Traffic and Conversions: Troubleshooting Your Online Store: May 2021

So you took advantage of the wealth of funding supporting the development of e-commerce websites and now have a shiny, brand new shop platform to sell online. Congratulations! You have taken the first step to diversifying your customer base and expanding into a brand new (and fast growing) market.

If you were confused by the “first step” comment above, we weren’t kidding. Getting your store online is only the first step to successfully selling your product and expanding your market. We know, this may not seem fair, but it’s true.

Building an online presence may be a fantastic start, but that’s all it is: a start. And sometimes that start isn’t enough to lead to increased sales. Basically, it all comes down to traffic and conversions. For an e-commerce platform to be successful it needs to not only have visitors (traffic), but that traffic must also complete a purchase (conversion).

Maybe your site is doing fantastic, in which case, good for you! But if you’re stuck for ideas or your site took off at first but is now stagnating, read on to troubleshoot what to look for and what steps to take to build your e-commerce success.

Getting Traffic

If people don’t visit your store, they can’t buy anything, right? E-commerce success all starts with traffic. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security thinking “I’ve got my website now, so people will come and buy from it.” The reality is, marketing for e-commerce isn’t any different than marketing for a bricks and mortar store. Your online store will need to be promoted so people know you are there, and these days the digital marketplace is bursting with competition so you need to make sure your marketing message is heard.

Here’s what you need to think about to increase traffic to your site:

  • Is your SEO optimized so your business appears on Google searches?

You can check SEO by using an incognito tab to search for your product and see if your website comes up on the first page of a Google search. If you sell maple syrup and your business is in Renfrew, then Google “maple syrup Renfrew” and see what comes up. You can also use one of the many free SEO tools out there (so many to choose from!). You may need to increase your keywords on your website to increase your Google ranking.

  • Are you actively marketing your site?

Digital marketing is not that expensive, and a small budget can go a long way in gaining new business. Just as with a bricks and mortar store, if people don’t know you’re there, they won’t visit your store. Launch an advertising campaign through social media and you should see a corresponding increase in site traffic.

  • Are you targeting the right customer?

If you are using digital advertising but aren’t seeing an increase in conversions, take a closer look at who exactly you are targeting with your ads, and make sure this reflects your ideal customer. Don’t be afraid to be specific in selecting that customer – think about the ideal age, sex, and interests of the people you want to reach the most with your advertising and then gear marketing towards that demographic.

Getting Conversions

Unfortunately, even if you get people to your store there’s no guarantee they will add anything to their cart or even check out. This is like getting someone into your physical store and having them wander around but not see anything they like. You may ask yourself “why did that customer leave so quickly?”

The answer might be your displays aren’t eye catchy enough, your store is cluttered, or maybe they just aren’t your target customer, so they didn’t see anything that appealed to them. All these will come into play for your e-commerce store. Shopify has a great blog post that covers this topic.

Here’s what you need to think about to increase the likelihood of completed purchases:

  • Is your website and online store design intuitive? Does the checkout process flow naturally?

Don’t assume that because you paid someone to create your online store that it’s flawless. Take the time to navigate your store like you’ve never seen it before (you can even use an incognito tab so you aren’t storing cookies). Navigate and actually make a purchase to see how everything looks and flows. Ask yourself: is your website is easy to navigate? Is it too cluttered? Try streamlining content and reducing words so it’s easier for customers to navigate without being overwhelmed by information. Make sure products are easy to find and add to their cart.

  • Is your site professional looking and attractive?

Evaluate (and be brutally honest!) the professionalism of your site – did you hire someone to take pictures for you? Are your photos appealing? Does your brand look professional? Are you conforming to your brand colour palette and style? A cluttered and unappealing website is just like a cluttered and unappealing store – customers won’t want to stay long and they won’t want to make a purchase while they’re there.

  • Are you relaying the necessary information?

Don’t make your customers hunt for information, give it to them up front, and in multiple locations. Do you offer free shipping? Do you take returns? Do you do free local delivery? Tell your customers as soon as they arrive at your page (the toolbar at the top of the page is ideal for this). These are the types of questions inquiring minds want to know before they check out. 

  • Are you mobile friendly?

You’ve checked your site and it’s a beautiful work of art on your computer, but have you checked out what it looks like on your smart phone or tablet? Market trend research shows that more than half of all internet traffic shopping is completed from a mobile device or tablet which means it’s critical that your site work fluidly on both a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Pull out your phone and navigate your site using only that device and see how it works. You can also use the “inspect” tool on your website to see how it will look on different devices.

  • Is the price right?

If you are seeing people visit your website but then quickly leave, it may be that your prices are too high for your product in comparison to your competitors, but it could also mean you have been bringing the wrong customer to your website (see traffic, above). If you are comfortable with your price, try targeting a slightly different demographic and see what happens.

Coping with Pandemic Fatigue: April 2021

To say it’s been a year like no other is an understatement.  Without a shadow of a doubt, each and every one of us deserves an ‘I Survived!’ t-shirt once we turn the bend on the pandemic.  While we are definitely not the same people as we were back in early March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic, we can at least confidently say the pandemic has led to us be stronger, more resilient, and ready to adapt to challenges then ever before. 

Despite this, we know and appreciate that business owners have been hit hard, and pandemic fatigue is real.  You have had to continually pivot, think outside the box, and work harder than ever over the past year and yes – it’s exhausting. 

If you’re feeling the effects of pandemic fatigue, read on to learn some small steps that may offer some relief.

Automate What You Can

If your head is spinning with all the pivoting that is necessary in a COVID world, try automating what you can to relieve some workload. Consider scheduling your social media marketing so it’s one less thing you need to think about. Using a scheduling app like Hootsuite will help you stay on top of marketing but without having to think about it daily.

Connect with Peers

If you are a business owner, managing through a pandemic, adapting to the rapidly changing restrictions, and living in a virtual world makes it difficult to connect with someone to talk about the experiences and challenges you are facing. Take the time to connect or participate in virtual tourism discussions or workshops at the local or regional level. Connect with other business owners like yourself or attend a virtual workshop led by an industry expert.  Learning from the experiences of others may be exactly what’s needed to get those creative juices flowing!

Get Help

It may feel like you need to do it all and be your own accountant, bookkeeper, website designer, marketing manager, or social media coordinator – but you don’t. This is the time to ask for help. Reach out to friends, family, or even colleagues to see if anyone can help by taking a second look at whatever is adding to your stress. They may be able to offer tips or advice that could help alleviate the pressure you are under. And who knows? Someone may even be willing to take something off your plate in the short or long term.

Find the Good

It’s there – the good. A little positivity can go a long way and sometimes, all it takes to find it is to take a moment, step back, and find all the ‘little goods’ that are out there.  What are some positive things that the pandemic has given you more appreciation for? 

Has it led to a new way you serve your customers, or the look of appreciation and thanks from a local who has discovered your business?  Or maybe it’s the small joy of loving a new local coffee you discovered and knowing you’re supporting another local business.  Or simply put, maybe is just looking around and being thankful for all the fresh air and natural spaces that are our luxury in Ontario’s Highlands.  To help deal with stressful times, it’s important to try and find the happiness and the things that bring joy.

Take Time for Yourself

Remember how your mom used to tell you to “Go outside and play!” Turns out she knew what she was talking about. Just being outside can improve our physical and mental health, even if you aren’t being active. Being a business owner takes a lot of creativity at the best of times, and COVID has increased the need to think outside the box. Even a few minutes spent outdoors in a park or natural setting can improve our well being, make us more creative, and improve our mood. So the next time you’re stuck about what to do next, take a long walk.

Take care and stay safe.

OHTO Insiders

7 Reasons Why You Need to Join Ride the Highlands: March 2021

If COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that diversification is key to business success. This year many Ontario’s Highlands’ businesses have already transitioned to online sales and begun exploring accessing new digital markets. If this is you, we have good news for you.

This summer you can extend your reach into yet another market with one easy action: Join Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization’s Ride the Highlands program.

This niche activity promotional program is geared specifically to motorcycle enthusiasts, and marketing efforts are directed at increasing engagement with digital platforms associated with it, including RidetheHighlands.ca. Businesses who are interested in reaching this market and pivot their business to be ‘Motorcycle Ready’ can join the program to be included as a destination one of the routes and highlighted to the motorcycle market.

It goes without saying that Ontario has a reputation for its winding, scenic roads flanked by towering forests and peppered with cute small towns. In 2020, motorcycle enthusiasts hit the roads to take advantage of the vast open spaces of Ontario’s Highlands, and we believe there is nowhere better in Ontario to head out for an epic road trip.

This summer, you can make your business Motorcycle Ready and have a presence on Ride the Highlands – welcoming these intrepid weekend warriors. Not convinced? Read on for seven reasons why you should join Ride the Highlands in 2021.

Reason #1: COVID has been a game changer

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a game changer for the tourism industry. We get it, and we know how hard operators in Ontario’s Highlands have been working over the past year. The good news is that Ride the Highlands is the perfect solution to COVID-19-friendly outings for bikers. Here’s why:

  • It’s the perfect daytrip – just a rider, his (or her) bike, and the open road
  • Social distancing is natural
  • It gets riders outdoors, instead of cooped up in a car

Reason #2: There’s a whole lot of spending going on

The truth of the size of the motorcycle marked lies in the numbers: Motorcycle tourism is a $1.5 billion industry in Canada. We have 806,000 registered motorcycles in Canada, and 238,000 in Ontario alone. That’s a lot of folks riding a lot of bikes and spending as they go. The numbers also tell us that the motorcycle market has money to spend – the average household income of the average motorcycle enthusiast in Canada is above average, sitting cozily at more than $80,000.  

Reason #3: Motorcycle tourism is growing

This is one industry that has room to grow, and it continues to gain traction on Canada’s roads. In 2020, motorcycle sales increased 25 per cent over previous years, which makes sense since riding a motorcycle is such a COVID-friendly way to travel. We expect this number to continue to grow as tourism rebounds post-COVID, and these new motorcycle enthusiasts really embrace the lifestyle.

Reason #4: You get great exposure for your business

On the Ride the Highlands interactive, online map, users are able to filter to access information about accommodations, dining spots, and more to find businesses along their routes. This highlights your business easily and with relevance for the user. In 2020 there were nearly 100,000 visits to RidetheHighlands.ca – that’s 100,000 people who could have seen your business represented there!

Reason #5: Ride the Highlands has been an unqualified success

Here’s another case where the proof is in the pudding (so to speak). Since launch of the program in 2014, the numbers speak for themselves.

  • 17,417 maps distributed
  • 2,435 kick stand pads distributed
  • 901 railroad spikes distributed
  • 9,000 subscribers for the newsletter
  • 13,144 followers on Facebook
  • 1,923 followers on Instagram

Reason #6: Applying is easy

Applying for the program is easy, so there are no excuses for not broadening your customer base to this new and growing market. Send an email to ontarioshighlands@gmail.com and indicate you are interested in becoming part of Ride the Highlands. An assessment form will be sent to you based on your sector, in which you must fill out to show how your business caters to the motorcycle market.  Once your assessment form is complete, you will be deemed ‘Rider Approved’ and will be sent a special package containing a Motorcycle Only Parking and a Rider Approved Window Decal.

Reason #7: You’re in good company

Join the 47 attractions, 49 accommodations and 52 restaurants who have seen the benefits of being part of Ride the Highlands. Who knows? Joining and welcoming bikers this summer may inspire you to purchase your own bike and become a road warrior.

Happy wandering!

Julie Mulligan

OHTO’s Marketing Manager

Looking for funding that will work for YOUR business? Read this.

If you’re a little tired of wading through the sheer number of funding programs out there to find one for which you are eligible, but that also meet your business’ needs, we’ve got your back. With so many funding programs available, we understand that finding the right one can be a bit like trying to find Waldo with one eye closed.

The good news is that whether it’s at the federal, provincial, or regional level, there are a wealth of opportunities out there to help your business during the pandemic. Funding in 2021 covers everything from small business loans to capital investments, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), business modifications, and everything in between.

Here are a few tips when looking at or applying for funding programs this year.

Keep an Eye Out for NEW Funding

If you’ve checked all the funding applications as they’ve been released and haven’t found anything that fits your business needs, don’t worry, there are more coming your way. In fact, OHTO’s Tourism Recovery Innovation Program (TRIP) – Capital Projects funding stream was just released on Jan. 15, 2021 to provide tourism-dependent small businesses with up to 80 per cent of eligible costs to a maximum of $20,000 in non-repayable funding. This program was created to offset capital expenses related to one-time modifications and/or re-opening costs, along with the implementation of health and safety protocols and digitization measures.

In the world of government funding, a program like TRIP – Capital Projects that covers capital expenses is a rarity. This program would be good for businesses wanting to build or expand a patio, build a curbside pick-up space or install a window for contact-less pick-ups, and more. Read about this funding here and apply today.

Think About What You REALLY Need

This is actually the most important part of applying for funding – you need a clear understanding of what will make a difference for your business before you even sit down to find a funding program that will work for you. Completing a funding application is like doing a mini sales pitch, you need to be able to identify what you are selling before you can make a sale.

Ask yourself: What will make a difference for my business, long term? What will make the difference between surviving and thriving in a COVID world? Think about the possible changes that are coming down the line, and what would come in really handy to have when they do. Then brainstorm how you can make that work for YOU and still fall within the parameters of the program you are applying for.

Check Your Eligibility

It’s not 2020 any longer, you’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to completing funding applications, and the first thing you need to consider when looking at a new program is: Am I eligible? Don’t assume because you aren’t eligible for one type of grant that you won’t be for another. Every funding program is different, and deliberately so, the better to ensure every business is covered.

Gather What You Need – BEFORE You Start

Funding applications are very similar, and once you’ve completed one you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what you need to complete another. You’ll need to have your financial records on hand, along with information about your business like your HST number, legal business name, and possibly even bank account information.

Having all that information on hand before you sit down to get started will make it that much easier to finish and hit the “Submit” button to send your application off into the world.

Find the Right Program for YOUR Business

Not all funding programs are equal. In fact, they are so unequal that we created this handy funding chart to help you sort out the vastness of funds available to you. Naturally, these are all different, but with so much choice you should be able to find the perfect funding for your business.

If you are looking for reimbursement for capital expenses made between June 1, 2020 and today, the TRIP – Capital Projects is for you. If you have an idea for a way to grow your business while partnering with another organization or business in your community, then OHTO’s TRIP – Partnership Projects can be your go-to.

Hydro reductions and reimbursements, business loans with a portion that’s forgivable, rent reductions, PPE reimbursements…if you can identify a need there is a good chance there is a funding program out there that will meet it. See what we mean? The funding is out there, you just need to find it.

Planning for COVID in 2021: 5 reasons to apply for OHTO’s Capital Projects funding program

Since COVID-19 arrived on the scene nearly one year ago, business owners have been inundated with numerous relief funding opportunities and resources geared specifically to support small business during this challenging time.  Every level of government has offered some form of supportive response to the ever-changing health restrictions, but few programs have provided financial aid to businesses who have made, or may still be required to make, significant physical modifications to their operations.  

The OHTO TRIP – Capital Projects funding program released January 15, 2021 provides tourism-dependent small businesses with up to 80% of eligible costs to a maximum of $20,000 in non-repayable funding. This program was created to offset capital expenses related to one-time modifications and/or re-opening costs, along with the implementation of health and safety protocols and digitization measures.

If you have made changes, or plan to make changes, to your business model and operations read on to discover five key features that might make this funding opportunity right for you!

  1. Finally, funding for capital expenses!

We are proud to have released funding opportunities for COVID-19 relief including our Digital Marketing Support Program and our TRIP – Partnership Program, but we frequently heard from our operators support is needed for physical retrofits they must complete to safely open to the public.  Until now our funding limitations excluded these capital expenses but the TRIP – Capital Projects stream provides this much needed financial support. 

In the funding world, this is indeed the golden egg. Need to build or expand a patio? This funding is for you. Do you need a building or space where your customers can do curbside pick-up, or are you hoping to modify your existing space to allow for contactless pick-up? TRIP – Capital Projects funding is for you.

2. It’s easy – seriously

We wouldn’t lie to you – applying for this funding is easy as clicking the link to the application page, filling in some basic information about your business and the expenses for this project clicking “submit.” Here’s what you will need have ready before you apply:Your Business Number and incorporation date (if applicable)

  • A copy of your 2019 Financial Statements
  • A copy of your commercial general liability insurance indicating coverage of at least $2 million
  • Copies of all receipts, invoices and/or quotes you are looking to submit for reimbursement
  • A brief 500-work summary detailing how the requested funds are to be used including a synopsis of how the project helped to protect jobs and the visitor experience.

3. Cost sharing never looked so good

You didn’t misread the introduction to this story – the TRIP – Capital Projects funding can provide up to 80% of eligible costs to a maximum of $20,000. In other words, if you have spent or plan to spend more than $25,000 on COVID-19 related retrofits you may be eligible for up to $20,000 back! The program doesn’t have a minimum project cost either.  If you spent $2,500 on a project you may be eligible for $2000 back!  It isn’t every day that cost sharing is offered at more than 50 per cent, this is a fantastic incentive to snap up this opportunity before it runs out.

4. It will encourage you to plan ahead (and behind)

These days anything that can help you prepare for what the future might hold is a good thing.  While none of us have a crystal ball, we can still brainstorm what changes we may need to make to our business model and operations, and take steps towards acting on those opportunities. This funding is all the encouragement you will need to start thinking about the future, and what could make a difference for your business.

But what if you’ve already spent money making alterations to your business operations for COVID-19? No problem, funding through the TRIP – Capital Projects stream is retroactive to June 1, 2020 and includes any expenses incurred up until Dec. 31, 2021 (with proof of payment).

5. Taking action feels good

Have you been playing the waiting game, thinking that if you can just hold out a little longer you’ll be okay? There’s logic to this approach – nothing lasts forever and it’s easy for us to dream and hope for a time when this virus is no longer in our lives. Unfortunately, this won’t help your business – in any time of crisis the best way to stay afloat is to keep moving. Its tough, and we get that, but we are here to support your effort.  

Let us help you to stay in motion. Apply today.

Have questions? Read a list of Frequently Asked Questions here or contact us for more information. We’re here to help.

Click here to read the full program guidelines so you can apply as soon as possible – applications are being accepted on an ongoing basis until Dec. 31, 2021, or until funding is depleted. Priority will be given to applications received before Jan. 31, 2021. Not all eligible projects are guaranteed acceptance.

If we’ve sold you on the program and you’re eager to apply, visit www.ComeWander.ca/TRIP for more details and to access the program guidelines and online application.

Yours in tourism,

Nicole Whiting
Executive Director
Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization

Getting Started with Facebook Advertising: December 2020

Have you ever thought about trying out Facebook ads to reach new audiences? Now is a better time than ever to experiment with something new. It takes just a small amount put aside for a test and no more than an hour of your time to set up your first ad.

If you’re wondering why you should bother with Facebook ads, the answer is that it unlocks a new audience beyond just your followers that you can target to your liking. If you’ve found the majority of your visitors come from Kingston, you can target an ad specifically to residents of that city to attract new potential customers.

Do your all-natural products attract vegans? Target an ad that speaks to directly to them. Or if you have a gap in your audience you want to fill – say for example your new cabin caters to families but your regular crowd is 50 plus – find those families through carefully thought-out advertising.

And the best part is that advertising through Facebook doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Here are a few tips for getting started with simple, small-scale Facebook ads.

First thing first: Sit down with a laptop or pen and paper and write down your goals. You’re using your own hard-earned money so you want it to be put to good use. Answer the question: What is the purpose for your advertisement?

  • Awareness
  • Link clicks
  • New followers
  • Engagement
  • Building a mailing list

All of the above are good reasons to try out an ad, but this list is not exhaustive. Other things to think about are who you want to attract. Where do they live, how old are they, what are their special interests? Keeping it broad is perfectly fine too, just plan it out and write it down!

When you’re ready to get started, the easiest option and what I recommend for beginners is simply “boosting” a post. Boosting refers to spending a small amount of money to have one of your existing or new timeline posts shown to a larger audience beyond those who follow your page. Even with a simple boost, you still get full rein on what kind of person you want to see your ad.

Just a few simple steps will get you started with advertising.

Step 1: Choose your post or craft a new one

You want to make sure your message is strong so it might be best to start from scratch. Do you have a new product or offering you’re ready to promote? Create a new timeline post that is short and to the point (ideally 1 sentence), with a link to your website if applicable.

Step 2: Click the blue “Boost Post” button on the bottom of the post to get started

Step Three: Select your goal

The default “automatic” setting is somewhat new. Hitting change will let you choose your own, which I recommend. Find the goal that aligns with your own – like “get more website visitors” if you want to prioritize traffic to the link you included in the post.

Step Four: Set your target audience

Remember you brainstormed who you want to see your ad? Now is the time to set that audience. Select “people you choose through targeting” and input your specifications. Location is probably the most important demographic to target. Age can be broad or specific if you like, and additional interests are optional if you want to ensure your ads are being seen by a specific type of person (ie. cyclists, beer drinkers, etc.) If so, you will be trading a lower reach for potentially more qualified leads.

Important tip: As displayed in the screenshot below, you might find that your audience defaults to Canada. If you start adding in more targeting locations, which we highly recommend, you should remove Canada as an option. Otherwise your ad will be shown to people across the whole county, and someone living in PEI might not care to see your ad about the new menu in your Minden restaurant!

Step Five: Choose your placements and budget

Placements dictate on which channels your ad will be seen. Keep it simple by removing Instagram and Messenger if you want. If you have an Instagram account that you’ve tied to your Facebook account, by all means boost on both!

You’d be surprised how far $50 goes. No need to boost for hundreds of dollars. Start with just $25 or $50 and see how that works out for you.

Step Six: Review and evaluate

First, make sure you’ve inputted everything correctly and that your ad preview looks correct (spelling review!).

Once you’ve hit go, check in every day to see how many new people have been reached by your ad, and how many clicks and engagements you’ve received.

At any point you can end or adjust your campaign if you don’t think it’s going well.

Congratulations, you are now advertising on Facebook! Keep a look out for our January OHTO Insider that will provide more information on setting up your ad account, connecting your Instagram, and much more.

Happy Wandering,

Sara Dunbrook

Not Keeping Up with the Joneses: November 2020

If there is one thing that’s been easy to get caught up in over the past few months, it’s the feeling that we are never doing enough and that everyone else’s business or region is thriving more than we are. During times when every decision we make can have such massive impacts, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and jump on the proverbial ‘bandwagon’ to do what we see others doing.

Yes, there are some great ideas out there, and some fantastic things happening in the tourism world that are innovative and exciting, but that doesn’t mean they are right for your business, region, or industry. Having a sound strategy in place for your business and staying on point with your goals and objectives will benefit your business more than chasing after someone else’s big idea.

So how can we stop ourselves from the futility of chasing the shiny ball?  Trying to keep up with the Joneses is fundamentally flawed, and we’re happy to tell you why – read on for all the answers (and we promise we didn’t copy these from anywhere!).

Businesses are like snowflakes – no two are alike

Every region and business is unique, and the best way to promote yourself is by focusing on what differentiates you from your competition, not what makes you similar. Just because a campaign or program worked well in one area doesn’t mean it’s right for you or your business. Look for the strengths of your business and brainstorm for ideas that will work for you, in your business, right now.

You could end up in a situation where the blind is leading the blind

What makes you think that others know what they’re doing any more than you do? That’s like putting your business direction into the hands of a tarot card reader – they may have some great ideas about what’s happening in your world but that doesn’t mean they can actually read the future. Trust your own intuition and turn to tourism experts at the provincial and regional level to help guide you.

You may miss other opportunities

If you turn a blind eye to anything other than what others are doing you are wasting valuable time that could be spent investing in your own brilliant ideas. You could miss opportunities to form partnerships, create lasting relationships with stakeholders and other business leaders, or – lose your chance to shine.

It could be all smoke and mirrors

Remember that you’re only seeing a portion of the picture, you don’t really know what’s actually happening in the background for your competitors or neighbouring regions. While it may look like a program or marketing campaign is successful, you don’t really have any way of knowing if that’s reality or just smoke and mirrors. Maybe your competitors are looking at your business and wondering why their marketing and promotional campaigns can’t be as awesome as yours?

What you can do instead of jumping on the bandwagon

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but maybe you can steal a little insight from someone else to generate your own ideas. Take a kernel of inspiration from others and grow it into a blossoming tree of innovation, specially created for your environment.

Imagine how much time you will have if you’re not wasting valuable time and energy lamenting the seeming success of others? Remember, there is nothing new in the world, nothing that hasn’t been thought of before (and already exists on Google) so be kind to yourself if you’re struggling to come up with your own big idea. It will come.

Happy wandering!

Julie Mulligan

OHTO’s Marketing Manager

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