17 QUESTIONS Maria Fortunato
TITLE: Executive director ORGANIZATION: The Heart of Ontario: Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association WHERE: 605 James St. N., Suite 201 WEB: theheartofontario.com 1. What is your company’s mission statement? The Heart of Ontario is an independent, industry-led, not-for-profit organization responsible for working with tourism partners to enhance and grow the region’s tourism products and marketing activities. 2.
What advice have you received that has helped you the most? Respect and cultivate talent to not only help to meet current and future business goals and objectives but to encourage individuals on a team to grow above and beyond what they believe they can do. 3.
Can you think of a time in your career where things were not going well, but you managed to turn it around? How did you persevere? After graduating from McMaster University and Humber College, getting a full-time career position in my field of study (marketing, public relations, communications) was not materializing. I returned to Hamilton after being in Toronto and worked in retail to pay the bills and give me some time to figure what’s next. In this time that I was “finding myself,” I begrudgingly realized that the permanency of employment and working for one company had changed for young people and graduates. I turned things around when I decided to take on short-term contracts and build my portfolio, skills and experiences that would be transferable to the career path I would steer along the way. 4.
What are the key principles that guide you in your day-to-day life? I believe in creativity, innovation, collaboration and service excellence — these guide me in my day-to-day life and form the foundation for how I like to build and work in the various teams I lead and I am part of. It is important for all to feel valued, respected and recognized. 5.
What makes you laugh? Sheldon, a character from (the TV show) Big Bang Theory, really makes me laugh. The way he lives his life, how he says what he says, and how he relates with his friends and the general world are funny and sweet at the same time. Even the re-runs of the show continue to make me laugh. It is really a wellwritten show and fantastic ensemble casting! 6.
What is your guilty pleasure? Shoes! I especially like to buy shoes when I travel and remember the place I visited when I wear them. My favourite brands are Miz Mooz and Fly London. 7.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Working as a fundraising development co-ordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society. It was my first of many contract positions in the non-profit sector and it was very memorable as I got my first dedicated-to-me work desk, my first business card, my first career-oriented pay cheque, and my first career-based appraisal. All these components for me were signs that I had transitioned from a full-time student to the work world! 8.
What do you do to wind down from work? I like to walk. Normally, in the winter, I walk around my neighbourhood; however, in the other seasons I change things up and go down to the waterfront: either in central Hamilton or at Confederation Park, which are my favourites. 9.
How do you motivate people? I am passionate about the work that I currently do, luring visitors to our region and working with tourism stakeholders to build incremental business. We have lots of opportunities to grow and build our destination presence in the marketplace. My passion and enthusiasm for what I do infuses those that work with me and I am committed to support, encourage and coach team members and colleagues to take accountability for performing quality work and providing service excellence. 10.
What is your biggest pet peeve? When cars butt in as you’re waiting to move along in an exit on or off a highway. You’re waiting your turn and others can’t seem to wait. 11.
What do you want to work on? I am interested in languages, am currently learning Spanish and have travel in mind to more Spanish-speaking countries soon. I am also fluent in Italian and French. 12.
What is on your bucket list? I would like to travel and experience the history and spirit of El Camino de Santiago (hence the Spanish!). 13.
What is Hamilton’s most valuable asset? The Niagara Escarpment, which includes the Bruce Trail, and waterfalls and the waterfront. 14.
What is the city’s biggest liability? Business entrepreneurialism is supported more significantly than when I first started in the tourism sector. However, a degree of red tape exists for entrepreneurs who are engaged in the creative industry sector when it comes to setting up businesses in old industrial buildings in brownfield zones. Changes in zoning by-laws are not keeping pace with new investment interest in this area that will translate to increased business, employment and tax generation. 15.
How do you balance your life? I allocate time in my calendar for me and things that I want to do. Work is off limits in these time slots. Culture is my area of personal interest so in these “me” times I slot cultural things to do that range from art, live music, exploring new foodie spots and art history (I have many beautiful books I like to read).
What do you think people would be surprised to know about you? I am a Trekkie. I have seen all episodes many times over of the Star Trek original series, Star Trek Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, The Voyager and Enterprise. Of course, I have seen all the movies too.
What is your dream job? I am doing the dream job I hoped to have. I can be creative and work with people, which I like very much. I am contributing to developing the community I live in to be the best it can be through tourism and economic development growth. I get to tell so many travel influencers about our fantastic region every day!
Maria Fortunato, executive director of the Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association.