LET'S NOT FORGET WHY TOURISTS TRAVEL
obody comes to one of my members' hotels just to sleep in a bed" I was reminded recently by the head of the hotel association in Toronto. He was commenting on the need for the provincial tourism organizations like NOTO, to remain strong and effective. People travel for a reason, and the provincial tourism organizations that represent the various sectors, from campgrounds to marinas understand and support the reasons that most people travel.
As I look at the proposed roll out of the new regional Destination Marketing and Management Organizations, I'm concerned that we may lose sight of this simple fact. It appears to me that the creation of new regional DMMOs will shift our focus to one that is aligned exclusively around regions, with little or no attention to the activities that motivate travel to a region. I am not suggesting that we do not need a new, more region-based approach. This idea was a strong theme in many presentations to the competitiveness study, including the submission from NOTO. Ontario is a really big province, and there are significant differences in geography, culture and available tourism experiences across Ontario. However, a regional approach needs to complement, not replace the idea of identifying and marketing the activities that motivate a tourist to travel. When a guest decides to visit a region - usually to participate in a particular activity, like fishing or gold - it is often very difficult to easily identify opportunities to do other things that would make the trip more interesting to the consumer and more valuable to the local economy.
The competitiveness study correctly urged us to look at what we do from the eyes of our consumer. How do consumers decide where to travel? Do they first pick where they want to go, and then choose activities? - "I want to visit the Kenora area, I wonder what I can do when I get there?". Or do they pick one or more activities and then choose a travel area that meets their needs? - "I want to go fishing, but would also like to do some hiking and visit first nations cultural sites. The Temagami area has what I'm looking for." I would suggest, based on my experience, and the experience of my hotel association colleague, that the second approach is the one most often taken by consumers. Of course, the decision making process is usually a bit more complex, and probably includes weighing the quality of the primary activity, ease and cost of travel, price etc. However, the activities are the main focus, and location is usually secondary.
Am I suggesting that the new regional structure should be abandoned in favour of a purely experiential one? Not at all.
I am simply suggesting that we need to create a much more integrated approach that provides the new regional organizations and their stakeholders with the information, support and resources around the experiences in their regions.
I believe that the easiest and most effective way to achieve this is by creating an integral and ongoing role for the provincial sector associations within the new regional structure.
The DMMOs being envisioned by government have been presented as marketing and management organizations, but it is not at all clear at this point what the management functions will be or what expertise and resources will be available to fulfil this function. Most folks I have talked to would include things like product development, packaging and partnership facilitation, business development support, regulatory information, as well as basic sector data as part of "management". These things are the precise strengths of almost all of the sector organizations What is missing, at the moment, is a mechanism to integrate the capabilities of these provincial organizations into the new regional structure.
As we in the provincial organizations have discussed these issues among ourselves and with government, several ideas have emerged. First, our roles and responsibilities need to be acknowledged in the overall terms of reference for the regional DMMOs. Secondly, it is not good enough to ask us to simply offer our services and expertise and ask the DMMOs to pay us for it. Just like the DMMOs, we need a sustainable funding model to provide our services to the DMMOs and our industry stakeholders. I am not asking for "free money" here - we need clearly defined tasks and deliverables.
The issue of funding for the provincial tourism sector organizations is a critical one. The funding announced in last spring's provincial budget was the first new program for tourism we have seen in quite a while, and probably the last we will see for some time. We have limited opportunity to make sure that we use these funds in the most effectiveness way possible. The provincial organizations have played an important role in Ontario tourism for many years, yet our value, responsibilities and financial sustainability were not part of the discussions until very recently when we came together to try to push it on to the ministry's agenda.
Let's not forget where the idea for tourism regions came from It is one recommendation out of twenty in the Tourism Competitiveness Study, a study whose input came largely from submissions from provincial tourism organizations. As we move forward in implementing the whole range of recommendations in the study, we must not lose sight of how we got here and the role the provincial associations played in creating the ambitious vision of doubling Ontario's tourism receipts b 2020. We have a lot to offer and great track record - please don't lose sight of us as we go forward.
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Winter 2009 Issue