Category Archives: Product Marketing

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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Filed under Destination Marketing, Product Marketing, Rant, Tourism Management

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

I “LIKE” Pepto Bismol

No one likely admits they actually do… but why then do 131,000 people Like them publically on Facebook?  I find it really fascinating why so many people proclaim their love for that pink chalky substance you have to swallow when you have an upset stomach.  It is the ultimate in brand loyalty.

Every TV or print ad you see today now includes the iconic Facebook and Twitter logos with the proverbial ‘follow us’ or ‘like us’ included in the copy.  The creative team at Pepto Bismol has been extremely effective at getting noticed and pushing the brand into mainstream social media and getting people the ‘Like’ them.

So how does this relate to tourism?

Since travel is all about memories and emotive experiences, visitors are dying to share them and social media provides the perfect vehicle.  This suddenly becomes a significant channel for tourism brands to engage and talk directly to an opted in audience just like Pepto Bismol.  Significant destinations such as Las Vegas, where ironically you are not allowed to share Vegas stories once you get home (‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), has a massive online fan base, 317,000 to be exact.  This is a very powerful audience to communicate to and let them talk to each other.

Even the smallest destinations now have a social media presence where they are playing the “Like” game to see how many they can get.  What’s important here is to not be as concerned with the overall number, but to look at the quality with respect to your destination or attraction.  Success is determined by the amount of quality interaction and engagement from you and your “Likers”.  In a best case scenario and capturing the true essence of social media, is that your space becomes self -moderating and the fans do all the talking and sharing.  This happens with very strong brands/products/destinations and discussion occurs naturally both positive and negative.  Again from a destination perspective it is your job to provide only quality content that spurs discussion, and sharing about people’s adventures, favourite restaurants and best trails etc.  The more honest and genuine you are with them the more they will pay attention to you.

Remember, if a company that sells a product to relieve nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea can do it,  you can too!

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Filed under Product Marketing