Bang for the buck, a hot topic at tourism conference

 

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Keynote Speaker Richard Innes. Says that the stakeholders have the biggest stake in the success of strategic implemementation and thus should be driving the bus. Photo by Terrance Gavan.

“How can we create the biggest impact with marketing tools and the big ideas session included the big question: What new creative ideas do you have for attracting positive attention and more visitors to the Haliburton Highlands.?

HaliburtonBy Terrance Gavan – May 7 – 2012

The Haliburton Highlands is a tourist magnet for three months of the year. In June, July and August, if the summer conforms to expectations, the gridlock on main streets in both Haliburton and Minden leaves tourism stakeholders absolutely enthralled.

However for nine months of the year Highlands business owners struggle with the mediocrity of a moribund economy; Highlands businesses must pirouette nimbly with the see-saw of seasonal disparity in order to survive. It is a dance macabre for most businesses in these parts.

About 75 tourism entrepreneurs – called stakeholders in the biz – gathered at the Haliburton Legion Hall on Monday to discuss visitation strategies. The meeting was sponsored by the Haliburton County tourism initiative and all the usual suspects were there. Sir Sam’s Ski and Bike, Winterdance Dog Sled Tours, several Bed and Breakfast owners, and a number of local resort owners and restaurateurs along with members of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce filled the Legion Hall to discuss shoulder season strategies.

County Warden and Dysart Reeve Murray Fearrey greeted the attendees – made up of a bona fide cross-section of businesses – and Carol Moffatt chair of economic development for the County of Haliburton and Reeve of Algonquin Highlands gave the opening remarks.

A talk by Nichole Whiting from OHTO Ontario Highlands Tourism organization and a presentation by Richard Innes of Brain Trust Marketing and Communications rounded out the jam packed itinerary.

All discussions were based around two specifics. “How can we create the biggest impact with marketing tools? And what new creative ideas do you have for attracting positive attention and more visitors to the Haliburton Highlands.?”

The workshop, facilitated by our local super consultant Jim Blake, covered all the de rigueur bases and extended for about four hours – from 8:30 am to 12:30. The ensuing discussions ran the gamut of strategic assaults on the gut issues that gnaw and natter on the fringes of this outlier economy.

Focus groups formed at tables and discussion revolved around the issues that included consumer shows, the yin and yang surrounding the Minden visitors’ centre, the value of glossy destination guides, the viability of the interactive website and the constructive use of social media platforms.

Blake invited all participants to partake in tabletop brainstorming sessions revolving around those five topics.

Bang for the buck was an important agenda item and as usual at events like these there was some lively discussion about the relative merits of each of the five marketing tools. For instance, Haliburton County Council has been investigating the viability of the Highway 35 Visitors’ Kiosk and the buzz from the county’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee seems to be leaning to abandoning the kiosk and handing it back to the care and control of the Chamber of Commerce.

The group discussing the info centre actually pooh-poohed that effervescent talking point. The group’s recommendations? “The Visitors Centre needs lipstick and rouge,” and it also needs upgraded parking, a possible grassy space and green spot for kids… and it also need two washrooms. There was a suggestion that the reason the Visitors’ Centre on Hwy 35 is losing appeal is because it is poorly maintained. Someone also suggested that the real gateway to The Highlands is at Carnarvon Corner at Hwy’s 118 and 35, adding that it might be a better and more equitable place for a permanent Visitors Information Kiosk.

The social media group suggested holding a boot camp on social media to allow local stakeholders to become familiar with marketing via Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Tanya McCready co-owner with husband Hank DeBruin of Winterdance Dog Sled Tours – which by the way recently won a national destination award have already made great use of their own Facebook page. They have also grown their business via Hank’s completion of the Iditarod and Yukon Quest events.

Destination guides are a big hot button issue in Haliburton Highlands. Some resort owners swear by them and others think they’re a waste of time and glossy paper. Laurie Carmount told the conference that her discussion concluded that the present guides are too busy and confusing. They suggested making the guides more user-friendly with proper indexing and less purpled prose. Let the pictures do the talking. She said that her group also decided that destination guides should come with seasonal discount coupons for winter, summer and spring packages. Events should be more carefully prioritized and the magazines should be easier to read. The coupons could also foster better forays back to the Highlands during the traditional shoulder periods. “It’s really something that should be regarded more by our destination guides,” concluded Carmount’s table. “Adding coupons could be a great opportunity for tourists and the people will keep [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the guides] longer and use them more.”

They should be laid out with clarity “delineating who we are” said Carmount. “A  draw for prizes could also be included in the package.”

Si Sam’s Ski and Bike manager and co-owner Chris Bishop gave his table’s report on website upgrades and they suggested that the County’s website needed to be streamlined and branded with its own unique name and tag line.

“It’s confusing right now, and the website should have its own URL [the browser dedication] to reflect tourism in the Highlands,” said Bishop. “We should also have very good images and a slideshow or presentation that sells the Highlands. We should also have links to destination packages and deals on the front page.

“Home page should be mobile friendly and easy to read on an iPad or an iPhone [or Android tablets and phones]. Mobile friendly websites are a must.”

The web group suggested more bells and whistles including an up to date and responsive Events calendar.

Reviews were mixed after the meeting. One observer wondered aloud who would be carrying the freight on these strategic implemementations: The county or the stakeholders? And it’s a good question. Moffatt left that chad hanging in her closing remarks.

The onus would seem to be most pressing for the business owners, and they should probably request some input via a stakeholder committee involved with the county tourism committee.

The bang for the buck conundrum facing most tourism entrepreneurs in this neck of god’s acre remains. Can I make a living here based on three months of bumper business?

Thankfully. Most of the business owners in attendance weren’t thinking about October last Monday.

Sadly, they’re all pinning their hopes on another bumper summer… so they can survive the bumpy winter.

Send your praise and your missiles to gav@haliburtonnews.ca… And wishing all our friends in the tourism business the very best of summers this year![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]