Category Archives: Tourism Management

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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