Build Resiliency in a World of Uncertainty: October 2020

Last October we gathered in Pembroke for the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) annual AGM and tourism summit, never imagining how much the industry would be challenged within only a few months time. At the conference, energy was high, and the ideas were flowing to build our tourism capacity and extend our reach to market the region’s many tourism experiences.

If only we knew then what we know now, think of the ideas we could have generated for how to weather the current pandemic crisis that is threatening our industry! Yes, the year 2020 has been challenging, but here at OHTO we believe in the never-ending resilience and efforts or our operators, destination marketing organizations, and the province. This year we have all been working night and day to brainstorm ways to support tourism in Ontario.

Think back to how far we have come since April 2020 – we have all seen the benefits that can come from coordinated action in response to COVID-19. The tremendous efforts expended by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries, and our own organization have gone far in helping to support tourism operators through this crisis.

This year, OHTO’s AGM will look a little different, but is no less (and we would say even more) important than in past years. This year’s topic is one that will resonate with tourism operators who have been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic: Build Resiliency in a World of Uncertainty.

On Oct. 20, instead of travelling to one of Ontario’s Highlands six regions, we will gather over Zoom to learn how we can all work together to build resiliency and our capacity to emerge intact from this latest threat to our industry.

Join us for a two-hour Zoom meeting right from the comfort of your own home to catch up and share updates on what has been happening across the region during this challenging year and share the stories of our initiatives. This is your chance to learn how OHTO has been working to support the tourism industry through the pandemic and find out how you can be part of the solution with one of our ongoing marketing campaigns or updated partnership projects.

Register today to join us between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Oct. 20 for a presentation that will include a report on OHTO’s initiatives from Executive Director, Nicole Whiting, a report from the Chief Governing Officer, and the Board of Directors’ election. The AGM will conclude with a question and answer period.

If you’re worried this year’s AGM will be dry compared to how much fun OHTO’s conferences have been in the past, fear not! We will still be offering chances to win local prizes from the many amazing small businesses found in our region (and yes, those prizes may still include edible treats).

Click here to register for the conference and then keep an eye on your inbox for the Zoom link that will be distributed 24 hours before the event.

Imagine what we can do if we continue to work together and support one another to withstand the worst the pandemic has to throw at us. Let’s continue to make Ontario’s Highlands a place locals want to explore and rediscover all the activities and experiences that make our region so special.

The OHTO Team

 

Navigating a COVID World: September 2020

There is nothing like a little pandemic to remind us how fragile our place is in the world and to help us appreciate our friends and family. As many small business owners may have noticed over the past six months, a pandemic like COVID-19 can also have an impact on business.  In Ontario, the tourism industry has been hit particularly hard and is facing many challenges. Customer spending habits are erratic and can quickly overwhelm a particular sector in the industry, while leaving others falling short.

And while the coronavirus has been challenging, it may also have brought to light gaps in business models and highlighted areas for improvement. Unfortunately, knowing what changes to implement can be challenging without being able to guess what will happen six months from now or even six days from now. Even if we had a crystal ball to predict the future, a second wave could throw all our plans into disarray.

It appears that COVID-19 is here to stay for a while, so businesses must evolve and adapt to this new reality. Fortunately, the best and brightest minds in the province have set their efforts to figuring out what businesses can do to safeguard their business in this changing world, and to predict what might come our way in the near and far future, and if and when a second wave comes our way.

Wondering what you can or should be doing right now to prepare for the second wave? Read on.

The Short Game

Short term actions businesses can take right now are intended to maintain operations and ensure a business is able to function under Stage 3 reopening guidelines from the province.

The Long Game

Long term actions are intended to help businesses think ahead to what may come, particularly if there is a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and ensure your business is in a good position to weather that storm.

  • Make sure your business is online and highly visible. Create or update your Google My Business account, social media, and website.
  • Implement e-commerce options; introduce online ordering and streamline the ordering process.
  • Look into shipping product feasibility.
  • Consider what virtual experiences you will be able to offer in the event of a step backward from Stage 3 to Stage 2.
  • Develop a plan of action for what happens if you or your staff become ill, and how you will continue to operate your business.

Coping with Uncertainty

As the pandemic has dragged on even the most energetic and dedicated operators have begun to feel the wearing stress that comes with constantly having to rethink and retool your business. Right now, there is a lot of speculation about what will tomorrow will bring, and coping with the uncertainty of the future is just one more additional stress business owners must face in a pandemic world.

At a time like this it’s important to dedicate some time to caretaking your own mental health and finding the time and energy to destress. All the best laid plans in the world won’t be worth much if you aren’t in a good mental space.

Stay safe,

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager

Sharing is Caring: How to Capitalize on OHTO’s Love Letter Campaign (and why you should): August 2020

You may have seen OHTO’s recent marketing campaign on social media or the web, what we call our Love Letter campaign. The Love Letter campaign is different from anything we’ve ever run before, mostly because this year is a different kind of year!

COVID-19 has changed the tourism world in Canada but has also placed our region in an optimal position to promote local tourism. We have a lot to offer for staycations – fantastic scenery, a variety of outdoor experiences, stellar food and drink, and plenty of accommodation options, ranging from camping to bed and breakfasts or hotel experiences.

We created this campaign to inspire local pride and a love for our regions in the local market, as a reminder of everything that makes each region unique. So far, the Love Letter campaign has been successful at tapping into that local pride and we hope it will continue to grow over the next few months.

Of course, a lot of that growth is also dependent on you, the tourism operators and destination marketers who do such valuable work in contributing to our region’s success.

The Love Letter Campaign Details

The Love Letter Campaign is a multi-layered campaign that will run until October and includes the following for each region:

  1. Love Letter Video
  2. Love Letter Story on ComeWander.ca
  3. Sponsored editorial with Post Media
  4. Digital ads targeting local residents
  5. Social posts
  6. To My Home, With Love photo contest

When the campaign was launched, tourism operators and destination marketing experts in Ontario’s Highlands were encouraged to share the content through social media and encourage followers to share on their own social media pages, using the hashtag appropriate to their region (ie. #OVLoveLetter, #LanarkLoveLetter, #FrontenacLoveLetter, #L&ALoveLetter, #HaliburtonLoveLetter).

A ‘To My Home, With Love’ contest also asks visitors and locals alike to share their own Love Letter to their region and post using their regional hashtag, with a prize up for grabs of a GoPro8, as well as great local prizes!

Why You Should Take Part

OHTO’s Love Letter campaign is hyper-local which means local businesses and individuals can have a major impact in how many people are reached. High local engagement can equate to a large collective voice and a positive impact on local travel. The more shares, the greater the reach, and the more people inspired to travel locally in your region (and your business) this summer!

How to Leverage the Campaign

This summer you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to marketing your business or region. You can build off of the Love Letter campaign to help drive business to your region or location. There are so many ways to be part of this exciting campaign, but here are a few ideas for how to use this campaign to leverage your own business profile:

  1. Businesses can share OHTO’s content and invite their followers to write their own love letters about their business or region using their regional hashtag. This will not only get people talking about your business, but it will also elevate your business profile and encourage positive shares about what makes your experience unique.

  1. Share the Love Letter video or stories to community groups and share your own message about what you love most about your region. Invite followers to enter the contest to win a free GoPro8. We all have something to share that will inspire others to discover what’s close to home this summer!

  1. Share the video from OHTO’s social media page to your page. A good example of the success that can be had from this simple action is the Ottawa Valley Love Letter video – 285 people and businesses shared this video and as a result of this high engagement, its had more than 114,000 overall views. Who is sharing it? Realtors, residents, business owners – anyone who loves the Ottawa Valley is taking part!

  1. Share the PostMedia content to your social media channels and with friends and family. This isn’t only available for destinations featured in the article, every business will want to inspire people to explore their wonderful region. The more we inspire local travel and support, the more customers you will see! You can find the story applicable to your region at the following links:

We hope you’ll consider being part of this campaign and spreading the word about how awesome your business, your community, and your region is at a time when we are all remembering that #WeAreAllInThisTogether. If you have any questions about how best to join in this marketing push, please feel free to reach out to me at julie.mulligan@ohto.ca or at 613-629-6486 extension 202.

Happy Wandering,

Julie Mulligan
OHTO’s Marketing Manager

To My Home, With Love: OHTO Launches Love Letter Campaign: July 2020

It’s been a long, hard spring, but now that the province has eased COVID-19 restrictions, we are looking forward to once again encouraging people to travel local and visit our shops, patios, and outdoor spaces. Now more than ever we need our local tourism community to come together and support one another and rediscover all the great experiences available right outside their doorstep.

Here at Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO), we are excited to launch a new hyper-local summer marketing campaign designed to instill local pride and give thanks to our communities, countryside, and hard-working tourism businesses that are always here for us. Our new campaign is aptly called a “Love Letter” campaign because we really want locals to show their love for their communities this summer!

This new project was developed alongside our six counties (Ottawa Valley, Lanark County, Frontenac County, Lennox & Addington, Hastings County and Haliburton Highlands) and is our way of saying thank you to everything our regions have given us over the past months and will continue to provide while COVID-19 looms in our lives.

Most importantly, we really want our tourism operators to be part of this campaign. You are all the backbone for our communities and deserve a little love.

What is the Love Letter Campaign?

There’s a lot to love in Ontario’s Highlands, and we want to showcase it all. COVID-19 has been a reminder of all the wonderful outdoor spaces and people we have in our communities, and how lucky we are to live in a region of wild rivers, vast forests, fantastic views, and friendly folks.

The Love Letter campaign is our way of expressing our gratitude for the people and landscapes that make our corner of the province unique.

A series of regional Love Letter videos driving traffic to content pieces on ComeWander.ca and highlighting a glimpse of what there is to be thankful for in our communities, will be launched through a digital marketing campaign targeting each of our six regions. The series of videos were created by local filmmakers Nomo Films, and will be distributed this summer along with regional sponsored content distributed through Post Media, as well as on our social media platforms to a local audience. The campaign will be accompanied by digital ads.

This is a hyper-local campaign, specifically targeting the people and communities in each region, or a local drive market, to staycation and experience everything their community has to offer.

How Can I be Part of It?

We’re so glad you asked! You can help us to share the word about this campaign and foster local pride in your own community at the same time.

Visit ComeWander.ca to read your community’s story and watch the video and then share through your own social media platforms. Feel free to highlight the areas in your community not mentioned in the story and share what you love so much about your region and the people there.

All summer and fall, the campaign along with a contest will encourage Ontarians to snap a shot and share a memory of their favourite area of Ontario’s Highlands on Instagram, using one of the county-specific hashtags:

#OVLoveLetter
#LanarkLoveLetter
#FrontenacLoveLetter
#LandALoveLetter
#HastingsLoveLetter
#HaliburtonLoveLetter

Those who share the love with any of the hashtags will have a chance to win a GoPro HERO8 camera or one of six local prize packs which include gift cards to neighbourhood restaurants, galleries, or shops, artisan treats, and branded swag to represent their home.

You can find all the details here.

Read your community story here and remember what’s so amazing about your own community. Remember, we’re all in this together!

With Love, to the Ottawa Valley 

With Love, to Lanark County 

With Love, to Frontenac County 

With Love, to Lennox & Addington 

With Love, to Hastings County 

With Love, to Haliburton Highlands 

Happy Wandering!

Julie Mulligan
OHTO’s Marketing Manager

Communicating Health and Safety Protocols to Your Customers: June 2020

During these unfamiliar times of COVID-19, vigilant consumers are seeking out businesses who go the extra mile to ensure the safety of their customers and staff. Since some of the steps such as increased cleaning, taken to ensure safety is behind the scenes, it’s important to communicate to your customers what steps you are taking in a variety of ways.

Help foster peace of mind by publicly sharing both the steps you are taking, and those you ask your visitors to take. This includes additional cleaning and sterilization you are undertaking, like disinfecting tables and chairs between use. It can also include reductions in capacity or restrictions on the amount of people allowed into a store at one time. If you require or encourage the use of masks or hand sanitizer upon arrival, let your customers know ahead of time and their visit will become that much smoother.

As Ontario makes its way into phase 2 of re-opening on a regionalized approach, it is becoming increasingly evident that the travel market will be entirely localized. Staying local, whether that be in your own town or neighbouring areas, will be promoted by the provincial government  in the upcoming months to help restart the heavily hit tourism sector. When people look to Ontario’s Highlands for a getaway, let’s do what we can to reassure them that their health and comfort is top of mind. In an increasingly competitive market, this is a good way to stand out from the crowd and show how important your customers are to you.

Share your safety protocols with your customers through these easy steps.

Post on Social Media

There is a lot of buzz on social media lately surrounding the move into phase 2. Some Ontarians are already counting down the minutes until they can sip a drink on a patio, visit a museum, or take a mini getaway to de-stress. Whether these customers are local or travelling from another part of the province, a great way to reassure them is by posting your safety protocols on social media.

An excellent example from a retail business in the region comes from Carousel, a children’s store in Carleton Place. Ahead of re-opening, they posted a list of their protocol, like hand sanitizer use, Plexiglas installation, and a maximum occupancy, and pinned that post to the top of their Facebook page. Even as they continue to post, this pinned post will be the first thing their customers will see upon visiting their page.

Other prime examples we’ve come across include patio re-opening guides from Michael’s Table  in Perth and Heather Lodge in Haliburton.

Update Your Website

When a potential customer is researching where to visit, they’re very likely to visit your website. Share an update on your website that can easily be found, either right on the home page or on a new COVID-19 page which you can link to in your menu. Whichever way you choose just make sure it’s easy to find!

Haliburton Sculpture Forest has re-opened with new safety protocols designed to keep their visitors safe. Not only did they communicate this on their social media, they also included a website update clearly displayed on their home page.

The experience at overnight accommodations will be entirely different than it was before. How will your customer check-in? Are common areas like restaurants and beaches open? Will there be regular housekeeping? What kind of cleaning between customers will be in place? Perhaps this list is a bit long for social media, so your website is the perfect place to display it. Grail Springs in Bancroft show their new travel protocol ahead of their re-opening this July via a pop-up on their home page.

In-Person Updates

Not everyone who walks through your door has seen your website or social pages, especially in the retail or restaurant industries. It’s a good idea to post a concise list of protocol in your business, particularly those that your customers are expected to follow, like using hand sanitizer and following directional arrows. Post a simple print-out on your front door so visitors can quickly review it before entering. Accommodators may find value in a printed version on display at the front desk, which customers can read while checking in. We’ve seen this checklist which was created by the local health unit. You can create your own simplified version in Microsoft Word with your logo and it will do the trick!

For maximum coverage we recommend you take all of the above steps to informing your customers about the steps you’re taking to make their experience both pleasant and safe.

Happy Wandering,

Sara Dunbrook
Digital Communications Specialist

Pivot, Pivot, Pivot. Shifting to an Online World: April 2020

It’s been a crazy month and a half – so busy it may feel like you haven’t had a chance to sit down and take a breath. The world as we know it has evolved into a place where most of us are at home and adapting to an increasingly online world. For many business owners, this adaptation has become a matter of standing apart and continuing to meet the news of the consumer.

The transition to an online platform may be easy for some, but the truth is we can all amp up our digital game to better position ourselves in a virtual world. And if you are thinking to just hunker down and wait for the world to return to normal, don’t. First of all, no one knows how long this will continue, so it’s better to hedge your best. Second of all, digital sales are booming, so why not get your share?

In fact, there is a big incentive to consider making the pivot to online sales – according to this report, across all five sectors in Canada (furniture and home décor, food and restaurants, clothing, sporting goods, household appliances, electronics, building materials) there has been significant digital revenue growth between March 11-29 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

If you’re not sure how to make the transition to the online world, voices of the experts out there are plenty: Shopify’s list of Short Term Revenue Strategies for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers has tons of ideas for how to work around COVID19 restrictions. Even Facebook has gotten into the mix, with their plan for Helping Businesses Create an Online Presence During COVID-19.

The truth is, your customers are still out there, and they are looking for you, but the question is: Will they find you? Read on for five ways to make sure your business stays front of mind during COVID19.

  1. Update your Google profile

COVID19 or no, Google is still working to promote your business, but they can only do so much without your input. The folks at Google are like little elves, working away in the workshop while you’re sleeping. They want you to wake up to six pairs of brand new shoes, but they need your help. When was the last time you updated your Google profile? Added a photo? Take the time to make sure a Google search brings up your business   – if your customers don’t know you’re there, they can’t find you. Google also conveniently tracks how many people have viewed your profile, clicked on it, and found you online, so you can see direct gains from your efforts.

  1. Showcase Your Business, Virtually

Remember all those tools that Facebook and Instagram have been promoting for the past several years? Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, panoramic 360 degree views? This is when you need to experiment with these tools to support your business. There are so many ways you can use video and imagery to keep your business front of mind and keep your customers engaged. All that’s required is creativity and for you to check your inhibitions at the door. Some ideas are to try doing a Facebook Live video demonstration, or do a 360 degree panoramic shot of the interior of your business, giving your customers get a peek inside. No, there are no direct sales involved in this, but anything that keeps your business in someone’s mind can mean you’re that much closer to a future sale.

  1. Start Selling Online

This is probably one of the hardest hurdles to surmount for many businesses. Thankfully, this is Canada, so we’re all here to help each other out. In fact, the Canadian online shopping mogul, Shopify, has you covered. They’ve offered a three-month free trial  for you to get started with online sales. If you’re intimidated with the Shopify platform, don’t be. It’s easy to navigate and use, and the friendly folks over at Shopify are also happy to help you out.

  1. Keep Your Chin Up

This isn’t going to happen overnight. Pivoting is a hard word, and even harder to put into practice. The important thing is DON’T GIVE UP. Your customers, and your business, are depending on you to keep plugging away, even if you feel like you may not be making any progress.

Happy wandering!

Julie Mulligan

OHTO’s Marketing Manager

 

OHTO’s Next Steps for Marketing: April 2020

To say times are tough is an understatement, but we are confident the strength of our communities and our people will allow us to persevere together during these difficult times. Soon enough, we will be inviting visitors to once again Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands and discover the stories, people, and hidden gems that make this region great.

In the meantime, our marketing activities will shift towards developing content our audiences can look to for hope and inspiration while reminding them of the experiences they can look forward to once this crisis is over. Our messaging will be delivered through our social channels and website rather than advertising campaigns for the near term to give us an opportunity to experiment with our tone and timing.

With this, we intend to:

  1. Bring the destination experience into people’s homes, showcasing our beautiful natural environment and highlighting what people have to look forward to;
  2. Engage our audience in the experiences of Ontario’s Highlands through virtual tours and ‘how-to’ tutorials.
  3. Connect our audiences with the spirit our communities through stories of people helping people.

How can you Participate?

Think about ways you can highlight your business through a virtual experience, and share it with us! And what exactly is a ‘virtual experience’? Here is a list to help spark your ideas:

  • A short video or virtual tour of your business that ignites the viewer’s senses. For example, boiling maple syrup, taking a walk on a nature trail around your property, paddling down a river, or a behind-the-scenes video of your property, kitchen, etc.
  • There is a surge in interest for online learning and now is the time to share your knowledge through video. Think about the things your visitors were interested in when they interacted with you. Here are some popular examples:
      • Restaurant sector – How to put together the perfect charcuterie board, how to make popular desserts or meals
      • Accommodators – Interesting stories about your community
      • Artists – online art classes
      • Musicians – live performances in your home
  • Look out for those ‘People Helping People’ stories in your community and share them with us. We want to highlight the strength of our communities.

We will be distributing your content in a variety of ways:

  1. Share with the visitor on our social platforms
  2. Share with our tourism partners, such as Destination Ontario and county partners, to distribute through their marketing channels
  3. Populating on our website to build a broader story of the solidarity and strength of our region.

Examples of Virtual Experiences in Ontario’s Highlands

There are already some amazing example of Ontario’s Highlands entrepreneurs being creative when it comes to finding ways to bring their business into the homes of their customers. In Lanark County, Sivarulrasa Gallery has created an online gallery, while C’est Tout Bakery is sweetening their online ordering by hosting a live cupcake decorating session. Tune in to the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve Facebook page on April 2 at 3:00 pm for a live wolf feeding. We’re so inspired by these stories of ingenuity at its best!

Virtual Wanderer Series

If you’re stepping up your virtual game, we’d like to help get the word out. Do you have an idea for a live video, or are you planning on posting something pre-recorded? Fill out the Monthly Guiding Question and let us know the details of what you’ve got planned in the next couple weeks and when you’re going to share it with your followers. We’ll consolidate a schedule of what we’re calling the ‘Virtual Wanderer’ series, create a graphic we can all share, and work together to promote everyone’s efforts. Let us know about it here.

If you plan to go the route of posting a pre-recorded video on Facebook, you can also publish it as a premiere, which gives you some of the functions that live videos have. Start by drumming up interest with a post ahead of time – which we will also help with – including the time and date you will premiere your video. When your video publishes on the premiere date, your audience will be able to watch and engage with it in real-time. If you’d like, you can be available to answer questions in the comments. After the premiere, your video will still be available for viewing as a regular video post.

Are you confident in your internet connection but need help navigating Facebook Live? Have a look here at this step-by-step guide, as well as this one that has some great tips on making it a success. Does your video need some editing to combine clips? Try out these tutorials for built-in video editors on Windows and Mac, or check out a list of apps you can use on your phone.

More Ways to Keep in Touch

Even if you aren’t able to do a video, there are other ways to stay in touch!

  1. Fill out the Monthly Guiding Question. You may notice that the theme of the questions have changed, but these remain a valuable tool for the OHTO team to gather information.
  2. Tag us in your social media posts with @onhighlands and #ComeWander. This allows us to see any stories that are happening around the region.
  3. Send us an email! Good ol’ email still remains a great way to get in touch with us! Here is a link to the team’s contact information.
  4. Give us a call at 1-855-629-6486 ext 202

A Message from Nicole Whiting

The pace of change we have experienced in our daily lives over the past two weeks and the impact those changes will have on our future is staggering. Our hearts especially go out to those who have been directly affected by COVID-19 and all of the amazing front line health care professionals who are risking their lives on a daily basis to care for those in need.

This crisis is unprecedented. The playbook is being written and revised in real-time against an elusive moving target. Our desire for predictability to chart a path forward is challenged as the time frame for our new reality seems to extend on a daily basis. The hardship facing so many cannot be underestimated and our tourism sector, along with the communities in our region who rely on the visitor economy, are going to face extremely difficult times ahead.

However, in these uncertain times, we can take great comfort in the certainty that together, we will rise to the occasion. All levels of government are taking swift and unified action to mitigate the impact of this crisis and technology is facilitating essential social connections allowing families, friends and co-workers to share experiences of both fear and hope. By now, everyone has a story of someone they know who has used creativity and compassion to help others in need in their community.

Collaboration has always been the ethos of our organization and we are humbled by the level of engagement from our six County partners who have made themselves available to contribute their insights and ideas. As one of the largest regions in the province, their connections to operators at the local level are important linkages to the realities on the ground.

Our immediate concern going forward is two-fold:

1. To ensure our tourism community is linked in with the resources and information that will support their ability to make informed immediate, mid- and long-term planning decisions.

How?

  • We update the industry page of our website on a regular basis to capture all of the latest local, provincial, and federal support measures available to businesses.
  • We send out a weekly round up of news and resources through email.
  • We post time sensitive updates on our Twitter account @ohtoinsider
  • Our team is available to field questions and direct inquires to appropriate resources.

2. To work with our tourism community to shift storytelling with our audiences towards more useful and sensitive content during this time of crisis. We are a region that can provide messages of hope and anticipation for welcoming them back when the time comes.

How?

Our audiences are hungry for good news and inspiring content. We will be developing opportunities for our operators to engage with them as well as exploring innovative and respectful ways to generate sales. Stay connected to our communication channels to learn more!

We are honoured to be working with our incredible tourism community to get through these difficult times together. The sheer grit and determination that underpins the character of our communities will no doubt position us well to overcome this incredible public health and financial crisis, and we can look forward to welcoming guests back to our unforgettable region in the future.

Stay healthy, stay determined and stay connected.

Yours in tourism,

Nicole Whiting
Executive Director
Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization

Maximizing Destination Ontario: March 2020

If you feel like you’re a long lifeboat bobbing along on the ocean of the tourism world, trying to keep afloat in a turbulent sea, you should know you don’t need to go it alone. There are tourism organizations floating nearby, ready to help support you and your business, and those organizations include Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) and (drum roll, please…) Destination Ontario.

You may think that Destination Ontario is too BIG for your business, too focused on the big experiences in Ontario, like the CN Tower or Niagara Falls, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These days, it’s the authentic hard-to-find spots that the average visitor is looking for, like the cozy café tucked away in a cute small town, the out of the way hiking trail with the epic view, or the rural retreat that offers that special something you just can’t find in an urban environment.

Yes, Destination Ontario works with the big guys, but when it comes right down to it, they are here for you. In fact, according to their website, Destination Ontario was created specifically to partner with Ontario tourism operators to showcase the province as a four-season must-see travel destination.

The key part of that sentence is “created to partner with Ontario tourism operators” – that’s you!

Working with operators is the biggest part of the Destination Ontario mandate, without you they don’t have anything to promote. The question is – are you doing everything you can to maximize their support?

When you work in collaboration with Destination Ontario you can achieve greater return on your investment by accessing their assets, expertise, and partnership opportunities to help you extend your marketing and sales reach, and stretch your marketing dollars. Each year OHTO works closely with Destination Ontario to promote the region; please let us know how we can assist with ensuring you are maximizing their support.

Whether it’s through free business listings or paid marketing campaigns, Destination Ontario is invested in helping you make your tourism business a success. Read on to find out how you can leverage their support.

Tell Them What You’ve Got

Each year, Destination Ontario coordinates extensive marketing campaigns that include digital, print, social media, and more. With such robust marketing, they are constantly looking for content, events, and tourism assets to capitalize through their campaigns.

How do you take advantage of this? Easy: When we at OHTO reach out to you looking for information about your tourism offerings and activities, spend a few minutes to answer our questions and send us what you’ve got. We then pass on that info to Destination Ontario to include in their own content development.

If you are looking to partner on a paid advertising campaign, there are opportunities for that, too. Together, your marketing dollars can go even further! Reach out to the friendly folks at Destination Ontario and start the conversation to explore your options.

Promote Your Business and Experiences

Destination Ontario’s consumer website, ontariotravel.net, is a go-to resource for visitors looking for experiences and destinations in your region. On this site, visitors can browse festivals and events, business listings, and packaged experiences, all right here in Ontario. But did you know that you can take advantage of any of these listings for FREE?

Do you have an experience a visitor might like to know about? Think about creating an experiential package, a one-page advertisement for an experience that has a start and end date. Your package can be featured on the Ontario Travel website, which will drive leads straight to your business. If you need photos to use for your own campaigns, you can access them through their online image database – again, for FREE.

Leverage the Ontario Tourism Brand

Did you know the Ontario Travel Facebook page has more than 320,000 followers, and their Instagram page has 298,000 followers (wow!)? Instead of going it along, partner with an established brand with Destination Ontario.  Use the hashtag #discoveron on your social channels and you never know if one of your posts or photos will get reposted to (much) wider audience. While you’re at it, use the hashtag #ComeWander so we can help you out, too! We’re all in this together, after all.

Get Marketing Advice

Consult with Destination Ontario’s experienced staff to make sure you’re on the right path to success. Ask them how you can leverage their support and how you can work together.

Happy Wandering,

Julie Mulligan

OHTO’s Marketing Manager

 

Shifting Perspective: Getting Ready for the 2020 Tourism Season: February 2020

It may not feel like it, but tourism season 2020 is right around the corner, and headed this way fast. As a tourism business or operator, are you and your staff ready for the fun, excitement (and yes, sometimes chaos) that is coming your way?

Getting ready for the season is about more than just making sure your business is clean and tidy (although that’s important, too). It’s also about making sure you and your staff are prepared to deliver excellent customer service, a goal that becomes more challenging the busier you get. Often, we aren’t aware of the ways in which we may be falling short in reaching this goal.

Why Do We Need Good Customer Service?

It goes without saying that the best referral is one that comes from another customer. The grass roots review site, Tripadvisor, is a good example of exactly how big an impact referrals can have. A negative review can be challenging, while a positive review tells your potential customers that your business is one worth visiting.

But that brings to mind the question: What is good customer service? The answer will differ from business to business, but in essence it means going above and beyond the basics in order to keep the customer happy, and that customer satisfaction remains a top priority for you and your staff. In return, this will create happy and loyal customers who will return again and again, and gladly refer you to their friends and family.

Here are a few ways to make sure you’re ready for tourism season 2020.

A is for Attitude

You may treat your customers like gold, and feel good about the standard of service you provide. You are friendly, fast, efficient, and welcoming to your customer base and they appreciate that. If so, keep up the good work! Often, a friendly attitude and atmosphere comes from the top, and staff pick up on a business owner’s attitude, and perpetuate it.

On the other hand, you can’t always be aware of how staff are treating your customers in your absence. Are your staff knowledgeable about your business? Are they knowledgeable about the region? Are they in the know about initiatives and promotions relating to your business?

If you’re not sure about the answer to any of these questions some staff training may be a good idea before your customers start beating down your door. During the busy season, weekly or bi-weekly staff meetings can go far in making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to expectations for customer service and delivery, as well as business knowledge.

Take a Closer Look

Take a good look around and try and view your business from an outsider’s perspective. How clean are the facilities? When was the last time you did a deep cleaning that got into all the nooks and crannies?

The slower off season is a good time to do this type of cleaning. This is the time to check those things that may not be obvious to you, but will be to customers, like behind doors, along floorboards, the tops of ceilings fans, windows etc.

Also check to make sure your business is accessible for those with physical challenges. How is the traffic flow through your business? Could someone with a walker easily navigate?

Also take the time to review the signage to your business – will your customers be able to find you easily? Does your signage need a refresh? If they can’t find you, they can’t visit.

The Great Circle of Tourism Life

We’re a community of tourism operators, and when we support one another our region as a whole benefits. When a customer stays at an accommodation they will inevitably need to eat, shop, or take part in other tourism activities. It’s a symbiotic relationship – the great circle of tourism life.

Take the time to engage with your customers, and encourage your staff to do the same. No one knows your region better than you, so why not invite your customers to enjoy your region more fully by pointing out other experiences they may enjoy? Keep brochures from other businesses available to hand out to customers. Remember, a major tourism goal is to encourage our customers to stay longer – that’s a win for everyone.

Happy Wandering!

Julie Mulligan

OHTO’s Marketing Manager