‘Tis the Season to be Social: December 2018

You’ve probably heard it a million times already: ‘tis the season – to be jolly; to eat, drink, and be merry; to celebrate with loved ones. For many, this time of year consists of a lot of quality time to see family and friends, and we want to remind you while you’re at it, don’t forget to ‘get social’ with #ComeWander as well.

With our digital-first marketing strategy, social media is one of the main ways we push out the stories of Ontario’s Highlands and engage with visitors. Our brand platform is firmly in place, the conversation is happening online, and we want to make sure you’re a part of it.

While the best way to feed into the Come Wander brand, and particularly our website, remains replying to our Monthly Guiding Questions and Seasonal Product Knowledge Forms, social media is another great tool to share your own story with both visitors and the OHTO team. Using #ComeWander on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is a way to leverage the conversation already taking place online and to keep the OHTO team in the loop with the latest happenings at your business or in your community.

We constantly monitor this hashtag to uncover unique content ideas, stay aware of what’s happening in the region, share user-generated content, and engage with visitors and stakeholders’ posts.  If you have an extra special post you have to share – maybe a new event, partnership, or experience coming up – and you want to guarantee we see it, take it one step further and also tag us:

We are thrilled with the success of #ComeWander and the continual growth of this online conversation. Many of you are already participating in the conversation and using the hashtag, so we want to thank you for standing behind the brand and encourage you to continue to ‘get social’ with us. Your efforts have greatly contributed to this success – after all, there’s a reason why they say there is strength in numbers.

With all of us participating in the conversation and showing how incredible Ontario’s Highlands truly is, we increase our chances to connect with new visitors and inspire them to Come Wander our region.

Best wishes as we wander into the New Year,

Julie Mulligan,

OHTO Marketing Manager

Your Online Presence: November 2018

In an age where the online world is constantly evolving, more and more industries are experiencing digital disruption, and tourism is certainly no exception. To the contrary, with the prevalence of online booking, review sites, travel blogs, and social media, it could be argued this industry is one of the most impacted.

Information about any destination is available at visitors’ fingertips – with a quick search online, consumers can read about your business, discover experiences others have had when visiting, and even book their trip within a matter of minutes. Though this may seem a little daunting, there are opportunities to harness this disruption to our advantage by enhancing the visitor experience in ways that encourage visitors to share destination stories.

We were thrilled to have team members from RTO4 (Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington) share their experience in leveraging digital disruption during their keynote address last month at OH!Tourism Summit 2018. If you haven’t already, we’d encourage you to check out some of the the key takeaways from this presentation, available here.

During the presentation and conference, we also alluded to some upcoming tools we’re looking to develop to help businesses and communities monitor and improve their online presence in the future. We’ll be sharing more details about opportunities to get involved and utilize these in the spring, but for the interim, there are things you can be capitalizing on now to get a handle on your online presence.

It’s important to know how you measure up online – where you could improve your accessibility, and what visitors are saying about your business/community, so here are some tips to improve your online presence and start leveraging word-of-mouth marketing:

  • Visitors today have information available in the palm of their hand – they’re researching beforehand and looking things up while in region from their phones, so make sure your website is mobile-friendly
  • Leverage word-of-mouth marketing by not only creating and maintaining a business listing on review sites (i.e. TripAdvisor, Google My Business), but also by monitoring and replying to reviews – it’s important to reply to both positive and negative reviews
    • TripAdvisor recently announced new features to help travellers plan their trips and to become more of a social platform: allowing travellers to follow people and brands they trust, creating travel feeds that show recommendations and advice, and adding ways for visitors to create their own trips and travel guides (privately or publicly) – find more information on these new features here
  • Create and follow through with shareable experiences – offer a quality experience that a visitor wants to share, and encourage them to share their feedback online
  • Engage visitors on social media – make sure your business is easy to find and tag online; like, comment on, and share visitors’ posts; and don’t forget to thank visitors for sharing their experience, posting their photos, and tagging you in posts

Together, we can leverage the digital disruption experienced in the tourism industry as we share the stories of Ontario’s Highlands and inspire visitors to Come Wander.

Happy wandering,

Julie Mulligan, OHTO Marketing Manager & Stephanie Hessel, OHTO Destination Development Manager

Finding Yourself & Sharing Your Story: October 2018

With the busy summer season now behind us, we hope you’ve found time to take a little break for yourself – and also to have a look at the changes we introduced to ComeWander.ca. As we previously shared, one of the biggest changes we introduced in the spring was the addition of a search feature.

This new addition not only allows visitors to find stories containing particular keywords and information about areas of interest they might have, it also helps you find yourself– or more accurately, your business.

When we first introduced our Monthly Guiding Questions in 2017, we were thrilled with the response they received and continue to be pleased each and every month as we read through the incredible stories and insider insight you have to share. As ComeWander.ca has grown, so has this program and we now have a collection of responses and a website chalk full of so many stories, it’s becoming a little onerous to manage (don’t worry, this is a good problem for us to have and we certainly aren’t complaining).

If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to visit ComeWander.ca, type your business into the search bar at the top, and check out any stories you’re featured in. If you’ve been replying to Monthly Guiding Questions and can’t find yourself in any stories, please reach out to us at info@ohto.ca to let us know.

We post new content at the beginning of every month, so be sure to visit frequently to search for your business and new ways you’re featured. And if you find stories, the best thing you can do is share them! Post them to your social channels, link to them on your website, send them out to your emailing list – sharing them helps increase their reach and best leverage the coverage.

We’re always looking for new stories and new spins on old stories to inspire visitors to Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands, which is why it’s important you respond to Monthly Guiding Questions as frequently as you can. Even though turnaround time for your response to be used can fluctuate, we store and reference all answers in our repository of responses to come up with fresh new content to share each month.

Together, we can inspire more visitors to Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands.

Yours in wandering,

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager, OHTO

The Power of Rave Reviews: September 2018

With advances in technology, the prevalence of social media, and the vast amount of information available online, today’s travellers are living in a digital world – and we need to meet them there.

When choosing a destination for a trip, research shows consumers are increasingly turning away from traditional media campaigns towards personal, trusted recommendations. With greater access to the recommendations of friends, colleagues, and even strangers on the internet, referrals are more important than ever.

In order to succeed and stay relevant with today’s savvy consumers, destinations need to connect with individuals’ specific interests in an authentic way and offer impactful experiences that will lead visitors to share their remarkable stories fostering greater word of mouth. We need to deliver memorable experiences to amplify word of mouth referrals – our most powerful marketing tool – and promote our stories through people instead of to people.

But what is a remarkable destination experience and how do we go about interpreting, measuring and evaluating our various efforts to capture and retain audiences throughout the key stages of their trip? Most importantly, how can we adapt to valuable insights collected through proven destination strategies, tools and best practices, and work together as a region of the willing to use the best information and analysis to plan for the future and manage the destination experience so that more stories can be shared?

It’s these types of questions that led us to the theme of this year’s OH!Tourism SummitRave Reviews: How Cultivating a Destination Experience Mindset Can Amplify Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool. Through programming developed for our 8th annual tourism conference and AGM, taking place at Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre in #MyHaliburtonHighlands on Monday, October 29, we’ll be exploring how we can work collaboratively to create an awesome destination experience, leverage more word of mouth marketing, and inspire visitors to Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands.

With our sights set on becoming Ontario’s next most talked about destination, we invite you to join us for a day of exploration, innovation, networking, and collaboration. Please have a look at our conference website, www.ohtourismsummit.ca, for full program details and to register today.

I look forward to welcoming you to this #OHSUM event,

Stephanie Hessel

Destination Development Manager, OHTO

The Power of Partnerships: August 2018

You’ve probably heard there’s strength in numbers and we couldn’t agree more. This summer, we’ve partnered with Destination Ontario on a co-marketing project to align our messaging, tap into a larger audience, and increase the reach of stories from across Ontario’s Highlands.

This project is still being executed and is allowing us the chance to leverage our marketing dollars and work with our provincial partners to not only create content about Ontario’s Highlands, but also push this content out to inspire a greater audience. The partnership is driven by three key featured experiences and includes digital ad buys on social media, the creation and distribution of Instagram stories and Facebook videos, and an Influencer trip. Each of the key experiences has a supporting story on ComeWander.ca, where visitors are directed for more information, and each story incorporates website links to the operators featured within. A team from Destination Ontario and Ontario’s Highlands also hit the road to conduct two photo and video shoots in the region to gather visual content to produce the marketing assets for this partnership.

So far this summer, we have executed on two of the three featured experiences, with the third set to launch later this week. The first feature showcased whitewater rafting in the Ottawa Valley, with a story called Canadian Thrills and Whitewater Spills and we are thrilled by the traction this piece garnered. The story launched on July 3rd and by July 23rd, we saw more than 94,000 viewers entering the Instagram story (more than 6 times our goal) and over 9,800 users clicking through to the story on ComeWander.ca from Facebook (more than twice our goal). As another huge win, the Instagram story was picked up by Destination Canada, seeing the Ontario’s Highlands region showcased at the national level, reaching even more audiences and contributing to the success of this first execution.

The second execution, called the 5 Senses of Nature, focused on ways visitors can engage with nature in Ontario’s Highlands.  This second experience is just wrapping up and we’re excited by the preliminary results we’ve seen since its launch on July 31, which includes more than 7,000 page views of the story on ComeWander.ca.

With the third execution and the Influencer trip yet to come, we’re well on our way to exceeding our goals for this partnership. Our third story highlights how craft drink makers across Ontario’s Highlands are incorporating elements of nature and local ingredients into their delectable beverages, which we’re calling Ground to Glass.  Promotions for this story will launch later this week and run into September.

The success and traffic we’ve seen so far really shows the power of partnerships and we’re excited to see what the remaining executions will bring. Keep an eye on your social feeds for the video and supporting content around our third execution, and follow along on social next week as YouTuber JR Alli wanders Ontario’s Highlands to discover hidden gems, local stories, and in the end, hopefully even more about himself.

Happy wandering,

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager, OHTO

OHTO Team Wanders Ontario’s Highlands: July 2018

If you follow @OHTOInsider, our Industry Twitter account, you may have noticed that the OHTO team has spent time this spring and early summer wandering some of the backroads and quaint towns across our beautiful region.

As a team, we’re constantly working to increase our knowledge of the visitor experience in Ontario’s Highlands so we can better support destination development, and inspire visitors to Come Wander. Not only have we recently attended industry-led familiarization tours, but we also planned our own tour to coincide with our time on the road during our Spring Stakeholder Sessions.

With our Stakeholder Sessions hosted in the evenings, we spent our days visiting local businesses, engaging with stakeholders, and increasing our product knowledge. This was an incredible opportunity to chat with many of you, to discover hidden gems, and to uncover some of the unique stories across the region.

During these recent tours, we’ve got a taste for some of the businesses across Ontario’s Highlands during visits to Hummingbird Chocolate, Cartwright Springs Brewery, Ontario Water Buffalo Co., and Café Whim; we’ve uncovered unique treasures at Tin Barn Market, Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery, Pakenham General Store, The Cottage Cup, and Red Brick Emporium; we’ve embraced our artistic side with Black Bird Pottery, Haliburton School of Art and Design, and the Haliburton Sculpture Forest; and we’ve felt welcomed by the incredible hospitality at Sharbot Lake Country Inn, Stouffer Mill B&B, The Grand Hotel, Benaaron Guest House, and Marmora Inn.

We’ve enjoyed having the chance to participate in these recent familiarization tours and know that as a team, increasing our collective knowledge of the region can only make us even better at inspiring visitation. We also know there are many more incredible stories and experiences across the region we have yet to uncover, and this is where we really look to our industry partners and tourism operators to share your knowledge and feed your stories into Come Wander.

In addition to continuing to respond to our Monthly Guiding Questions, here are a few other ways you can ensure the OHTO team knows what’s happening at your business:

  1. If you’re planning or participating in an industry familiarization tour, add us to the invite list! We’d love to send one of our team members to participate
  2. Be sure to fill in our Seasonal Product Knowledge Forms to let us know what you have coming up for the Wanderers at your business each season. We plan our content a season ahead, which means we’re currently looking for fall experiences to highlight.
  3. We know there’s nothing quite the same as a conversation. If you’re not participating in a larger familiarization tour, but still want to connect with the OHTO team, we invite you to contact us to schedule a Product Knowledge Call with the team to share your new experiences, showcase your hard work, and explore ways we can work together to amplify your message.

As always, if you have any questions about ways to feed into Come Wander, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager, OHTO

New Additions ComeWander.ca: June 2018

It’s hard to believe, but it’s now been more than a year since ComeWander.ca officially launched to consumers. Since last spring, we’ve been happy to see consumers engaging with this platform, clicking through to operators, and sharing many stories about Ontario’s Highlands.

We’ve also been tracking how users interact with this website, and making note of areas for improvement to better support our visitors and provide a quality online experience. We have made some smaller changes throughout the year, like linking consumers looking for a comprehensive directory to our regional page on OntarioTravel.net, and with our one year anniversary, undertook some larger additions that will help us better engage audiences and provide accurate information during the inspiration phase of their customer journey.

With that, I’m excited to share three updates to ComeWander.ca, which you may have noticed if you’ve been on the site recently:

  1. Addition of a New Search Feature

We’ve added a new search bar at the top of our website so that visitors can quickly search for businesses or key experiences they’re interested in and pull up all the stories containing these. This feature will improve the ease of use of the website for visitors and the speed at which they can find the information they’re looking for.

  1. Integration of Google Maps

Moving forward, ComeWander.ca will be integrating Google Business Listings into a map feature in stories on the website.  Google Business Listings will be PINed to a map in the story, which can then link to that business’ website, creating a sense of place between the content and the location in the region.

Previously called Google Places, Google My Business is a one-stop listing which allows your business to appear on search, maps and Google+.  It also allows visitors to write reviews of your business, and for you to interact with those reviews, allowing you to take advantage of word of mouth to communicate the experience of your business.

With this new feature integrated into our website as well, we can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your Google listing up-to-date to ensure visitors are accessing the most current and relevant information during their inspiration phase.  Please click here to create or update your Google My Business listing.

Why Should You Be Listed on Google? 

– Google is the most-visited digital media property in Canada

– 59% of mobile searches worldwide are conducted on Google

– 66% of desktop searches occur on Google

– 4 out of 5 consumers use search engines to find local information

– 50% of local mobile searches resulted in a store visit within a day

34% of computer/tablet searches resulted in a store visit

  1. User Generated Galleries Incorporated on Each Page

Incorporating photos from Instagram throughout our website is not new, but what is new is that the galleries at the bottom of each page are now populated entirely by user generated content, rather than imagery from the @OnHighlands Instagram page. This means these galleries are made up of real visitor photos, which allows us to leverage and share the awesome content visitors are creating and adds more authentic voices to help promote Ontario’s Highlands. We will be continuously updating these galleries with the latest relevant content to keep things fresh and engaging.

We are excited by the possibilities these three new additions bring to provide a better experience for the visitor and to leverage word of mouth directly on our website.

I look forward to another year of inspiring visitors to #ComeWander Ontario’s Highlands,

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager, OHTO

Cultivating the Destination Experience: May 2018

With the Victoria Day long weekend marking the kick-off to the summer season, we are excited to see tourism operators across Ontario’s Highlands once again opening their doors and working together to generate buzz and encourage visitors to Come Wander.

We know that today’s consumers are increasingly skeptical of advertising, and prefer to turn to referrals from trusted sources such as online review sites, media coverage, and endorsements from popular influencers and other travellers to make travel decisions. As a region with a strong brand platform, and within this, a strong brand promise, it’s more important than ever that we live up to the promise we’ve made to visitors by delivering exceptional experiences and exceeding expectations at every opportunity. In so doing, we can harness the potential of positive word of mouth and create a loyal following of advocates and storytellers that want to share their experiences far and wide.

The power of online word of mouth in today’s market was a key focus of the series of Tourism Stakeholder Sessions we hosted across Ontario’s Highlands earlier this month and will help guide our approach and priorities as we move forward together as an industry.

Word of mouth from happy customers has always been a key to business success, but what’s different today is the landscape. While advertising and marketing messages serve as a starting point to raise awareness of the experiences we have to offer, they are but one voice of many. Countless conversations about us are happening every day, online, and word travels much farther and faster through online networks. It’s crucial that we take a proactive role to manage the stories out there about us and be a part of the conversation, because it’s happening regardless.

Forging authentic, long-lasting bonds with customers takes time and nurturing, but it all starts with delivering incredible experiences that people value and want to share. We have a strong regional identity and a highly-targeted audience, both anchored in Come Wander. We have a new strategic model that is aligned with shifts in consumer behaviour and taps into a wide audience that can share our stories more broadly.  With this framework firmly in place and resonating with visitors and our industry, we can begin to take action on enhancing the destination experience, so that we can create more remarkable stories and as a result offer more opportunities to engage with our audiences.

Our focus on putting the visitor first and on developing as a destination are not new. OHTO already offers a number of supportive programs for tourism operators and partners looking to strengthen their visitor experience, including:

  • IGNITE– A small, immersive training program developed to create greater emotional responses to the products we offer. Over the course of 3 days, participants have a chance to learn and try their hand at best practices in experience development, from the foundations of focusing on a key customer, to the experience design process, right through to how to price your experiences in a way that actually enables you to charge more, not less for your experiences.

Just last month, a group of tourism stakeholders from Frontenac County, Lennox & Addington County, and Tweed were the fourth group from Ontario’s Highlands to partake in IGNITE and exciting changes are already happening. Participants have shared key learnings around the possibilities of teamwork in strengthening a community; the benefits of creating positive memories, which in turn become positive reviews and recommendations; and the importance on focusing on what you can do best rather than stretching too thin or chasing a variety of potential markets.

  • OHvation– A free mystery shop program that provides a way to see your business through the eyes of a perspective visitor. The criteria for this assessment goes beyond common aspects of customer service to capture a snapshot of the full visitor experience, including a review of your online presence and booking process.
  • Tourism Development Partnership Program (TDPP)– An application-based program, TDPP is an opportunity to access financial and strategic support for projects that reflect the destination experience mindset, align with the Come Wander brand platform, support OHTO’s strategic objectives, and can demonstrate long term benefits to the region.

As we move forward together, we are further exploring ways to better assess and evaluate our offers as a destination, which include developing tools to measure the following:

  • Online Sentiment Analysis– This will capture visitors’ perception of Ontario’s Highlands by assessing all the touchpoints visitors have with our destination online. It will provide insights into the consumer impression of our community vibrancy, culture and history, outdoor adventure, and relaxation offers; and will also reveal the quality of the fulfillment experiences like booking processes, access to additional information, ease of access to the region, sufficiency of accommodation options, service received from frontline staff, etc.
  • Operator Effectiveness– With this, we’ll get a better sense of the readiness of our industry to meet the needs of our visitors and a clear picture of what needs to be done at an operator level to improve this.
  • Customer Journey Mapping– This will help us more deeply understand the needs of our customers at different stages along the path to purchase.

These tools will allow us to gain real time insight regarding how we stack up as a destination from the perspective of our visitors and will equip us with the ability to ultimately better play into an individual’s decision around choosing our destination over another. We are looking to leading destination marketing organizations, such as Destination Think!to support our next steps around this process and are excited bring you along this journey with us.

Finally, we know that strong destination experiences are created by strong and engaged communities. When we work together to rally behind the brand platform, strategy, and destination experience approach, we can enjoy greater collective success.

We are thrilled that more than 30 people have already expressed interest in joining what we’re currently calling our Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Innovation Hub. The aim of this regional Hub is to bring together individuals who are eager to expand their knowledge and expertise in destination experience development for the purpose of bringing that knowledge back to their communities and assisting with turning ideas into action. If you missed signing up at a Tourism Stakeholder Session, but are interested in collaborating and joining this Hub please contact me.

Wishing you a wanderfulsummer season ahead,

Stephanie Hessel

Tourism Development Coordinator, OHTO

Benefits of Replying to Monthly Guiding Questions: April 2018

At the beginning of each month we pose one question to tourism stakeholders across Ontario’s Highlands – one creative query we call our Monthly Guiding Question. If you subscribe to our mailing listand have been receiving these, but thinking:

  • What’s this for?
  • Why would I respond to this?
  • What happens with my response?

Then I am happy to say, I have the answers you’ve been looking for! Let’s start with the first:

What’s this for?

With our Come Wander content marketing approach, we are always on and always looking for new unique stories and content to populate our channels and marketing initiatives – like ComeWander.ca, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our Influencers and Media Relations programs. Questions are aligned with the themes in our Editorial Calendarand are designed to spark creativity, uncover insider insight, and challenge you to go beyond what you would typically submit for inclusion in a tourism directory.

Feeling good? Onto the second:

Why would I respond to this?

This is truly the best and simplest way to feed your business, event, experience, or package into Come Wander content. We know you’re busy and we developed this approach of asking just one question each month to support simple two-way communication, to keep you front of mind, to share your stories with our audiences, and to limit the number of places you have on your plate to share information. Your response is not only used on our content channels and seen by the OHTO team, but these are also shared with all of our DMO partners and fed into opportunities and partnerships with Destination Ontario.

If you do have a bit more time to spend, are feeling less creative, or are looking for a place you can do a bit more of an ‘information dump’ of all things happening at your business or in your community, we also have our Seasonal Product Knowledge Forms. These are available year-round and the information submitted is also fed into Come Wander stories.

And finally:

What happens with my response?

To put it simply: your responses drive our content. Each season, the team at OHTO takes the responses collected from previous months, drills down to find the content nugget, and creates our content lineup. As I previously alluded to, these responses feed into both our content channels as well as our marketing initiatives. We work with respondents to develop compelling stories to be featured on the ComeWander.ca website, we craft social posts to share with our audiences (that’s more than 29,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), we feature them in targeted emails, and we bring media and Influencers to the region to experience them.

Hopefully that answers all of your questions, but to really make this process clear, below is an example of how one industry response fed directly into our content channels.

You may remember that in September 2017, we posed the question, “How do you spend a perfect “snow day?”

We received many awesome responses detailing how to have fun in the snow – or how to keep warm inside –including one from Corinne from Hush Lodge & Cottages, who shared:

“Do you remember watching the night sky as a kid and witnessing a shooting star? Then you’ll know what it’s like to sit, all warm and cozy gazing out onto that fresh blanket of snow or how it feels to look up into the falling flakes as they catch on your eyelashes….it’s a little bit excitement and a little bit of awe. The “perfect snow day” starts with those feelings and memories and spurs me to create new ones.” Bring on Blizzard

We thought this response beautifully summed up the magic of snow days for kids and tapped into the feelings and memories so important to Memory Makers. From this response, we were inspired to develop the story, Bring on the Blizzard, which highlighted eight things to try during the next snowfall that will make any adult fall back in love with snow days. A visit to Hush Lodge & Cottages to ‘Catch Snowflakes’ was featured as suggestion number one.

Catch Snowflakes

The story on our website received over 3000 views in the first month alone, and we proceeded to share this story with both our Twitter and Facebook audiences (tagging Hush Lodge & Cottages), with a reach of more than 2,600 impressions.

In addition to our website, Corinne’s response was fed directly into our social media content, with unique posts about Hush Lodge & Cottages shared across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, garnering a reach of more than 5,500 across these three channels.

All of this exposure was a result of Corinne taking the time to respond to this one simple question in September. Her response of less than 80 words was leveraged through our channels to reach a larger audience and to feature Hush Lodge & Cottages within the Come Wander story.

This is just one example of how one response was fed into our content channels, but there are many more throughout the stories populating ComeWander.ca. If you still have questions about our Monthly Guiding Questions or content process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Julie Mulligan

Marketing Manager, OHTO

Wandering as a Destination: March 2018

It’s hard to believe, but this spring will mark one year since officially launching the Come Wander brand to consumers. Since our May 2017 launch, we’ve not only seen incredible visitor engagement across our digital channels, but have also been thrilled with the level of brand support from tourism stakeholders.

We’ve established a brand message that is resonating with consumers and inspiring visitation, and it’s now more important than ever that we back this up by ensuring we offer incredible experiences to visitors in destination. Doing so will turn visitors into ambassadors for the region, help further leverage brand messaging, and inspire even more people to Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands.

In today’s competitive tourism market, it’s no longer sufficient to simply offer things to see and do – travellers are seeking more – authentic connections, memorable experiences, and opportunities for growth. They’re motivated to visit for a full destination experience. This is not just what one business can offer, but what we offer collectively; consistent messaging, a strong brand, quality tourism products, and incredible customer service. Strong destination experiences are created by strong and engaged communities.

Our tourism offerings and marketing efforts are intertwined and the success of each is impacted by the strength of the other. By putting the visitor first in our destination development, offering valuable experiences and products, improving our ability to satisfy visitor needs, and working together, we can ultimately support the Come Wander brand, and inspire new and return visitation.

Over the past year, this blog has featured ways to respond to visitor needs through our Come Wander marketing opportunities, so this month, we wanted to take time to highlight how we also support efforts around developing and continuously improving the Ontario’s Highlands’ destination experience. Here’s an overview of some of the programs we offer and more information can be found by clicking on the program titles:

  • OHvation – This mystery-shop program is a way to both see your business through the eyes of a perspective visitor, and to make a commitment to providing excellent customer service.
  • Tourism Development Partnership Program (TDPP) – This application based program is designed to encourage and support collaborative tourism development initiatives that reflect the Come Wander regional brand platform, that align with strategic objectives, and that can demonstrate long term benefits to the region. The 2018-2019 Program Guidelines are now available.
  • IGNITE – This immersive 3-day program was developed to directly answer the need to create and enhance visitor experiences, and offers participants the chance to hone in on their products and services to take their businesses to the next level. This April, a group of tourism stakeholders from Frontenac County, Lennox & Addington County, and Tweed will travel to an award-winning off-the-grid eco-lodge for this one-of-a-kind product development opportunity.

In addition to these programs, we also host events for tourism stakeholders that serve as opportunities to get together, unite around a cohesive regional plan and brand messaging, network, and explore potential partnership opportunities. Our main two events throughout the year are:

  • Spring Tourism Stakeholder Sessions – Each Spring, the OHTO team hits the road to host Tourism Stakeholder Sessions at various locations across Ontario’s Highlands. This year, our sessions will take place April 30 – May 3 and will focus on the importance of adopting a destination experience mindset, providing tools to implement this, and exploring next steps for how we can support visitors as they Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands. Please click here for a full list of dates and venues, and RSVP to join us at a session near you as we explore, “The Power of Place: How Nurturing Your Destination Experience Can Create Buzz and Drive Visitation
  • OH!Tourism Summit – Each year we look forward to bringing stakeholders together from across Ontario’s Highlands for our Annual Tourism Conference and AGM to learn tourism best practices, strengthen networks and partnerships, and offer cutting edge, industry equipping programming. Mark your calendars for this year’s event, taking place Monday, October 29 in Haliburton County!

The tourism sector will continue to be dynamic and the OHTO is proud of the innovative achievements being made throughout the region that demonstrate a visitor-first approach.

One recent example of an operator who put the visitor first is Temple’s Sugar Bush, a participant in last year’s Ignite Lanark County. New for this maple season, on weekends from March 1-April 29, Temple’s is offering a full buffet option. This change came about after receiving visitor feedback about the length of wait times and portion sizes. Listening to their visitors, Temple’s decided to change things up on these busy weekends to improve the value and quality of experience they are offering to visitors.

Sharing ideas and successes is a great way to motivate. If you have similar examples of how you put the visitor first, the OHTO team wants to hear them! Comment below, or send them to us at info@ohto.ca.

We look forward to continuing to work together to improve our destination experience, better meet the needs of our visitor, and inspire people to Come Wander Ontario’s Highlands.

Stephanie Hessel
Tourism Development Coordinator, OHTO