Monthly Archives: July 2011

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

The Google Side of Tourism

Each and every day the internet is changing the way we live our lives. A report was published this week called “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”. Basically it points out that people are more likely to forget something that they know is readily accessible on the internet.

When I first heard this I started thinking about silly things that I have “Googled” which I probably should have just remembered. The first one that came to mind was making a perfect hard boiled egg. At one point in my life, I knew the timing, and art of boiling a hard boiled egg. However somewhere along the way, I forgot this simple recipe, and I must confess I have Googled how to make hard boiled eggs on at least three different occasions.

The fact is Google (and other search engines) have made finding information so easy that we have begun to use it like an external hard drive for our brains. As DMO’s and tourism operators, it is important to recognize this shift in the way people are finding and storing information and use it to position our destinations in the best possible way.

Recently I went on a hike to Bruce Peninsula National Park. Having never been there before, it was only natural for me to gravitate to the internet for information to help me plan my adventure. I knew there would be a Parks Canada website, and several local tourism organization websites available with useful information… But even typing their website addresses into my URL field seemed like too much effort for me at the time. My brain can type “Google” without even thinking about it, and then by typing in the name of the park, I had over 300,000 websites to choose from in less than 0.16 seconds.

How does your destination perform in a Google search like this?

Like it or not, Google is making the internet smaller and smaller as the amount of information increases ever day. If your website does not rank in the first page of a Google search, it basically does not exist to the average consumer.

Case and point, if you asked me today how to make the perfect hard boiled egg, I could not tell you right away. However, if you gave me 0.29 seconds to search Google’s 3,640,000 results, I could give you this link: …. And I did not leave the first page of results to find it!

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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Marketing


There are some things in the tourism industry that are unexplainable…this is one of those things.
On the weekend while in the Niagara region, we decided to bike along the incredible waterfront trail that follows the Niagara River. Our goal was ice cream in Niagara- on-the-Lake 10km downstream on what was a perfect spring evening. As we cycled along my friend Anne told me about this ice cream store we were headed to called COWS, that originated in PEI and how it is the best ice cream ever. Being a sucker for any kind of unique food reward while cycling I was instantly intrigued. As we rode into town on what was the Sunday evening of the Victoria Day long weekend, the town was buzzing with restaurant patrons, horse and carriage rides and people simply meandering along in this beautiful historic town. We parked our bikes in front of the store and found it mysteriously dark. I went to the door to find it locked…I yanked on the door thinking it was stuck, with enough force to set off the alarm.

Nothing gets in my way of world famous ice cream.

The only thing on the door was a Health Notice about not bringing pets into the store, no hours of operation, no reason why it was closed. Dumfounded why an iconic ice cream store would be closed in what I would consider prime time ice cream eating time, we collected ourselves and parked our sorry butts on a bench in front of the store. As masses of evening tourists streamed passed I said to Anne “Watch this…lets just sit here and see how many people try the door”. Within 15 minutes, group after group yanked on the handle only to have the same reaction we did. We estimated that they missed atleast $250 dollars of revenue within 15 minutes selling their premium dairy treats and merchandise. Their loss and my loss as I was excited to try it. Not sure what their reason was for being closed, like most small tourism businesses it could have been staffing issues, product issues, or simply a bad judgment call.
The moral of the story is to always call ahead like Ron, Anne’s husband said before we left and we both replied: “Yah right, its an ice cream store in a tourist town on a long weekend” “Its COWS”.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management

The Little Bench That Could

Recently I learned of a very interesting story of one person’s determination to make his downtown more inviting…. a place that people would want to come and spend time in.

It’s an atypical downtown where a major highway dissects it and large volumes of transient traffic flow through each day. That in it self stacks the cards against this small town. It has likely been atleast 20 years since any major physical improvements have been made and the retail sector has suffered the usual Walmart big box store invasion. Some merchants have made façade improvements but its just not getting there.

Bring in, lets call him Walter, who purchased a very small linear store to operate his office in. He didn’t have to locate his business in the core but wanted to in order to be able to help contribute to real, positive, meaningful downtown change. His business would have survived nicely in a back ally, industrial park or side street but he decided to be in the downtown.
Immediately after taking ownership Walter significantly improved the interior and the exterior of the store. Change was beginning. He then worked with the municipality to change the signage bylaw to allow perpendicular business signage, a major downtown design fundamental.

After the flower planters, it was time to give passersby a place to sit. Like all other downtown design elements, places to sit are very important. People are social creatures and want to be with other people….and where there are people there is happiness and where there is happiness there is commerce. Walter’s little bench on this busy thoroughfare is symbolic that small things can make a difference. You watch, it started with one, lets see how many sprout up and see how many more people call this downtown a place to be.

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Filed under Rant, Tourism Management