The Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Report and new Provincial strategy has one pretty big overarching goal: To double tourism receipts in the Province by 2020 to approximately $40 billion - yes - billion. The fact that tourism in Ontario currently adds $20 billion to the economy is a big hammer that drives the point home that tourism IS an economic driver.
In a simplistic form, there are two ways to increase tourism revenues. Increase the number for visitors or increase the yield - the per person spending. Both methods have their advantages and challenges in our current economy but a good tourism strategy needs to employ both methods to succeed.
Increasing the number of visitors can present a problem and its important to know what you have to offer in the way of an asset inventory) and match it to the consumer demographics that want what you have. Our strategy has focused on our connection to our natural environment. Its our biggest strength that becomes more obvious when matched to fact that outdoor experiences are the number one travel motivator among North Americans - at approximately 61%. That's the hook that gets them here. Creating itineraries that weave these core destination drivers (the main experience) with the culinary, accommodation and ancillary attraction options creates the yield. Tying touring along the highway , water or trail routes to outdoor adventure experiences strengthens the reach. The key here is having relevant visitor experiences that visitors want. An attraction is only an attraction if people are attracted to it.
Its important to choose media channels that speak to the avid markets carefully and be able to measure their success, something that is not always easy but electronic media facilitates this. I am hugely over simplifying this but you get the point. Match what you have with the customers that want it.
So now you've gotten the visitors here. How do you increase their spending in the community and hence the yield? Given that Thunder Bay's tourism economy is valued at about $151 million annually, even increasing visitor spending by as little as 5% adds another $7.5 million to the economy.
Increasing it by 5% or even 10% is easy to accomplish if tourism industry partners consider this measurable goal in how they operate. Here's a few suggestions to getting visitors to spend more, stay longer and return satisfied.
Well trained front line staff are a key element in this. Front desk clerks, restaurant servers and gas station attendants can all play a critical role as they are often the ones who get asked by visitors that key opening question "what is there to do here?" Front line staff should memorize their local and regional travel guides and know the restaurants, attractions and events going on. Even a business traveller-a huge part of our tourism market - wants to find a good meal, something for the partner of children, or check out a unique attraction while they wait to fly home. Even a $15 purchase adds up when multiplied.
Tourism related establishments can ensure that their local and regional tourism information is displayed prominently by the counters or front doors where its easy to access. We have one of Ontario's best print visitor magazines and in this day of digital media domination it still plays an important role and we know from the feedback we receive from attractions and hotels, that people have it in their hand when they cross the threshold. When hotels tuck their tourism information displays in the dark corners of the lobby, they serve no purpose than to keep that section of the floor dust free.
Cross promotion is critical. Don't look at the guy across the street as your competition. Your competition is another travel destination. Its important that tourism businesses scratch each others back, recommend clients back and forth and create a unified approach to improving the visitor experience. Drop the notion that "If I can't have them, no one can" if you cannot accommodate them. That only drives the guest somewhere else - likely another destination in the future. No one wins.
Get to know others in the industry and create networks. Every spring, Tourism Thunder Bay charters a motor coach and offers a day long guided tour of the community's attractions to front line staff, complete with on board commentary on rudimentary customer services skills. Its absolutely free to the industry. Our hotel partners even sponsor the lunch. All businesses have to commit is to pay their staff for 8 hours to take this training. The result is front line workforce that know each other's businesses on the tour and know more about that's available in the community. We offer this workshop as many times as demand dictates.
Create packages. This isn't offered nearly enough in the tourism industry but linking accommodation with attractions, event, car rental or other experience for a combined single rate (ideally discounted) provides value to the consumer and gets them thinking about doing things they might not always do. A few years ago, we erroniously printed in our hotel guide that a certain hotel offered continental breakfast when they in fact did not. When we caught the error, we immediately offered to compensate the property for anyone requesting the added value service. Something funny happened, however. They received a boost in business. In this case, bundling the modest delivery cost of toast, coffee and cereal into the room rate generated new leads.
Increasing yield is also about improving retention. Encouraging visitors to remain in a community or the region longer by offering them more to do increases the yield. Even if they don't take in an additional experience on this trip, they'll be more inclined on a repeat trip to make time for something intriguing. This comes back to a well educated workforce, cross promotion, packaging and quality service. At the end of the day, we have to remember that this is not a cash grab and increasing the value of our tourism economy needs to be respectful that consumers work hard for their money. They will invest it in the things they really want but its all about delivering value to them. Its about making them feel special, welcomed and going home satiated, telling their friends and family positive stories of their experience and planning their return trip itinerary.
These are simple ways for the tourism industry to ensure we're delivering an exceptional level of service and value to all of our guests and grow the tourism economy. It builds a stronger reputation as being a must visit destination with more to do than meets the eye. Ultimately at the end of the day be have a more sustainable vibrant and community minded sector of the economy.