The Canadian dollar opened 2011 on parity with the U.S.
It wasn't too many years ago when our dollar was worth about 70 cents on the US dollar and the Canadian tourism industry milked it's low value as a key element of its marketing strategies and Northwestern Ontario was no different. The heart of the sales pitch was "a Canadian vacation is 30% off" or whatever reasonably safe exchange difference could be printed.
We used the value difference as a crutch for a long time.
In a world where our currency is on par and at some points, above par, we have to shift to the quality of the experience and speak to the consumer's desire to have that experience. While we are focusing a lot more on the domestic markets, the U.S. market and its approximately 80 million valid passport holders is only a forty five minute drive away from us or a flight time of a little over a couple of hours.
Know Your Client. It amazes me how many operators don't keep tabs on their client demographics or the trends and shifts that occur right before their eyes. Where are they from? Who do they travel wish? What is their profession or income level? How did they hear about you? What are their special requests? What do they like about your experience that keeps them coming back? Client relation management is easy to do and reasonably priced customer relationship management software programs help you manage client relations by tracking and reporting information back to you to help you make better marketing and product enhancement decisions.
Focus on the avids. There are large segments of the motivated travel markets that want the experience and price will not necessarily feature prominently as a deciding factor. Whether its a trophy fly in angling trip, a motorcycle or roadster tour around Lake Superior or kayaking the Rossport Islands, there are a lot of travellers that place a value on the experience beyond the currency difference. Researching these markets is not that difficult. The Ministry of Tourism publishes travel motivator studies on most major avid segments and that is a good starting point. These avids belong to clubs in their home communities, chat on experiential forums and read print or digital media specific to their interests.
Just remember, when engaging potential guests in on line forums, always request the permission of the moderator. Some forums frown on commercial activities, some have areas set up specifically for commercial activities and some would reasonably expect some financial sponsorship in exchange for promoting your business activity
Reconnect with your existing and former clients and have a conversation with them. It takes less investment to retain clients than attract new ones. Reconnecting can be as simple as a news letter, sending them a birthday email or offering them value added incentives to keep returning. You can offer a direct cash discount or value added extras "free boat rental with cabin stay, free breakfast or some other promotion that keeps them loyal.
Be careful with the cash discounts as they may, if accepted in great volumes, have a impact on your operating revenues and may, in the future, make it trickier to bring your rates back into line. Value added additions often don't always cost you the full value to provide but still give the guest additional value and a sense of being appreciated for their business.
A lot of travellers want value and value should not always be confused with "cheap".
Quality is easier to sell. I've said ad nauseum over the years that high quality experiences and products are easier to market. Now is the time to look at your operation from the outside. Its human nature for us to become complacent when we see something the same way every day so bring in a third party or better yet, survey your guests. Look at the physical appearance or first impression your operation gives. Is it clean, well kept, safe, secure and inviting? Do your facilities look and smell clean? Does everything work? How comfortable and crisp is the bedding? I could go on forever but you get the message.
Review your experience, appearance and customer service standards through on line forums like Trip Advisor, Travelocity of Restaurantica and see what customers are saying. Use that as a starting point for making improvements. Look to the Ontario Tourism Education Corporation as a starting point to find training programs to enhance your and your staff''s customer service skills. Acting on consumer feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to keeping quality standards high. Engage in the online discussions and follow up with the sources of comments to let them - and the rest of the online reading world- know that you've taken it seriously and acted on their comments.
Hopefully, as you start the new year, you'll reflect on just the few basic pointers I've mentioned. You could already be doing some of this without giving it much thought or this might give you incentive to start doing things differently. At the end of the day, if every tourism partner does one thing to improve the calibre of their experience, the entire reputation of our local tourism economy benefits.