Category Archives: Rant

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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Filed under Best Practices, Rant, Tourism Management

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 ( ), 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.


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

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 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