2016/17 is shaping up to be a busy year for tourism development in the region.
With major projects underway in Elora & Fergus, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo Cambridge Stratford, Bayfield and on the Grand River and the G2G trail, the RTO continues to refine its Goal-Strategy-Measurement model and its commitment to evidence based decision making and strategic marketing.
As the industry increasingly faces the shift of “digital disruption”, RTO4’s key focus continues to be on, 1.) developing digital skill sets with operators and destinations alike, 2.) engaging communities in actively shaping their collective tourism futures, 3.) core asset product development through shared financial and knowledge partnerships and 4.) leveraging the distributed economy.
As the Minister raises the profile of tourism in the Province and works to increase awareness of the economic and social benefits of tourism and support for a whole-of-government approach to reduce regulatory burdens and enhance collaboration, the approach that RTO4 has taken is a powerful template for development.
I have outlined the major initiatives of 16/17 below. As always, the sign above the door at RTO4 reads “open for business”, we invite your commentary, criticism and ideas.
David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.
Elora and Fergus
Elora & Fergus are two heritage towns nestled on the banks of the heritage Grand River. Over the past 10 months RTO4 has been working working with Mayor Kelly Linton and CAO Andy Goldie of Centre Wellington, Pearle Hospitality and a broad spectrum of tourism stakeholders under DMAI’s DestinationNEXT consultation model to collaborate on realizing the vision of becoming ‘Ontario’s idyllic experience showcasing the heritage town, the unique natural setting, and the wealth of arts and culture.’
Along with the heritage Grand River, a multimillion dollar investment by Pearle Hospitality in redeveloping the Elora Mill, and the downtown are just two of the unique assets that Elora possesses.
As work continues with Elora and Fergus stakeholders over the next three years, there is a focus on product development, conducting primary research for measurement purposes, animating the downtown and enhancing digital capabilities of festivals and events.
Product development initiatives for Elora for 2016/17 include an RTO4 and Tourism Café experiential development workshop series.
With the aim of restoring the Canadian Heritage Grand River to its appropriate stature and use, RTO4 is involved in a joint development project along with RTOs 1 and 3 and former members of the voluntary marketing coalition Grand River Country.
The group has coalesced around an RTO-led project that will involve public and private partnerships and funding in an ongoing, multiyear, multimillion-dollar reinvestment plan to develop access points, signage and facilities aimed at improving respectful use of this important provincial asset.
In 2016, RTO4 has partnered with Friends of the Grand River, an organization to develop, promote and implement projects, which will preserve, conserve and enhance the ecology of the Grand River watershed.
The Friends of the Grand/RTO4 partnership has set its sights on developing the Wilson’s Flats river access point just west of Elora as the pilot project for the Access Point Standards Manual and Pilot Design Project. This initial project will be the demonstration site for the 32 identified access points from Luther Marsh to Lake Erie.
Many thanks to Larry McGratton, President and the Friends of the Grand for embracing this important project and to the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport for funding the Access Standards Development Manual under the Tourism Development Fund across RTO’s 1, 3 and 4.
Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail (G2G)
The Guelph to Goderich Rail Trail (G2G) is currently under re-development as a highly accessible public recreational trail for non-motorized use. Formerly the CPR line linking west to east, once completed, the G2G will be a 127 km trail connecting the Guelph to Goderich corridor, providing recreation to visitors of all fitness and skill levels.
The G2G combines the benefits of outdoor recreation and tourism into an inclusive and accessible experience – a portal ushering urban visitors into pastoral beauty, rural heritage, and healthy physical activity.
RTO4 is working with the trail’s stakeholders to continue development of the trail including the completion of a Walton Departure Point in conjunction with the 2017 International Ploughing Match and Canada’s 150th.
Engineering and environmental assessments in Huron and Perth for bridges and access points as well as a partnership with Waterloo Region for the planning phases of the high profile Westmontrose and Wallenstein bridges are ongoing in 2016.
Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge (WRTMC)
Working with WRTMC (Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corp.) and St. Jacobs Country DMO’s, RTO4 continues to support and develop the key tourism drivers in the region.
RTO4 and WRTMC work in co-funded partnership to develop marketing programs such as their spring and fall campaigns for transient tourism as well as partnering on key asset development such as the Waterloo Central Railway, the G2G trail, Grand River access point development and key national and international sports bids.
Sport tourism continues to be a core asset for the Region with more facilities, more teams, coaches, volunteers and other assets that any other second tier Ontario destination. Other than the Mega centres of the GTA and Ottawa, Waterloo Region is in a class by itself when it comes to sport. The addition of the core assets such as the new rapid transit (LRT) and the ongoing work WRTMC is doing with RTO4 in product development and digital marketing are strengthening this position.
RTO4 is also supporting WRTMC as it sets it sights on developing its unique position as the “Tech Tourism” hub of the Province. From tech conferences and symposiums to a distinguished position in theoretical science, the Region has the potential to ‘own’ this segment.
Meeting approximately every 6 weeks over the past year, a group of 20 dedicated and enthusiastic steering committee stakeholders are actively engaged in shaping the collective tourism future of Guelph.
Using DMAI’s DestinationNEXT process which included a self-assessment, digital audit, asset mapping exercise and multiple strategy workshops facilitated by RTO4 and InterVISTAS, The Guelph team has determined four priorities which include steward the Guelph story, strengthen Guelph’s festivals and events reputation, build a downtown Guelph destination, and leverage its sports tourism opportunity.
Next steps include determining and implementing collaborative projects across arts, culture and downtown development as well as increasing the digital sophistication of the DMO and operators alike as well as primary research for tourism economic impact.
Mayor Cam Guthrie and the Guelph Council saw the importance of tourism as economic driver and contributor to the Guelph quality of life and worked with RTO4 to create a three-year MOU for destination development in the Royal City. Partners include the city funded DMO – Visit Guelph, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the Guelph BIA and a multitude of accommodation, culture, services, sport and attraction partners.
Regional Sport Tourism Office
The RSTO is a partnership collaboration between the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph established to leverage the wealth of assets that those four urban centres share in terms of sport infrastructure, human resources and tourism services.
The Regional Sport Tourism Office’s focus continues to be identifying the needs of both stakeholders and event holders in market. Through targeted identification, it is able to focus on key sports and events that the region could uniquely serve.
Defining the story of the sport tourism segment in the region and the valuation of this sector of the industry is a key activity for 2016/17. Over past months the RSTO and its partner cities have expanded their reach to connect with more and more sport stakeholders and to use that contact to help shape the organization and the services offered.
Provincial, national and international bids that are well developed, well supported and integrated with the partner sport organizations, universities and city plans are currently in the works.
Over the past 11 months, over 60 stakeholders have been engaged with RTO4 in a Stratford destination development process including direct and ongoing partnership with the City of Stratford, Mayor Dan Mathieson, City Council, the Stratford Tourism Alliance, the Stratford Festival, and a host of tourism operators, organizations, and residents.
The goal of the project is to strengthen and grow Stratford’s vibrant tourism economy, better integrate tourism strategy with the City’s mandate and to foster community engagement and alignment with a cohesive plan to enhance the visitor experience.
At the last event, hundreds of creative ideas were generated around Stratford as a Cultural Resort Town.
To bring some of these collaborative, share worthy cultural experiences to life, RTO4 has teamed up with Stratford City Centre BIA to create a Destination Animation Partnership Fund to enable new or enhanced cultural visitor experiences with a focus on increased destination marketing via social media and word-of-mouth.
Continuing on the success of the Enabling Engagement digital sophistication project, three case studies – available online at rto4.ca/tourism-case-studies – were developed and shared with tourism stakeholders across the region.
RTO4’s digital operations dashboards won the SoMeT – U.S. Social Media Tourism Conference – Innovation Award. Over the past year the installation has grown to 50 individual dashboards, creating real-time analytics reporting that enable RTO4 operators and DMOs to benchmark, track and measure their digital marketing efficacy.
RTO4 continues to work directly with operators and DMOs to help future-proof their destination by improving the digital experience for visitors, optimizing social digital storytelling, and shifting corporate culture to become agile and adept at navigating technological disruption.
Bayfield Tourism Cafe
RTO4 is in the midst of a multi-year destination development project with Bayfield, identified as one of the region’s Heritage Towns Demand Generators.
An early touch point of the project was a 3-day experiential tourism workshop held in Bayfield in November 2015. It included test runs of the three experiences that were created to demonstrate the development process alongside specific teachings including improving visitor experience and digital marketing.
RTO4 is continuing its collaborative work with Bayfield stakeholders, shifting focus to enable and enhance Bayfield’s “brand” including a destination development strategy. Through the collaborative process, stakeholders are leading tourism efforts that will result in increased capacity, amplified story telling and leveraged resources.
Mayor Tyler Hessel and a dedicated steering committee including the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce and key tourism stakeholders continue to drive this project forward and to shape the tourism future of this idyllic Ontario gem.