Category Archives: Best Practices

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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Filed under Best Practices, destination development, motorcycle tourism, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized

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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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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Filed under Best Practices, Destination Marketing, tourism, Tourism Marketing

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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Why is Mexico so fun? (by our junior blogger age 7)

Once we flew to Mexico, then we drove to our hotel in Cozumel. The water park was awesome there! I liked when the people who cleaned made animals out of towels. Sometimes they used our stuffed animals too! I also liked when we went on a snorkeling trip.  The boat went up and down. (PS I felt sea-sick.) I liked that when you ate if you wanted to you could sit on swings while you ate. There were pesos instead of dollars. Every day there was a kid’s activity. The kid’s activities were fun. For example there was a kid’s activity called bowling.  That’s why Mexico is so much fun!

Written by: Our Junior Blogger age 7

Tourism Interpretation by our Senior Blogger:

  • “The water park was awesome…” – Capital investing in activities for families pay off the long run.
  • “I liked when the people who cleaned made animals out of towels.” – exceed you guests customer service expectations and you will be rewarded.
  • “The kid’s activities were fun.” – Giving guests lots to do enhances and often extends their stay.
  • “I also liked when we went on a snorkeling trip…” – Off resort activities entertain guests when they’ve exhausted all there is to do on-site, and ultimately extend stays.
  • “I liked that while you ate you could sit on swings…” – Think outside the box!
  • “That is why Mexico is so much fun!” – Fun for the whole family!

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Filed under Best Practices, destination development, tourism, Tourism Development, tourism product, Uncategorized

Toronto Tap – Creating a Dynamic Dining Experience

There are two types of restaurants.  Those that serve great food and those that serve great food and create a culture at the same time.  One of the world’s largest chains Starbucks has done this since day 1.  They created their own coffee culture.

On a recent media trip in Toronto, we were treated to a dinner at the relatively new Luma restaurant in the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre.  Once seated in Toronto’s newest dining hotspot, our hostess quickly came to the table and asked us if we would like some water.  She said we had choices, many varieties of imported bottled water or our famous “Toronto Tap”.  To me it instantly sounded like some local imported beer and when I inquired what it was, the server said “it’s Delicious”.  We all laughed and I instantly garnered respect for this restaurant, before the meal was even on the table.

Whether this was just the one-off humour of the server, or Luma’s culture starting to form, either way it set the stage for what was to be a great evening.  They created their own culture from the onset of the experience.  The rest of the staff was just as bang on that night as was the food.  If you are wondering what water we ordered – it was the now famous “Toronto Tap”.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management

How may I help you?

So you are thinking of buying that new luxury car you have always wanted. You stroll into the dealership looking to buy not only a car but into the high end brand family. You see lots of well-dressed staff in kahki pants and black golf shirts, as you wander toward the sales floor. Suddenly, what appears to be the dealership owner’s son, pops in front of you and says “Are you looking for a new ride dude”? “My name is Matt and I will be your sales representative. I just started 4 weeks ago, but man do I love these cars…they rock!”

You look up to reaffirm you are not in the local skate shop. Matt has already been distracted by an incoming text on his smart phone, you walk out for air.

This may be extreme, and by no means is it a slam to all of the students who work in the auto or tourism industries, but my point is why do we leave one of the most important jobs in tourism to absolute rookies?

DMO’s spend a ton of money and time to attract visitors to their region using all sorts of online tactics. Once here, some of them, will pop into the local information centre to get loaded up on recommendations, maps, and guides of all the things to see and do. This is a significant sales interaction where the client is standing right in front of you. The opportunity for a stay to be extended, a tour booked, a hotel upgrade found etc. It may not be worth as much as one luxury car, but given the volumes in the tourism industry, it adds up to a heck of a lot more over the course of a season.

So why is it this sales role is generally seen as a minimum wage summer job? Its because the local chamber of commerce, cvb, or tourist association runs on a shoe string budget and can only afford students. If there was some incentive to ‘make sales’ like in the car dealership, the tables may turn.

One of the solutions is to start running information centres like a hotel concierge service and allow the staff to get paid for making people happy. Referral fees or contra, or kickbacks as they are called in the industry are not a bad thing. Bell or concierge staff usually receive a 5-10% commission on anything they sell. One industry insider says that this is why you see a lot of people making a career out of it. Simply put, they make a ton of money.

This approach accomplishes several goals:

1. Attracts a more career oriented staff

2. Raises the earnings of staff substantially

3. Creates an incentive to raise the customer service experience

4. Allows the operators to become competitive and get involved in their local info centre or hotel.

We need to stop treating front line tourism workers as second class. These are the industry’s best sales people who have the ability to interact and engage with the customer standing right in front of them. Not through Twitter, Facebook or the postal service but right in front of them. So look at your organization and see if you can make some changes and run it more like a high-end car dealership or hotel.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management