Category Archives: Tourism Development

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

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

Cabin Living and Expanding the Tourism Shoulder Season


Some of our blog readers will know that I have been working for BC Hughes for five months now as a tourism and economic development researcher, and it truly has been a great experience.  I moved up here for the opportunity to gain practical experience from Bev and Chris and to finally put my years of education to work in a professional environment.

When I was first hired onto the BC Hughes team I did not realize I would be gaining experience in so much more than tourism and economic development.  It all started with a Kijiji search for a place to live in the Owen Sound area for the summer, and when I discovered an “off the grid” cabin for rent on five acres outside of town, I knew my summer was about to take a drastic turn.

So there I was, freezing cold with little electricity in May, wondering what the heck I had got myself into.  I would lay in bed, looking forward to going into work every morning simply for the fact that I could warm up in the office and enjoy a cup of coffee.

But life sure got easier… the days got longer… the solar panels produced more electricity… the showers got warmer, and I became much happier!  Each and every day was a learning experience, not only in the workplace but in day to day living as well.  I learned to live with less.  Less light.  Less heat. Less Water.  Less human interaction.  All this considered it was a truly humbling experience to learn what I could go without.

In my blogs for BC Hughes this summer, I have tried to link the world around us to the tourism industry.  I am always looking for parallels between my life and tourism, in hopes that this helps our readers think about tourism development and marketing in a different way.

Believe it or not, I think living off the grid is very similar to the tourism industry in Canada. For tourism operators, July and August are the best months of the year.  This is when visitor numbers and spending are at their highest as families go on holidays.

Living off the grid, July and August were the best months of the year because I had more electricity then I could possibly use, could shower outside (with deer running past) and enjoy the delicious vegetables from my garden for dinner every night.

July and August were so great (and much easier) that I quickly forgot about the hardships of May and June, however I am remembering them all too well now as Thanksgiving approaches.  As the days get shorter, my bed gets colder, and my lights turn off earlier, I often think about ways I could make May, June, September, and October more enjoyable living in the cabin.  I could do things like add more solar panels, or get a properly working hot shower… the list gets longer each and every day!

It almost goes without saying, but as tourism attractions and operators, it is important to continually think about ways to expand the busy (and much easier) summer season to make the shoulder season more enjoyable (and hopefully more profitable!).   Now that we are in this slower time of year, start thinking of creative ways to expand your season… and if you need some help… feel free to give us a call!

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Filed under Product Marketing, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Uncategorized

If you build it… Will they come?

One of my favourite movies of all time is the 1989 Kevin Costner classic, “Field of Dreams”.  If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, Ray Kinsella (Costner) is a struggling corn farmer in Iowa with a wife and daughter to support from their modest family farm.  That is, until he hears a voice one night telling him, “if you build it, he will come”.

Through this experience, Ray is steadfast on plowing over his corn field to convert their only source of income into… of all things, a baseball field!  Not exactly something that is going to put food on his table!  You can imagine what Ray’s friends and family thought of this idea…  They thought he was losing his mind… not only from hearing a voice in the field, but for also being crazy enough to follow through on the action as well.

So how does this relate to tourism development you may ask?  Recently I was thinking about some of our great clients here at BC Hughes, and the recommendations we give them to develop great tourism products.  In many instances, we are the “voice” in the clients head, telling them to do something… “Do this.” “Do “that.” “If you do, they WILL come.”

From the client’s perspective, this requires a significant amount of trust that what we are telling them will work.  This speaks to the importance of hiring a consulting company that your business or organization feels comfortable with at the end of the day.  At BC Hughes, we pride ourselves on providing our clients with recommendations that are both realistic and obtainable, and nothing makes us happier than seeing our recommendations become reality.

Sometimes success is not a sure thing, and this creates uneasiness for all involved.   Often times, this is the greatest challenge in creating a new, unique tourism product.  Unique tourism products are the most successful, and exist because someone was willing to try something different.  It is important “think outside the suitcase” and trust that “voice” and not be afraid of  trying something new… Just like Ray!

On a side note, for all Field of Dreams lovers, the farm where the movie was filmed in Dyersville, Iowa has become a very popular tourist attraction itself.  And if you are interested, the farm house, and the baseball field were recently put up for sale!  Check it out here!

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Filed under Product Marketing, Tourism Development

Lazy Squirrels and Low Hanging Fruit

Every now and then, I look out the window here at BC Hughes and see a chubby squirrel indulging in what appears to be an all you can eat bird seed buffet. OK, in all honesty, pretty much every time I look out the window, he is there… filling his face with as much bird seed as possible. In fact, now that I think about it, I have never seen an actual bird using this particular bird feeder.

Based on the size of the squirrel, it became quite apparent to me that it was the same one coming back to the bird feeder time and time again…to feast in the incredibly easy harvest of bird seed. With the bird feeder fully stocked, gone are the days of running around the neighbourhood, jumping from tree to tree, looking for nuts, plants and insects to eat throughout the day… just to fill his belly.

And this got me thinking… here in the world of tourism and economic development, that the squirrel’s eating habits are very similar to the tourism development practices of so many DMO’s today. There is a trendy saying for this, and it’s called: “picking the low hanging fruit.”

Every community has low hanging fruit. These are targets or goals that are obtained very easily and require little effort to achieve them. But do you go beyond picking the low hanging fruit, and work towards developing great tourism products in your community that require that extra bit of attention and effort?

We can never forget about the basic tourism products in any community. But within every community there are other great tourism products that simply need to be uncovered and given a bit more attention to reach there full potential.

What are these products in your community, and what can your organization do to help them fully develop?

So go ahead… snack from the bird feeder every once in a while (low hanging fruit are important too!)… But never forget the importance of going out and uncovering some great new products in your community that could have huge potential!

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Filed under Tourism Development

Thinking Outside the Big Box Store

Somewhere along the way, it became unfashionable to provide a unique shopping experience in most Canadian cities. In the past decade, the way we shop has been transformed by big box store complexes being built across the country. At first glance, one might think it is great to see these highly desirable chain stores locating in their city. But have you ever travelled to another city and noticed their box store complex looks eerily similar to yours?

This change in development style has drastically altered the way we shop. Before the big box store phenomenon, it was possible to walk, drive or bike to a downtown and visit several stores by strolling down tree lined sidewalks with interesting storefronts to glance in as you walk by. These were desirable places for people to spend their time and money.

As these cookie cutter box stores popped up, people stopped visiting downtowns as they were less automobile friendly than the concrete jungle that is a big box complex. The power centres are usually located far from the road, and rarely close to any residential neighbourhoods, forcing most visitors to drive there. They are located far from the road to allow for massive parking lots, and huge store fronts with very few windows. Overall this has created a very bland, boring shopping experience.

Have you ever visited a big box store, and wanted to visit another one that was close by? Did you walk or did you get back in your car to drive 30 seconds to the next parking lot? If you drove, I don’t blame you… it’s not your fault! These plazas are not designed with the pedestrian in mind, with very few sidewalks, and massive amounts of automobile traffic.

But it does not have to be this way! Local governments need to recognize that they are in control of the type of development that occurs in their community. These stores WANT to locate in your community in order to make money. Developers need to be told that if they want to build in your city, they’ll need to do it in a way that does not just meet their needs but the needs of the people that will be using the shopping centres for years to come.

Unfortunately, it appears local governments struggle to do this unless there is significant public opposition to cookie cutter development. A successful example of this was seen in Park Royal Village in Vancouver. When city planners and public officials heard a significant amount of public opposition to another cookie cutter development, they were able to hold the developer to a higher standard and the result was a great, unique shopping experience for the community to be proud of.

These shopping centres shape the way we live and interact with our city, and every effort needs to be made to create the best spaces possible. All you have to do is say something.

Special thanks to Dr. Brian Lorch for the photo of the Vancouver Home Depot and background information.

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Filed under Rant, Tourism Development

Becoming a Destination Rock Star

The top 15 questions to ask your self to see if you have what it takes.
Many communities, towns, counties, cities all face some serious questions when it comes to planning for the future. I get asked a lot for advice on whether an area has the right genetics to become the next big destination. Here are some simple questions to ask yourself, the residents, the business community, and the elected officials to help you determine if tourism is in your future.
1. What is the defining feature(s) that sets you apart from all of the communities that surround you?
2. Do you have the necessary infrastructure in place to meet visitor demands?
3. As a resident are you willing to share your roadways, grocery stores, parks and natural attractions with visitors?
4. What is the maximum time people will spend in the car to get to you?
5. Does the business community have the products and services in place that visitors want to buy?
6. Are you willing to make the long-term financial commitment to the development and management of the tourism sector?
7. Do you have capacity?
8. Do you have a sustainable resource/attraction that will not be adversely affected by increased tourism volume?
9. Do you have the planning, parks and roads/engineering support to make destination enhancements?
10. Do you have a wayfinding system in place to guide visitors?
11. Is your downtown core a place that people want to spend time in?
12. Do you have a long-term vision of what you want your community to look like?
13. Is their community pride? Are residents proud to live there?
14. Do you have community leaders/champions?
15. Is there political stability and shared vision?
Your answers to these questions will help determine what you need in place to become a serious destination contender. A successful tourism economy is driven by inputs, and you only get out what you put in, especially in today’s global market where the consumer is in the drivers seat.

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Filed under Tourism Development

Building Budgets – Getting Destinations Resourced

After spending the last 10 years embedded in the middle tier government system, it taught me some valuable lessons on how to build the case for tourism within a regional system. Here are some tips:
Trust – There is trust on two levels. The first is trust within the senior management and the elected council. Trust sounds like a dangerous word; it is if you don’t have it. Trust in government is earned by performance and public relations. Since there is a ton of PR value in good performance the more successful results you have on smaller projects the more accolades your leaders will receive from their constituents. This immediately trickles down to you as you tackle bigger initiatives. The second level of trust is with the business community whom who serve directly. Your job is to make them money and if they see direct value in what you do, you will have earned their trust. The business community speaks directly to the politicians….you see how this is working.
ROI – Measurement in the tourism destination management business is often tricky. Web visits, brochures handed out, event attendees are soft measurement tools that are important but don’t create a splash. What builds trust is when the business community is making money and they are communicating that to you and the elected officials. Establish good trusting relationships with your operators and they will tell you pretty quick if they are seeing return and will lobby on your behalf to make sure programs are resourced properly.
Community Benefits – Governments love to spend money on projects that increase the quality of life for their ratepayers. Positioning tourism projects that not only stimulate economic development but are also a legacy for residents. Trails are a big part of this approach. Destination trails attract visitors but for the remainder of the 8 months, they are real community assets that improve health, enhance alternative transportation needs, and make people want to live there. Be sure in all tourism projects to make this connection, it is one of the real benefits of a tourism-based economy.
All levels of government play substantial roles in the delivery of tourism experiences. They are often the land manager, infrastructure/service provider, transportation corridor manager, and so on. In order to be competitive and deliver experiences that exceed expectations they need to be well resourced. The tourism economy after all can be very lucrative for tax revenues. It is your job to build the case, earn the trust and deliver successful projects that create better destinations.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing

Trail Tourism

Every community has a trail system whether its in a park, and old abandoned rail line or a along a river valley.  Trails have become critical part of municipal infrastructure just like roads, bridges and street lights.  They play a role to keep people healthy, reduce dependance on cars and fossil fuels, build a sense of community, and simply get people outside in the natural environment.

Why is it that trails still seem to get the ‘whats left’ in municipal budgets and have no real plan or path for maintenance or new development?  Its because trails are seen to have little economic value or potential to stimulate the local economy.

Trails tourism is a sector that is relatively untapped and is there for the pickings for those communities that want to be aggressive, spend some infrastructure dollars and create unique, appealing trail based experiences that attract spenders.

The trick is to be different and offer something that is use specific.  Mountain biking is an activity that very few communities are building specific trails for.  Mountain biking is like downhill skiing or snowboarding and just look at the infrastructure that is built, and look at the dollars it generates.  A well designed and built mountain bike trail not only creates and experience for bikers, but actually becomes a very enjoyable hiking path, or snowshoe trail in the winter.  Mountain bike trails are one of the most cost effective, as good trails construction only require hand tools, labour and a skilled designer.  There are not enough good mountain bike trails…there is tremendous capacity for new experiences.  Make your community the next biggest destination for a tourism trails experience.

A must have trail construction manual is provided by the International Mountain Bike Association http://www.imba.com/resources

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Filed under Tourism Development