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RTO4, The next 3 years

The RTO has gone through considerable change since 2011 as it works to optimize tourism growth in the region. From early on it has been a test bed for both conventional and leading practices in tourism economic development, all specifically measured against outcomes to optimize the use of resources. In 2015 we enter a new phase of development, one dedicated to strengthening the assets of the region to cut through the marketing clutter that has become endemic to this industry and one dedicated to putting tools, digital tools and strategies, directly in the hand of operators. A shift of resources to stakeholders, enabling DMMO’s to shift to address the powerful disruption the internet and its pervasive effect on the consumer’s buying process has had on their worlds, enhancing the operators ability to surgically reach out and close a sale, are both key to making the ‘experiment’ sustainable over the long term.

The Canadian Tourism Commission has called RTO4 the Petri Dish of tourism development in North America. It is something we are proud of and something we work hard to live up to every day.

The work the RTO has done is starting to resonate. In 2015 we implemented the first ever application of DestinationNEXT (, a project commissioned by the Destination Marketing Association International to create clear, actionable, practical and sustainable strategies and tools for DMO’s in a rapidly changing world. RTO4 as a test bed for DestinationNEXT was a topic of discussion at DMAI’s CEO Summit in April in California and will be further presented at DMAI’s international convention in Austin in July. RTO4 is also a keynote presenter and session presenter at the SoMeT Social Media Tourism Symposium in New Orleans in October, the only conference of its kind dedicated to providing an opportunity for tourism destinations and businesses to share ideas and learn how to leverage social media in the tourism industry. SoMeT ( is the work of Canadian tourism development powerhouse DestinationTHINK and holds annual conferences yearly in North America, Europe and Australia.


I’ve attached the the Prologue from the 2015/16 plan. It is a recounting of where we have been and a look at where we, together, are going.

Prologue 2015/16

RTO4 is entering the third phase of its existence.

Phase 1 involved developing a plan and creating and implementing the measurement systems to test that plan.

Phase 2 was focussed on measuring the effect of the core activities of the RTO to determine what exactly does and does not work in growing the tourism economy in a region such as RTO4 given its unique composition, stakeholders and combination of assets.

Phase 3 is about optimizing the things that are working and can be sustained by stakeholders in growing the regional tourism economy. This is the first year of a three year plan to put the tools that are needed directly in the hands of operators and to empower them to develop the core assets that make the region unique. Strengthening the existing destination organizations by facilitating their “clear” and productive focus and aligning them with stakeholders is a key part of the work over the next three years. In short, it is about enabling the elements of the work to date that has had a measured effect on growing the region’s tourism economy while curtailing those activities that, albeit they are status quo in tourism marketing and development, have proven to be ineffective.

It is worth noting that even in the first two “Phases” of the RTO’s existence, 2011-14, it managed an impressive throughput of sales on the reservation system of over $6,000,000 in direct to operator sales with no fees or commissions, a pleasant side benefit of the measurement system.

Committing to a model that actually tracked results right down to conversion was a bold step by the RTO4 Board of Directors, unprecedented in the province, and it has paid off well with a series of findings (sometimes controversial) that, simply put, have challenged conventional DMO thinking and created the opportunity for a much more accountable model of tourism investment.



David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.

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Strategies for growing the tourism economy…

Last year in December I wrote a brief blog post about the progress to date on growing the tourism economy in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington. In it I noted that the reservation system sales up to that point were over 2 million dollars (since January 2012). As of Sept 1/2014 that number has jumped to over 4 million dollars.

As you know if you are an operator/owner, DMO or a regular follower of our media, RTO4 uses the reservation system to measure the impact and effectiveness of changes it introduces into the “experiment” – the “experiment” being the injection of development funds by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport into the tourism business environment of Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington.

So what’s changed?

Well… branding was never part of the RTO4 strategy – we chose to go with “Experiential-Demand Generator” based themes where the region was already competitively strong – Theatre, Heritage Towns, Soft Outdoor Adventure, Motorsports and Agri-Culinary – and we presented these offerings, tied to local accommodation and attractions, through high production value advertisements in mainstream television and print media. The end result? Very little effect on driving targeted consumers to the fulfilment sites and even less on sales conversion. Phase II, 2013, the approach was expanded to include generalized “brand-like” advertising under “BetterWeekending,” direct to operator advertising and destination partnership advertising all with moderately improved results.

In 2014, RTO4 shifted gears and focused on the areas that showed the most promise from the 2012/13 data. Working directly with operators/owners, DMO’s, festivals, events and attractions, we set out to bring resources and tools to the table to “enable engagement.” Social media strategies, website improvements, advertising strategies and the amplification of existing successes are all part of the mix and with this focus the improvements gained are realized at the owner operator level. They become part of the fabric of their operations (read as “sustainable”). This is a big step forward and a big step away from a reliance on traditional “big media” advertising but the proof is in the pudding. Enabling operators, identifying and improving the marketing/purchase path with an eye to the user experience, co-investing in advertising and seed funding things like the Regional Sport Tourism initiative are all contributing to measureable and sustainable growth.

To all operators and to all regional partners, I put the question to you: “What does work in growing the tourism economy?” Or to put it differently: “If you only had marketing funds for one initiative this year, what would it be?”

I am constantly surprised and impressed by the answer I get and it always represents a focused, insightful and strategic take on the operator’s business. I would love to hear what your most effective initiative is – email me at

David Peacock, CEO

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Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport ups investment in Huron Perth Waterloo Wellington

Once again the Ontario Government has demonstrated its commitment to grow this region’s rich and diverse arts and culture base… The 2104 Celebrate Ontario funding recipients for Huron Perth Waterloo and Wellington represent 17 festival’s & events from across RTO4 and together  have received a combined commitment of  over $1.3 million.

The Province’s continuing investment is a testament to the region’s excellence arts, culture and sport  and  recognition of the great work of all the people who work hard everyday to expand our already impressive creative economy.

Congratulations to the 2014 recipients:

Stratford Festival, SpringWorks: Stratford & Perth County’s indie theatre & arts festival, Guelph & District Multicultural Festival, Stratford Blues and Ribfest, Waterloo Air Show, Kultrun Summer Festival, BIG Music Fest, Classic Theatre Festival, Stratford Summer Music 2014, The Elora Festival, The Stewart Park Festival, Savour Stratford Perth, County Culinary Festival, Kitchener Blues Festival – Mardi Gras, Fergus Scottish Festival, Guelph Jazz Festival “Breaking the Sound Barrier”, KOI Music Festival, Hillside Inside.

For a full listing of Celebrate recipients please go to

David Peacock, CEO


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RTO4 SABBA and SAHMA join forces

Conroy Schelhaas, President of the Stratford and Area Hotel and Motel Association (SAHMA) and Murray Sanderson, President of the Stratford Area Bed a Breakfast Association (SABBA) joined a newly formed RTO Stratford Accommodations Advisory Committee (yet another acronym gets minted SAAC).

The goal of the committee is to create better alignment between these two key groups (as well as Stratford accommodators in general) with the stated objective of assisting the RTO to create projects and programs that directly influence the uptake of Stratford accommodations in a manner that benefits operators and creates a solid platform for sustained growth.

This is an important milestone in the growing integration of accommodation owner operators in the regional tourism growth strategy and I applaud and welcome the input of these two respected Presidents.

The committee has convened three times since it was formed in November and over the next months will focus on developing opportunities vis-à-vis RTO programs and initiatives for Stratford accommodation stakeholders to best leverage their strengths and address their particular needs in terms of occupancy, inventory and seasonality.

If you have not talked with Murray or Conroy in a while I encourage you to reconnect and bring your perspective to the table.

David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.

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RTO4 Progress Report 2012/13

As part of the business planning cycle for the Regional Tourism Office every year we draft a status brief for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and for the Minister’s office (the Honourable Michael Chan).

As we close out 2013, I would like to share a shortened version of that brief with you.

RTO4 Progress Report 2012/13 prepared for MTC&S Dec. 2013

The RTO, in concert with our regional Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO’s) and hundreds of regional tourism stakeholders over the past 2 years has created a comprehensive system based on the principle of Goal – Strategy – Measurement that is centred around a regional reservation system to track the impact of joint tourism initiatives as they affect the uptake of accommodation in the region. The stated goal was and still is to generate a 25% growth in regional sales by April 1 2015.

Key to this goal was reaching an understanding with our DMO partners that the RTO’s core business objective is to drive the sale of overnight-stays to consumers in markets 2hrs-plus from the region. This is based on the simple fact that overnight visitors spend on average four times as much as their day-trip counterparts. Likewise any marketing activity the RTO undertakes with its partners addresses this key tenant.

Initial reservation system sales have exceeded expectations. The target for the fiscal April 1 2013 to March 31 2014 was 750,000. In the period from April 1 to Sept 30th alone the system captured $1.2 million in sales (by Nov. 15th that number had grown to more than $2 million).

 RTO4 is unique in Ontario in its “unbranded” position. In the early days a conscious decision was made by the Board to use the existing brand strengths in the region and not to spend precious resources on the difficult and uncertain task of building a pan-regional brand. The RTO leverages the brand power of its key DG’s the Stratford Festival, Drayton Theatres and the towns of Elora, St. Jacobs, Stratford and Bayfield as well as the Grand River and Ontario’s West Coast to cut through the marketing clutter in Ontario and capture the interest of consumers in order to convert them to overnight trippers.

 The RTO is a key tourism asset for regional stakeholders dedicated to increasing the uptake of the regions offering by Ontarians, Quebecers and our US visitors through an aggressive system of marketing and conversion and to do so in a manner that is capable of measuring the impact of regional programs and projects directly.

I’ll say it again, the industriousness, the commitment and the general goodwill of the tourism owners and operators in this region is the key to the success-to-date of this program and is what makes it a pleasure for the RTO staff to live and work in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington.

Thanks for your on-going support and have a safe and happy holiday. 

David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc

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System Performing well is just the beginning

2.1 million in sales on the Regional Reservation system is well ahead of projections (13months to date). But while this is a an exciting and inspiring number we have to remember that it is just the first step in capturing sales data for the region in order to be able to discern where and how marketing efforts are best applied and what product strengths and product gaps we have.

I would argue that these sales represent in essence sales that for the most part pre-existed in the region but are now being captured and recorded for measurement purposes. Consider for a moment that the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport reports the Tourism Economic Impact in this region at roughly 800 million dollars per annum. The job now is to use a baseline sales year on the system, to compare it to MTC&S and Stats Can data year-to-year and to work with our partners at the University of Guelph to perfect the regional model of tourism “buyer behaviour” and spending. The objective is a very granular base of intelligence that all tourism stakeholders can to use to refine their marketing (and even their products) to create greater uptake with the travelling consumer.

Growing tourism in this Region is the goal and having a measurement system that accurately tells us when and if this is happening and how to influence it is key.

This is a huge undertaking that is unique in the Province but it is happening right here in a region that constantly reminds people of its industrious, hard working and innovative history.

This is a great place to live and work!

David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.

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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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Sales top 3 quarters of a million…

Sales on the regional reservation system to date from Sept 1/2012 have surpassed $750,000. Attractions, accommodations and events across the region are leveraging the marketing reach of the RTO as well as driving sales from their own web sites and media buys; operators with the Regional Reservation System widget and “Buy Now” hot links are seeing solid sales growth. Contact RTO4 to request a link for your site!

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Quick update: U of G Research in place, sales top $670k to date

A quick status update for stakeholders: in May and June the RTO held its annual Stakeholder Meetings across the region. Over a hundred and fifty partners attended as did all our DMO partners, peers from the regions of Waterloo, Wellington, Perth and Huron and key staff from the MTC&S. Thanks to you all for making these events a success!

On another note, a key piece of the performance measurement model for the RTO is now up and running. The ongoing post-visit consumer research study that was developed with the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management was implemented in April and is returning well over 100 detailed responses a month. This is going to play a key role in both the measurement of the regional economic impact of tourism as well as providing key insight into buying behaviour and marketing efficacy. Many thanks to Professors Marion Joppe and Statia Elliot for spearheading this innovative initiative.

Sales on the Regional Reservation System since Sept. are now at $670,000; definitely ahead of projections. Congratulations to all of our stakeholders, operators DMO’s and partners for driving this success.

As was noted in the stakeholder meetings, this is a region, essentially the Canada Company tract of 1827 (aka the Huron Tract), that was eked out of wilds of Ontario beginning in  earnest in the early 1800’s. It represents the second major tier of Ontario settlement, a settlement period that is earmarked by the “difficult” task of pushing inland after the “easier” lakefronts and water accessible areas of the Province had already been settled; its an area with a history of hard working, resourceful people who did more with less to achieve success and it is that same resourcefulness and dedication that the Region’s tourism operators, owners and stakeholders have brought to the table to leverage the resources that the Ontario Government through the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport has made available to grow the tourism economy in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington. Great work!!!


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RTO4 Stakeholder Tourism Update Meetings May 30th and June 6th. Over $400,000 in sales to date. Find out how you can share the revenue…

On May 30th and June 6th RTO4 and its DMO partners, Elora/Fergus Tourism, Visit Guelph, Waterloo Region Tourism, St. Jacobs Country, Perth County Visitors Association, Stratford Tourism and Huron Tourism are hosting two meetings for all regional tourism stakeholders.

Whether you are one of the over 300 operators already on the “free” regional reservation system or not, if want to find out more about how to leverage the resources of your DMO and the RTO you need to be at one of these meetings. The May 30th meeting is in Shakespeare at 2:00 and the June 6th  meeting is in Kitchener at 10:00 a.m. For more information or to register contact Karen Sampey at RTO4 519-271-7000 x 7.

There will be an overview of progress toward the RTO goal of growing the regional tourism economy by 25% as well a presentation of the 2013-14 marketing initiatives. The strategy is working and sales to date are over $400,000.

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