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RTO4 2016/17 Overview – April 4, 2016

Dear Stakeholder,

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.

Thanks,

David Peacock, CEO RTO4 Inc.

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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.

 

Grand River

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.

 

Guelph

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.

 

Stratford

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.

 

Enabling Engagement

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.

 

-End-

 

 

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RTO4 Director of Media Technology accepts the prestigious North American Innovation Award

SoMeT-Photo-ZGDateline: Thurs Oct 22, New Orleans USA – for immediate release

From: RTO4.ca – Regional Tourism Organization Four Inc., Waterloo Wellington Perth Huron

RTO4 Director of Media Technology accepts the prestigious North American Innovation Award
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In New Orleans, Louisiana at the international symposium on social media in tourism, SoMeT, on Thursday last week Ontario Regional Tourism Organization Four Inc. (RTO4) Director of Media Technology, Zac Gribble received the prestigious North American award for Innovation for RTO4’s work as a tourism development incubator.

RTO4 is one of 13 regional tourism offices in Ontario established by the Ontario Government in 2011 as part of the strategy to grow the province’s overall tourism economy and international competitiveness. Independent, industry-led boards of directors were established in each region and charged with developing the strategies and best practices for growing that particular region’s tourism economy.

David Peacock, CEO of RTO4, delivered the keynote presentation at the conference on the topic of leading a destination in the connected economy. Zac Gribble also led a concurrent session on growing digital sophistication for tourism operators, and participated on a panel about leadership for change in the tourism industry.

Peacock says, “Zac is part of a great team of smart young tourism professionals that are pushing the boundaries of tourism development. RTO4 was built around a framework of Goal – Strategy – Measurement, to incubate tourism economic growth in Waterloo, Wellington, Perth and Huron.” He goes on to point out that the team operates on five guiding principles:

  • Enabling Engagement – working with stakeholders to strengthen their ability to engage consumers
  • Hygiene First – a critical focus on working with stakeholders to identify and fix those things that impede tourism growth
  • Destinations not just Destination Marketing – a holistic view of travel destinations that engages multiple stakeholders in shaping a community’s collective tourism future
  • Redefining brand in the modern media world as the sum total of shared stories and experiences about a given destination or experience
  • A relentless focus on the visitor experience.

Over the past four years, RTO4 has had numerous successes in the province including but not limited to: generating over six million dollars in direct-to-operator sales through a regional reservation and measurement system, four ongoing destination development projects with the mayors, city councils, tourism boards and owner operators of Elora/Fergus, Guelph, Stratford and Bayfield and the establishment of a cooperative regional sport tourism office across Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph.

Commenting on RTO4’s model, Rob Taylor, Vice President of Public and Industry Affairs for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), tweeted from the conference, “(RTO4’s)… leadership is a breath of fresh air… challenge convention, embrace disruption and empower your young innovators.”

RTO4 Board of Directors President and Chair Marc Armstrong said, “The Board of RTO4 would like to specifically thank the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Coteau and the Ministry for giving us the operating room to develop an innovative and unconventional solution to tourism development that is proving to be both highly effective and well-embraced by stakeholders across the region.

For more information
David Peacock, CEO
Regional Tourism Organization Four Inc.
519-271-7000
peacock@rto4.ca
–30–

SoMeT is the premiere global conference for destination marketers who want to learn from world-class leaders and innovate within their industry.
Contact Rodney Payne CEO, Destination Think! – (604) 681-9030, http://destinationthink.com/

The Minister of Tourism Culture and Sport is the Honourable Michael Coteau
Contact The Office of the Minister – 416-326-9326, www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/home.shtml

TIAC, The Tourism Industry Association of Canada serves today as the national private-sector advocate for the $88.5 billion Canadian tourism sector.
Contact Robert Taylor V.P. Public and Industry Affairs – 613-238-6251, www.tiac.travel

RSTO is the regional sport tourism office of Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge and Guelph
Contact Sherry Doiron, Manager Sport Tourism – 519-271-7000 x 201, sporttourismoffice.com

RTO4 is one of 13 Ontario Tourism regions established by the Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport in 2011. Its territory covers Waterloo, Wellington, Perth and Huron counties.
Contact David Peacock, CEO – 519-271-7000, RTO4.ca

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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 (http://www.destinationmarketing.org/topics/destination-next), 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 (http://www.sometourism.com/about/) is the work of Canadian tourism development powerhouse DestinationTHINK and holds annual conferences yearly in North America, Europe and Australia.

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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 info@rto4.ca.

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 http://www.grants.gov.on.ca/prodconsum/groups/grants_web_contents/documents/grants_web_contents/prdr011916.pdf

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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