FROM MARKETING TO MANAGEMENT
t’s funny how a single word can trigger a whole chain of thought. I recently re-read the 2007 Tourism Insights report prepared by Grant Thornton for the federal government. As I looked at the summary of organizations they had talked to, I noticed that they spoke with both Destination Marketing Organizations and Destination Management Organizations. That single word got me thinking about tourism in northern Ontario and what we can do to attract more guests.
Even before I got to thinking about management vs. marketing, I wondered what makes someplace a “destination” in a consumer’s mind. Is it the same for everybody, and does it change over time? What makes any of us want to go somewhere for a vacation?
For a long time, the answer for us here in the north has seemed pretty obvious. People have traditionally come here mostly to go fishing or hunting, and they have come because we offered fishing and hunting that were a whole lot better than what they had closer to home. We have also had a pretty good idea how to reach these people. We exhibited at outdoor sport shows and advertised in hunting and fishing publications. In short, we catered to an “enthusiast” crowd who judged us almost exclusively on the quality of our core activities of fishing and hunting.
An interesting thing about this “avid” or “enthusiast” crowd is that they generally don’t care about much outside of their core activity, as far as planning a vacation goes. Our industry continues to cater to a large enthusiast clientele, and we all know them when we see them. The first and often only question they ask is about the fishing. Other things to see and do in your area are the farthest thing from their minds. For them “destination” means fishing.
The single-purpose enthusiast is not peculiar to our segment of the tourism industry. Many of us know a group of guys who have piled into a car to drive south for a winter golf break. They do nothing but golf when they get there, and brag about how many holes they played in a day. If we move ever so slightly away from the extreme avid end of the spectrum, however, we need to have a few extras to get guests to come to our destination. Nicer accommodations and more restaurants open us up to a bigger potential clientele. If we add some more activities besides golf, the pool of guests becomes larger still.
Of course because this larger client pool is made up of less avid individuals, overall they will tend to do less of the core activity. As a golf course operator, it is convenient if every party wants to play 36 holes each day and they golf for 5 days straight. If they start golfing less, I need to have more golfers to make up for the shortfall.
If this less avid group comes in much larger numbers, the upside is that my overall business could go up. If they turn out to be more inclined to rent carts and clubs, eat in my restaurant and make purchases in my pro shop, I’ll see a further increase in my business.
We have observed this in our industry, as well. I have spoken with a number of operators who have said that their clientele in the spring and fall is almost entirely fishermen, but that family vacations make up the bulk of their summer business. Often, the summer guests are the same fishermen returning with their families. Of course, this family clientele generally requires more amenities and a greater range of available activities than the avid fishing clientele.
But what if guests want to do more on a vacation than your establishment can offer? A number of years ago, I went with my kids to Orlando and we visited Disney World. We stayed in one of the nearby towns and spent a day and a half of our week’s vacation at the Disney attractions. But our trip also included a visit to the Kennedy Space Center and swimming at Daytona Beach. We were attracted by the core activity of Disney World, but we might not have made the trip without the extras that were available.
Even in those ancient days before the internet, it was relatively easy for me to find out what else was available to see and do in Florida. Part of our challenge in northern Ontario is having enough attractions to bring guests to our area. But the bigger challenge we have is letting guests know what we have so they will plan to come to our area. This is where the idea of management rather than marketing comes into the picture.
If I’m sitting at home in Chicago, or Denver, or Boston and I say to my family “Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a week at a Canadian fishing lodge this summer?”, what do I do next? Although the lodge trip is the main reason for going, other things to see and do will strongly influence my choice. Even if I have roughly narrowed down my choice to a region of Ontario, how do I easily check out what there is to see and do.
We have Destination Marketing Organizations in the form of our Northern Ontario Regional Travel Associations. They have been a great success and are strongly supported by their members. Currently, their focus is marketing, largely due to the constraints of the funding structures we have in place. We also need somebody to inventory our full range of tourism products in the region, and to facilitate partnerships among the various players. For the most part, our NORTAs represent Nature and Outdoor, with municipal tourism departments reaching attractions, motels and retail to some degree. In short, the marketing landscape is somewhat fragmented.
Perhaps we need to see what it would take to turn the NORTAs into true Destination Management Organizations. They already have a strong track record of marketing success and an intensely loyal membership base. Experience in other jurisdictions might help. The Council of Tourism Associations in British Columbia, and the organizations funded by the bed tax in Idaho could provide some useful ideas. Clearly, a broadened mandate and a sustainable funding model would be needed to move forward on this kind of idea.
You have heard me say before that I believe our outdoor experiences represent Ontario’s true tourism brand, and I believe this now more than ever. I also believe that it alone is not enough to make us a strong destination of choice for consumers. We need to take our core strength and add the extras to it that we need to create top-quality destination status. It will take some new and original thinking and different approaches by governments to make it happen. Like in any other industry, downturns are the time for rethinking and retooling. We need to work together to make our northern communities the top notch tourism destination they have the potential to be.
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Fall 2008 Issue