2013: Some things to celebrate, some things to reflect on, some things to refine.

As the summer tourism season in the Region winds down and we roll into fall, we have a lot to celebrate, a lot to reflect on and a lot to work on and refine.

The challenge laid out by the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport was to create a core strategy and commensurate tactical plan to grow the tourism economy in this wide and varied geography.

The Board of the Regional Tourism Office, a group of inspired and exceptional individuals from all corners of the industry, some owners and operators, some professionals with other designations, has worked closely with the RTO team to create a vision for tourism that is unique in the Province.

RTO4 in three short years has gone from concept to implementation with one of the most sophisticated destination marketing initiatives this Province has ever seen. A comprehensive system designed around the principle of “Goal – Strategy – Measurement” has been implemented including a Regional Reservation system with over 300 businesses, a comprehensive marketing strategy designed to investigate and leverage the modern opportunity that the world of digital commerce creates for tourism and a detailed and industry-standard measurement component designed and implemented with our academic partners at the University of Guelph School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

These three key components give us a business foundation for tourism growth that has the capacity for constant feedback and refinement… and that is exactly what we do with it.

Sales have soared in year-one far beyond what was anticipated – well over a million and a half dollars ($1,500,000) have been booked through the system in the last 13 months. While this has exceeded out initial projections by almost double, we have not been content to sit back and watch it grow. The digital sales system and path to purchase data that we have generated tells us the marketing side of the equation needs to be adjusted and that articulation of the key demand generators that were developed in concert with out DMO partners need refining and focusing.

Working with you the tourism stakeholders DIRECTLY has been the key to unlocking the potential that this region has. Your input, your feedback, your demonstrated interest and attendance at RTO events and meeting is the key to making this model work for you and I would like to thank you personally for your investment thus far. Thank-you.

In that context lets have a look at the 2013 season to date, as I said, some things to celebrate, some things to reflect on, some things to refine…

Some things to celebrate…

Both of our major theatres have put up outstanding seasons, kudos to Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino for the realization of a compelling vision with “the actor and the text front and centre”. The Stratford Festival has once again asserted it status as a world class theatre, a creative diamond and a source of Canadian pride.

Like wise, a round of applause for Alex Moustakas who has worked tirelessly for 20 years to nurture and grow Drayton Entertainment from that singularly unique first theatre in its rural setting to a vibrant and critically acclaimed group of theatres across the region with a season capacity of 350,000 seats.

On a different note, with the RTO’s introduction of the Regional Sports Tourism initiative and the extensive enhancements and additions that have been made to the Regional Reservation System we have significantly increased our competitive edge in this growing industry segment. By way of example, in the instance of a single Provincial level tournament next spring teams have booked thousands of hotel rooms as far out as next March and April across the region with a revenue attached in the high six figures.

The Reservation System has opened up new sales channels and created new paths to purchase for a number of industry segments. Direct electronic sales of regional attractions this year, railway tours, field dinners, small theatre tickets and guided tours to name a few account for over a hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Again, revenue that is going directly back to operators!

Some things to reflect on…

What we find very exciting is the innovation and savvy of operators who have been hard at work on leveraging the Reservation system on their own sites to drive astounding growth.

If you would like to see this principle in action just Google, The Brew House on the Grand or Waterloo Central Railway or the Port Albert Inn and Cottages.

Some things to refine…

In 2013 the Reservation System proved that it is a viable and essential part of growing tourism revenue across the region. It has exceeded preliminary targets and, a point that deserves to be made time and again, all revenue goes directly to operators. As noted, the first full season of operation has given us at the RTO a long list of adjustments, refinements and adaptations that need to be implemented but at this point there is no question the system is a success and has put the Region at the forefront of tourism marketing and development in the province.

The marketing and advertising initiatives that drive consumer to the system are being assessed and refined based on 2013 traffic and sales and suffice to say at this point an even more streamlined advertising and sales pipeline is in the works.

In closing I would like to note that our DMO partners, theatre partners and individual operators have begun to integrate the system on their own sites and drive and track revenues generated by their marketing and advertising efforts as well as capturing the sales data attributed to their specific area at the Regional sales level. The introduction of “Partnership Funding” opportunities by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has greatly aided this testing and integration and created the opportunity to further refine and integrate the system at a local individual level. The Ministry has committed to “Partnership Funding” allocations for 2014 and we applaud and support their forward thinking.

All in all it has been a productive and successful spring and summer and we are hard at work on fall marketing and the ongoing work of developing an even more focused and productive Regional Tourism Office that serves the stakeholders of Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington.

David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.

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