and Australia. Here in Canada, it’s actually celebrated in October.
We think women and their amazing achievements can and should be celebrated any time of the year though, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to meet several incredible female entrepreneurs who have helped us, guided us, and inspired us throughout our start-up journey here at Dick Duff's.
We interviewed some of these awesome women to learn more about their personal and professional journeys as entrepreneurs, their achievements, and some of the ups and downs they’ve faced along the way. We hope you enjoy reading what they had to say!
First up is our good friend Katherine Palumbo, who is the founder of Explore Ontario. Katherine has done an incredible job of highlighting what our beautiful province of Ontario has to offer, supporting local businesses, and building an impressive following of her Instagram blog.
Tell us about yourself, your company/profession!
My name is Katherine Palumbo and I am the Founder of Explore Ontario (@explore.ontario) and the Tourism Director for the Town of East Gwillimbury. I had worked in the social work sector for 10 years when I felt burnt out and uninspired. I wanted desperately to change gears professionally and work in local travel and tourism, but didn’t know where to start! Since I was a child, I have loved everything about travel – discovering new places, meeting new people, exploring off the beaten path – THIS was my passion. So, I accepted a part-time position as the travel writer for blogTO in 2017, and from that, started Explore Ontario on the side in the same year. What started at first as just a passion project has now turned into a career. It was because of Explore Ontario that I had the experience and skills to apply for a local government position in travel and tourism and was beyond thrilled to get hired as the Tourism Director for East Gwillimbury in early 2020. When I look back at the pivot in my career from social work to tourism, I attribute it to small steps that I took along the way. My advice for anyone who is looking to change careers or simply do more of what they are passionate about is saying “yes” to just one opportunity in the right direction. I promise you, a domino effect will then follow.
What achievement in your professional journey are you the most proud of?
I’m most proud of taking what initially started as a fun passion project and turning it into a business. There is a lot of value in Explore Ontario, and I have built my community of nearly 50,000 people from the ground up the old-fashioned way – no paid advertisements, fake followers or inauthentic engagement. I was able to take engagement data, analysis and return, and turn it into a business plan to present to potential stakeholders. In the past year alone, I have been fortunate to partner with local businesses, hotel properties, and other travel companies on profitable campaigns. From here, the possibilities are endless on where Explore Ontario will go!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received from someone?
While working at blogTO, I was told “don’t read the comments” – and this can be applied to all situations in life, and not just to the online world. blogTO has a massive following with over a million subscribers collectively via web, Instagram, and Facebook, so when my articles would get published, there would be a LOT of comments. Of course, like anything else in life, you can receive 100 compliments and 1 complaint, but it’s the complaint that sticks with you. At times, comments would be downright ignorant, cruel and abusive. At one point, I even received a death threat from an animal activist because I wrote about horseback riding! Eventually, I got to the point that whenever I had an article published, I would instantly have anxiety because I knew the harassment would just start all over again. I mean, all I was doing was talking about cool places in Ontario to visit! So, this is where “don’t read the comments” began. Once I stopped reading the comments and monitoring what the online trolls were saying, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer cared about what anyone could possibly say about me, or my writing. It was empowering. When I left blogTO to concentrate solely on building up Explore Ontario, it was even more empowering because I had the power and control over my own work. I didn’t feel as exposed or left out to the wolves as I did at blogTO with the lack of protection. So, my personal advice to anyone reading this would be to ‘not read the comments’ either. At the end of the day, you must drown out the noise and cut out those toxic people, feelings, comments – whatever it may be. And when all else fails, the ‘block’ feature works wonders!
How do you move forward after receiving criticism or feeling challenged?
Like I mentioned above, it’s easy to let negative criticism personally affect you and your work, but over time, it does become easier. If you are a true, authentic person with great intentions, work ethic and values, it quite honestly doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It sounds like a cliché, but when you believe in yourself, it’s easy to block the noise.
What do you have in store for your business in 2021?
As we’re still in the thick of the global pandemic, my focus for 2021 remains on local travel and nearby vacation rentals. I want people to rethink what a ‘vacation’ means – you can still have the ideal vacation right here in Ontario! There has also been a high demand for unique places to stay, so I have a plethora of rental properties, resorts and hotels to cover this year on Explore Ontario so that people can still travel locally, while being safe and responsible. With East Gwillimbury tourism, I have been working on local day-trip itineraries within our region that include nearly 50 hidden gems that individuals, couples and families can visit safely. I also organize the annual “Farm to Fork'' Tour that takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving, where people can visit 8 unique farms in East Gwillimbury that each offer something fun and different. Last year, we sold out after only a couple weeks, and this year I plan to make it even bigger and better. To stay informed with all the events and tourism initiatives happening in East Gwillimbury, be sure to follow @experienceeg!
Be sure to follow Explore Ontario for the top picks and stays in Ontario!
Thank you, Katherine! :)