Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Tourism Layer Cake – Who is the real Boss?

The management of tourism in this country is handled by a wide variety organizations, most have mandates as diverse as the products they sell and represent. If you are a tourism operator, navigating these organizations to figure out where to you should spend your money and your time could be as confusing as navigating an Ikea store on a Saturday.

Why is this? I have maintained throughout my career that the tourism industry is one of the most analyzed, studied, and layered industries there is. The ‘tourism funnel’ is full of organizations all with the best intentions in mind, but sometimes they miss the mark due structural complexity which ultimately creates confusion.

Take Ontario, Canada as an example. Tourism layers really stack up, and in some places even overlap:

  • Operator
  • Industry Specific Associations (ie. Private Campground Associations, Hotel and Motel Associations etc.)
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Convention & Visitor Bureaus /Business Improvement Associations
  • Local Tourist Associations
  • Municipalities
  • Counties
  • Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs 1through13)
  • Provincial Industry Association (TIAO)
  • Province (Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)
  • Province (Ministry of Tourism)
  • National Industry Association (TIAC)
  • National (Canadian Tourism Commission)

Looking at this structure, no wonder it seems daunting to your local business or attraction to determine where and how to become involved. Recently in Ontario, similar to British Columbia, the province has formed regional tourism organizations in order to try to make the system more efficient. The goal is to create resource rich, larger geographic organizations designed to have the clout to make a large impact in the marketplace. Will this replace some of the layers? In our opinion, likely not but in a reality of global competition, it will certainly ratchet up the marketing machine.

So why are there so many layers in tourism? Tourism is an industry that is very visible and can shape the ebb and flow of a community. A lot of the attractions and assets in tourism are publically owned or managed (i.e. parks, rivers, mountains, windy roads etc.) and this brings a lot of different groups to the table right off the bat. Then add in the businesses that make their living off of these assets, their associations, supporting attractions and very quickly the layers begin to form.

Local governments like to get into the action for purely economic development reasons. A healthy tourism industry means higher assessments and more money into the local system. Chambers of Commerce get involved almost by default. When a high portion of their members are tourism based, it very quickly shapes how the chamber rolls out its marketing and promotional plans. Local tourism associations sprout up when there is a weaker municipal tourism effort and the industry has to take on the task. As the geography broadens, sometimes representatives of more local organizations join together to form collectives that enable them to raise capital and reach further markets. Provincial governments are in the game for reasons similar to local governments – simply because tourism is big business and has the potential to generate significant tax revenues. Ironically the operators are in the game to deliver a high quality experience and to make money. Should the industry be at the top of the structure of the bottom? That is debatable but one thing everyone needs to remember is that all of the layers represent the industry, the very delivery agents of the products and services.

There is a shift in Ontario to remix the layers to see if it creates a more focused financially viable approach to tourism marketing. Will it solve all of the issues? Likely not, but one thing that is clear is that we need to continually talk about and work on ways to refine the system in the best interests of the visitor, local communities, government, and the real tourism ‘Cake Boss’, the operator.

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Filed under destination development, ontario tourism, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management

Service Town or Tourist Destination?

Downtown Grand Marais - Beaver HouseThroughout our travels and in working with our clients and their destinations, it comes up time and time again:  Is your town a supply town or a tourist destination or both?

Generally what we see in larger centres is that the larger they become, the more service oriented they are and the less kitschy, touristy and personality driven they are.   The problem with size is that the local consumer demand begins to outdrive the visitor’s needs.  Large communities suddenly become filled with generic chain stores or box store strips that are not appealing to tourists (even though they may be appealing to shoppers) and do not drive visitors to your community because you look the same as everywhere else. 

On a smaller scale, look at a typical town of say 5,000 to 10,000 people.  Does the community have a demand generator?  Something significant to influence a potential visitor to leave their home, travel to the community and spend some time? Examine the main street.  What is the retail mix?  Walk the main street and classify each operator as local or tourist.  My guess is that the majority of stores are service oriented, catering to the local population base.  This of course is not wrong, but we see too many communities promoting their downtowns, attractions and community as tourist destinations when in fact there is very little for the visitor to see, do and buy there.

Want to make a change in your downtown?  Focus small.  Work with a small cluster of shops within one block: a coffee shop, a pub, gallery, and a candy store.  Support these businesses and encourage other like-minded retail to locate within this small district.  It will quickly become a hub of activity, especially after normal business hours.  Suddenly you will have a retail destination that is worthy of promoting. 

Have a small downtown you want to convert into a traffic driver? Encourage the development of several of the same type of retail experiences in close proximity.  Shoppers will drive to your town to find selection.

Overall, it’s okay to be a service town!  If your town is en-route to a tourist town, concentrate on getting cars to stop to stock up on supplies.  Food is a very good motivator to get drivers to stop the car.  Magnificent butter tarts, the oldest aged cheddar, or the best burgers quickly get flow through traffic to throw on the brakes.  Ensure gas station and grocery store facades are appealing and customer service is top notch.  Concentrating your efforts on supporting these suppliers, will turn you into a top notch supply destination, and allow you to reap the rewards of flow through traffic and not simply watch them pass you by.

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Filed under destination development, Destination Marketing, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing