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

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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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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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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