A Twillingate Inn has won top honours for places to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador, offering visitors an authentic experience during their stay.

Winning Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador's Accommodator of the Year award was quite a surprise and an honour said Deborah Bourden, co-owner of the Anchor Inn Hotel and Suites.

'We're an off-the-beaten-path destination so there are no accidental tourists.' - Deborah Bourden

It has taken a lot of work, creative thinking and marketing, she said, but the province is now on the map.

"For the longest time we struggled to make the list, and if we made the list that was great,"  said Bourden.

"We're an off-the-beaten-path destination so there are no accidental tourists — someone's got to spend a lot of money to come to visit us, but we're now actually making the list much more regularly and becoming the actual chosen destination,"

'Family roots'

Full moon rising over Twillingate

Deborah Bourden says tourism in Twillingate is flourishing. (Margaret (Burton) Clarke)

Bourden was born and raised in Twillingate and with family still living in the area, coming home and pursuing a life in tourism was always on her mind.

"This is my family roots ... my first job was at the Twillingate museum just across the road from us now, so I had a love for the tourism industry in Twillingate in its infancy," she told CBC's Central Morning Show.

 'It was always there in the back of my mind that Twillingate was this great gem of a destination.' -  Deborah Bourden

"Many people said I was this fierce supporter and promoter of Twillingate tourism even when I was doing many, many other things, so it was always there in the back of my mind that Twillingate was this great gem of a destination."

In 2006, she decided to take a dip in the rental pool, renovating a small saltbox house in the Lower Jenkins Cove area and turning it into a vacation home.

Soon after she would start renovating a second dwelling, and it was during a casual conversation that the Anchor Inn was brought to her attention.

"Someone said to me 'The Anchor Inn, you know, if someone would just take that project on and give it some tender loving care, it just has so much potential.' I hadn't even been there in years, so it sparked my interest," said Bourden. 

"Over a year, we actually acquired the property, so it's funny how a casual comment can lead to a life changed."

Changing with the times

Tourists in Twillingate

Tourists come to the province to enjoy the outdoors, and want to know about the culture and history. (CBC)

Bourden remembers a time when there were very few accommodations and limited attractions, such as museums and craft shops, that were rooted in history and culture.

Today, she said, the industry has "flourished", with tour boat operators, galleries, and a focus on cuisine and unique experiences, like "meditative hikes".

"I think, as of today we are into, like 250 room nights ... I remember when there was only six or seven or eight room nights in Twillingate," said Bourden.

Iceberg splitting near Twillingate

During the right season, icebergs are one attraction for tourists in Twillingate. (Submitted by Vardy Gidge)

"It has really become a diverse industry and it employs quite a number of people and rivals our fishery right now in terms of benefits to our local economy, so it's a very big industry for us here."

'People want experience … they want to understand the culture, they want to taste the food, they want to see how people live.' - Deborah Bourden

Many communities are trying to grow their economy with tourism, and Bourden believes an "immersive" tourism style, where a community hosts the visitors, is the way to go.

"They want to meet the people, they want to understand the culture, they want to taste the food, they want to see how people live, and the more we can show them that authentic experience the more they'll come and the more they'll keep coming," she said.

Food also plays a big part and more focus has been put on the "culinary experience," said Bourden.

"Using local ingredients, serving them up with a twist in many cases... doing the very traditional Jiggs dinner and pan fried cod, toutons … so that whole 'taste of place' as we call it in the tourism industry, that's become very important."

By keeping the experience as authentic as possible, "I think that we'll see nothing but continuous growth for a long time," she said.

with files from Julia Cook and the Central Morning Show