The GPS (Global People Straightener)

 

By: Chris Hughes

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 “Make a legal u-turn”, “Recalculating”, “Address cannot be found”, Ahhh the GPS.  The device we all love to hate.  The GPS or global positioning system has already become the go to source for navigational assistance.  It’s coming standard in our cars, adaptable for our snowmobiles and motorcycles, and is even in our pockets at all times as a built in feature on most smart phones.  It’s used almost religiously for things like finding an arena in a small town, to buy something off Kijiji, to find an address at night down a dark country road, or just to find that little café everyone’s raving about in the city.  It’s become a necessity, just like the phone book or paper map used to be.  But is it really good for tourism?  Lets navigate our way through some of the pros and cons.

Pro:  Reduces the number of in car domestic disputes while navigating.

Con:  Increases the number of in car domestic disputes when things go wrong with the GPS.

Pro:  Creates the most efficient direct route to the motel you just booked.

Con:  It means you don’t stop to see anything along the way, as you are too afraid to deviate off the GPS course even if the kids have to pee.

Pro:  You can get to places without any previous knowledge or research about location, as you just punch the address into the GPS and it does the thinking for you.

Con:  You know absolutely nothing about the destination or places along the way as you have done no research.

Pro: You save trees as you never touch another paper map again.

Con:  What do you use when your GPS malfunctions?

Pro:  Smart phones with integrated GPS and Google maps mean you only need one device to get you there.

Con:  What if you don’t have service and you forgot your charger?

Pro:  With Bluetooth technology, motorsports enthusiasts can have turn-by-turn directions audible right inside their helmet.

Con:  Directions get in the way of the sound of your motorcycle and having someone tell you what to do is just not cool.

Pro:  You can select a voice that best suits your personality.

Con:  When you start to talk back to the voice in the same accent, you might have a problem.

As you can probably tell, I still think there is an important place for other navigational aids such as the paper map in today’s travel world.  As a route developer, we always want to encourage people to slow down, explore their surroundings or places en route to their destination.  When everyone is on ‘autopilot’, just listening for that next turn direction from their cars speaker system, we really question how much they are getting from their surroundings.   How many times have you put all your faith into your GPS, gotten to your destination and realized you have no idea where you actually are.  Scary feeling right?

Highway Signage – Still Necessary?

Some people now argue that highway signage is becoming less important as the GPS becomes more prevalent with drivers.  I say the exact opposite.  They create a sense of comfort with travellers knowing they are on the right path, and if and when the GPS malfunctions they are an important safety back up.  More importantly are the attraction signs found along the route.  As mentioned above people are doing less and less research about how to get to their destination, therefore are missing the opportunity to learn about any hidden gems or attractions along their satellite-aided path.  Highway signage, can instantly tell people that a scenic lookout, famous butter tart bakery or historic downtown district is coming up on your left.  But signs only work if drivers are paying attention to the road and not their in-dash GPS screen.

As we all know, travel is all about the journey, exploring destinations, seeking out new experiences, all that are away from home, outside of your familiar comfort zone.  The GPS is certainly making the navigational portion of travel easier and more comfortable.  Is the printed map and old-fashioned road signage dead?  We think not. 

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Northern Ontario Adventure: 2 tourism consultants, 1 week, lots of KM’s

By Stacey Hunter, BC Hughes Consulting

As tourism Project Development and Research Coordinator I sometimes get the opportunity to step away from my computer and act like a tourist. Recently while working on Ride the North motorcycle product development, my colleague and I had the fortunate opportunity of travelling through Northeastern Ontario to perform site visits on many attractions, accommodations and restaurants to determine whether they were motorcycle friendly. Our mission was to drive as far north as Kapuskasing, 11.5 hours north of our office in Owen Sound, Ontario.  To put this into perspective, and illustrate just how large Ontario really is – we could have driven to New York City in less time.

In this industry it’s very important that we experience first hand what we are promoting to others and if that means living out of a rental car for a week and surviving off greasy food then we’re always up for the challenge.

Our journey started in Little Current on Manitoulin Island, where we met with the rest of our team over a delicious white fish dinner at the Anchor Inn. This quaint town is the gateway to the North Channel and is visited by thousands of boaters every summer (so naturally we spent our night eating ice cream and swooning over boats that cost more then our homes). After seeing the famous swing bridge do its thing we bid farewell to our fellow travellers and wished them safe travels for their site visits along a slightly different route.

Bright and early the next morning we made our way to Timmins with a few site visits along the way. We were impressed at how many businesses were eager to make their location motorcycle friendly. What we weren’t delighted about was to learn that our car was sans breaks in the back left wheel.  Luckily, our rental agency was very accommodating, switching our car quickly and getting us back on the road.

We settled in for the night at Cedar Meadows Resort just outside of Timmins. This resort knows how to provide its guests with a great experience. The food was beyond delicious and every night they offer a wildlife tour that gives you the opportunity to feed moose (the only one we saw the entire trip) and elk.  Experiences like these make trips memorable.

After saying so long to Timmins we drove two more hours through trees and rocks to the most Northern point of our trip, Kapuskasing, and then on to Cochrane, home of Tim Horton and Ganuk the polar bear. Being on the list of site visits, we headed to JR’s BBQ Ranch for lunch. We were told that JR’s had “the best ribs you’ll ever have”. They were amazing (in our eyes good enough to satisfy a hungry motorcyclist), and to top it all off the service was excellent.

We eventually found ourselves at the Elk Lake Cabins.  This quaint resort was one of my favorite stops on the trip. It was set on the water and featured several cabins and plenty of RV and tent sites. An onsite pizza oven means motorcycle guests can easily park their bikes and order in for the night.  They claim to have the best pizza in the North and although it was the only pizza we ate during the trip, in my opinion, it would hold its own in any pizza competition. We enjoyed ours while watching the sunset over Elk Lake.

After our mini cabin vacation, we packed up the rental and made the breathtaking drive around Lake Temiskaming and Quebec. We headed to Duhamel-Ouest to check out one of our designated stops for lunch. La Bannik was upscale, served delicious fresh food at a reasonable rate and had one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.  Since motorcycle riders are not just young to middle aged males anymore, La Bannik passed our test for the couple and boomer market.

Unfortunately our week long site assessment trip was coming to an end. After finishing up our operator visits in Mattawa and North Bay we made the long drive home and said goodbye to the North.

As a tourism consultant, this trip not only affirmed motorcycle friendly businesses- it also gave me a greater sense of what tourism in Northern Ontario really is about.  Northern Ontario is about wide open roads that span miles and miles, friendly welcoming people who are willing to chat and shy but massive creatures like moose and bear that hide within the trees and rocks that surround them.

KM’s driven, approximately 1,887.

Trip Highlights:

  • AY Jackson lookout (minus the bear encounter)
  • brushing back to back with Andre from the TV show Departures riding his motorcycle in northeastern Ontario
  • Coconut Crème pie at Rolly’s in Ramore
  • Highway 633 to Mattawa (windy and thrilling)

Stacey Hunter is a tourism researcher with BC Hughes Tourism Consulting. She has travelled to 16 countries around the world, with the goal to become enriched through experiencing local cultures.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Tourism Websites

By: Kristin Freiburger, BC Hughes Tourism Consulting

Recently I finished planning my honeymoon. I thought looking for a great resort in Ontario would be an easy task, turns out it was harder than expected. My soon to be hubby and I were looking for a resort that offered a range of outdoor activities and cozy accommodations. To my dismay my search turned up very few attractive websites and information was hard to find. This unfortunately had me clicking the back button more times than not.

When booking a vacation, the majority of travellers in this day and age (85% in 2011)[i] use the trusty internet to do their research. This is something operators need to take into consideration. Most of the time a website is the first impression a potential visitor gets. If a website is too busy and photos are subpar, people question what the service will be like.

As a tourism researcher and avid traveller, I visit many tourism websites each day. I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad ones and have decided to share my tips of how you can make your website the best it can be to impress your online customers so they will book with you.

Be Transparent

It is important that businesses feature professional photos of the actual accommodations and activities they offer. Purchasing stock imagery is not good enough. I’ve talked with many travellers and all agree that resorts only showing photos of the town it is located in rather than photos of the resort are hiding something. It’s all about transparency. People want to know what to expect when they arrive, no surprises; unless it’s a bottle of wine waiting for them in their room.

Photo Quality vs. Quantity

Tourists want to get excited about their trip and want to see those epic shots. To give them these visuals, it is essential to hire a professional photographer. Many operators say think professional photos cost too much money. However, they don’t take into consideration that these professional photos could be paying for themselves after a few bookings and will in turn, attract more visitors. Remember your website is a customer’s first impression of your business.

Keep it Simple

Less is more. Keep your pages clutter-free and make information easy find.

Don’t make it a Contact Scavenger Hunt

If you want business, make it easy for your potential customers to contact you. More times than not it feels like a scavenger hunt to find the contact information on an operator website. It is important that every page of the website has both the phone number and general email address visible.

“X” marks the spot

People get very excited once everything is booked. Nothing takes this excitement away more than driving around in circles trying to find the destination. Ensure that your visitors will not get lost or have to spend extra time Googling where you are located. Have a page with a map marking your location and detailed directions coming from different locations. It is also important to include an address that will work when programed into the GPS.  Once on their way, remember that visitors will benefit from wayfinding signage directing them to your location.

Avoid the Guesswork

Many accommodations do not include rates on their webpage. Why not? This saves you and possible customers wasted time. If potential visitors have to phone for prices, they will sometime skip and look for another destination.

Summary

My goal for this post is to make your website the best it can be so individuals choose to come visit you. Just having a website is not good enough anymore. People have certain standards and expectations of what a website should offer. If you keep telling yourself you don’t have enough time to do the updates, hire a professional to take care of it for you. Your updated and professional website will pay for itself in the long run.

Kristin Freiburger is the Product Development and Communications Specialist for BC Hughes Tourism Consulting. Having travelled through Europe, Canada and other parts of North America, Kristin understands what tourists are looking for and the importance of creating unique experiences.


[i] Google/IPSOS OTX Media CT US (2011). The Traveler’s Road to Decision 2011. http://www.blizzardinternet.com/5459/thinkinsights-travel-research/

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Can Ecotourism be Mainstream?

By Stacey Hunter, BC Hughes Tourism Consulting

When searching for vacation ideas, type in the word ‘Eco’ and see what Google yields. I, like most travellers had never really looked deep into what exactly “ecotourism” meant and always had my own perceptions. When staying at hotels I always reuse my towels and “recycle” the shampoo and soap containers by bringing them home with me. I had always just assumed that this is what ecotourism was and that I could call myself an eco-tourist.  When I read about resorts being eco-resorts, I always just assumed it meant you slept in the mud, used candlelight and ate organic. Little did I know mainstream ecotourism meant something much more.

After doing some research I found out that ecotourism is a type of travel that:

  • takes place in natural areas where people don’t usually visit,
  • has minimal impact to the area, and
  • builds awareness of the species and locals to that area.

In return your travel to an eco-destination financially assists in the protection of that destination.  By being an eco-tourist you must be ecologically and environmentally aware of the places you visit.

It all sounds prudish, and likely has you thinking “but I’d much rather my 4 star accommodation in Vegas”. Travelling ecotourism style doesn’t mean giving up luxury and pina colada’s by the pool.  There is a relatively new ecotourism philosophy taking hold in the mainstream tourism industry.  Take Misool Eco Resort in Indonesia for example.  Missool is a luxury dive resort that offers enriching experiences that benefit and sustain the landscape and community surrounding them.  Some examples of what Miscol Eco Resort does in order to be an Eco Resort:

  •  Hiring locals as staff
  • Assisting the community with sponsorships or donations
  • Using recycled material to construct the building(s)
  • Educating visitors about the land and species around the destination
  • Minimizing the consumption of fossil fuels the destination uses (for example using wind turbines and solar power)
  • Minimizing waste by composting, recycling, avoiding pesticides and asking guests to pack environmentally responsibly (for example avoiding packing plastic bags, bottles etc.)

Researching eco-tourism made me wonder why we still travel any other way?

Why not take an exciting vacation all while becoming enlightened about your destination and positively impacting the area you are visiting. If I can go on a trip that is not only enjoyable but is socially and environmentally responsible then why wouldn’t I?

You don’t have to take an eco-safari in Africa to become an eco-tourist. Many would be surprised to know even here in Ontario we have eco-resort opportunities.  Elk Lake Eco centre in Elk Lake enlightens guests within the magnificent Boreal Forest, while placing tremendous effort on serving local foods. Cedar Meadow Resort & Spa in Timmins offers a luxurious experience and wildlife tours right from the doorstep of their resort.   Northern Edge Algonquin offers retreats and adventures at their “oasis from this hyperconnected world”, a sustainable and environmentally sound resort.

If resort owners make the effort to make a difference, we at least owe it to them to given them the consideration when planning our next vacation.

Stacey Hunter is a tourism researcher with BC Hughes Tourism Consulting and has traveled to 16 countries around the world, with the goal to become enriched through experiencing local cultures.

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Getting the Real Story – Travel Media Tips

Chinese Media Tour – Kingston, Ontario – Town Crier


Over the years I have organized and guided a ton of media Familiarization (Fam) Tours.  From this I have learned some valuable lessons and tips that can increase your chances of getting rock solid coverage for your destination.

1. Target

Target the specific travel media you want to tell the story, i.e. Outdoor Adventure Writer, Food Blogger, Motorcycle Magazine, Auto Newspaper, etc.  This allows you to focus on the one individual and provide them with the best possible experience to ensure they get the story.  Large group Fams are often difficult to coordinate and execute and results can vary.

2. Craft a Unique Pitch

Develop a pitch specific to the person’s interest.  Do your homework on the individual.  Find out what makes them tick.  Review their past assignments to determine what angles they thrive on and structure the pitch to peak their interest.  Provide an angle that might not have been covered before so they can be the first, if possible. Give your writer teasers in the pitch, i.e. the best places for photo opps related to the story, special access that will be granted to them, behind the scenes access, and opportunity to meet the real people behind the story.

3. Don’t Make Complicated Itineraries

Make it easy for them.  Once they accept to cover the story, create a very simple itinerary. Look after all the arrangements and costs so your writer only has to focus on the story.  Some media want a guide; some don’t, so give them the option. Don’t over program them.  It’s not about quantity of sites and locations you visit, it’s about quality.  They need to have an experience.  Experience creates emotion and emotion creates a great story.

4. Be Flexible

Build in free time so the media can wander the streets on their own. Let them eat ice cream, tour the shops and simply be a tourist. Be flexible even with a structured itinerary.  Build in flexibility if the person wants to stay longer or shorter at a location…ensure all suppliers on the tour are aware that you may be late or early (this happens a lot).

5. Prepare Your Stops

Brief all of your stops ahead of time and inform them about the angle or content you need delivered. Give them a time limit.  People are very proud about what they do; it’s your job to keep them on track.

6. Free Isn’t Always Better

Do not fall into the trap of booking accommodators just because they are offering a complimentary room.  Make sure you book your writer into the best place that suits the story and their needs.  Paying for accommodation and meals (usually at a reduced rate) ensures they are the best possible. It takes the pressure off the media to cover that specific location simply because it was complimentary.  It will be covered if it fits the story and if the experience is top notch.

7. Lighten Up on Food

Ease up on the dining, unless your media rep is specifically in the food industry or is looking for an entire story on one particular dining establishment. Don’t spend hours and hours eating.  Some of the best meals are gourmet picnics that you quickly enjoy at really picturesque locations.  Stops at famous french fry stands, bake shops, specialty cheese shops etc. are often quick wins and keep you out shooting footage and gathering experiences.  Food is an important element to tourism, but you must remember these people travel for a living and have likely eaten at some of the world’s finest restaurants.

8.  Be Organized

Thank you for smart phones!  Have the itinerary, plus everyone’s contact information for the tour on your phone.  Make sure you have partners’ cell phone numbers. Office numbers don’t cut it at 11 pm.  Be sure to send the itinerary to all those who are participating so they know where you will be visiting when.  Have a ‘special place’ on you for room keys, rental car keys, vouchers, etc.  Nothing makes you look more foolish than when you can’t find the car keys.  Always fill the car with water, snacks, and adapters for charging.

9. Help Get That Epic Shot or Clip

Show your writer/photographer that you understand the value of the signature photo or video clip.  Getting up at 4:30 am to catch that perfect sunrise is what will set the story apart.  Engage a local professional photographer that can help with locations and guidance if needed.

10. Inject Your Personality into the Tour

Travel media want your real personality.  They want to understand your own attachment to the area and not just be given the company line.  These are savvy media tourists who have participated in hundreds of Fams. Scripting just doesn’t cut it anymore.

11. Don’t Be on the Clock

Media Fams require 24/7 attentiveness.  Staying up late to catch the local act on a patio, getting up at sunrise to capture the epic sunset photo, or having to find a camera store at the end of the day to buy more memory cards is all part of the job.

12. Make it Fun for Both of You.

If you are having fun your guest is having fun and that usually results in good content.  Some of the most memorable moments of my career have been with travel media.  I have created lifelong friends and industry associates from around the world as a result of good media tours.

Summary

If you follow these simple rules you will produce incredible results for your efforts.  Most media are very influential and have a loyal following that hinge off every word they say.  If you can create a memorable and personal experience for them it will pay dividends in new potential visitors who want to experience the same thing the writer did.  Plus, you gain some new lifelong friendships along the way.

Beijing Media Tour – Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site, Gravenhurst

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When you gotta go!

When you gotta go……

Blog Poem: By Chris Hughes

Visitors we are,

Travelling on bike, foot and car.

Map in hand,

Zig zagging across the land.

While in transit we like to drink,

Not planning ahead – we just don’t think.

We order large double doubles,

58 minutes later, we’re in trouble.

Drinking water from a stainless steel bottle,

Hurry up you’d better not doddle.

It’s easy peasy if you are a guy,

If kids must wait they begin to cry.

Women panic until one is found,

Only to find it filthy and can’t sit down.

It’s a natural fact of our travelling life,

Why on earth does it cause such strife?

We can put a man or two on the moon,

But try to find a clean washroom and you are doomed.

Clean washrooms make people stop,

They’ll buy lots of stuff – the cash they drop.

Business owners, travel and you will see,

What we all go through when we have to go pee.

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The Toronto Invasion – Ontario Tourism Regions Set Sights on Canada’s Biggest City

Here in Ontario, the provincial government recently divided the province into 13 new regions in order to create manageable, marketable tourism products.  Well into the second year of this new approach, several of the regions are actively selling to consumers.  Most of these cash infused regions have hired spiffy urban ad agencies to develop creative platforms, execute them; ironically into the exact same source markets.

Toronto is the land of coveted bounty when it comes to selling destinations.  Florida, the Caribbean, Canada’s east and west coasts and Quebec all fight to become top of Torontonian’s travel mindset.  These are savvy, sophisticated travelers with instant access to the world as they live on the doorstep of an international airport.  With competition this fierce you must stand out, not only with your message and how you deliver it but also with products that shine.

This past week in our office, on the Toronto radio station we were listening to (www.edge102.com ), we heard winter commercials from two of the new Ontario Regions, plus the Province’s own winter themed campaign.  These commercials were in the same rotation, with the same frequency and believe it or not had the exact same message: dogsledding, fireside snuggles, crisp air, bountiful snowfall, and getting out of the city.  Each had used a slightly different creative approach but the overall message was exactly the same.  I scratched my head and it got me thinking that there must be a better way.

Let’s look at this a little deeper.  Ontario is blessed with diverse geography, experiences and one of the richest source markets in the country.  Almost all of the 13 regions have identified Toronto, or more broadly the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) as the breadbasket of consumers.  This is not new.  Since the dawn of Young Street, outlying communities have been trying to get the attention of urbanites and entice them to spend their leisure time and money outside of the city.  These outlying regions traditionally have used all types of media to get their message noticed:  trade shows, radio, television, newspapers, outdoor media, postal drops, transit station domination, online tactics and the list goes on.  So what’s different now?

The difference now is timing and cold hard advertising cash.  Picture five new car dealerships opening at exactly the same time, in the same city, selling almost identical product lines.  The poor residents of that community will be bombarded with the same traditional car advertising messaging X 5.  This is the scenario that is playing out in Toronto right now, only with the regional tourism experiences.  All 13 regions are targeting geographically and their marketing sights are set on the Big Buck of tourism…..Toronto.  They have done their research, topped up their marketing tactic budgets and gone in, all at the same time and unfortunately with the same winter messages.

What can you do to not fall into this trap?

  1. Leverage messaging and tactics with like-minded partners if the message is exactly the same.  Why duplicate it and compete with it?  If it’s the traditional winter product you are selling, leverage Ontario Tourism’s campaign and tag your destination onto it.
  2. Be different – Stop selling generic.  Sell really specific experiences. For example –   Stratford sells world class theatre and Blue Mountain sells the best snowmaking in Ontario.  Cool crisp air and blissful snowfalls just don’t cut it anymore. How are you different? What is your really really unique selling proposition?
  3. Support those specific partners that already have a strong in-market presence and relationship with the consumer.  Make their programs bigger and better after all, your goal is to make them money right?
  4. Look at what your neighbours are doing and create and execute your message differently.  Since everyone is going into the same source market with similar products you Must Be different.
  5. Get creative.  Big city agencies hire some of the best in business.  Push them to do better, say “no” and “try again” and hold them to it.  These accounts may not be their biggest but you still deserve the best.   After all, the creative boundaries in selling tourism are endless…its household cleaner.
  6. Pick the medium that work best for you not the agencies’.  Some ad firms are structured to make a percentage off the actual buy.  Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the mediums that are best for them and not necessarily the best for you.
  7. Put yourself into the home of the consumer.  What are they going to think about your message as compared to your competition?  Is it going to motivate them to walk over to their computer and start planning a trip?  Alberta’s Just Breathe campaign and Newfoundland’s creative are great examples of that.

To Sum Up….

As I see it the only real winners this far in Ontario Tourism Region marketing are the ad agencies, and media outlets. Tourism marketing in Ontario has never before experienced this kind of cash infusion.  Don’t feel obligated to spend the farm on airtime or ads, especially if you are unsure of what you are selling or how it’s different than your neighbouring RTO.  Dig deep and really make the customer sit up and pay attention.   20 year-old tourism marketing just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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