Happy New Year!
The other night I was presenting at a town council meeting, the first of many I plan on doing this year to reinforce the importance of the visitor economy to businesses and residents alike. It was great timing because town staff were presenting an update on what action items from their Community Tourism Plan they accomplished in 2023 and what their goals were for 2024. Prior to the meeting, I had Tom, our Research Manager, do a little comparative research, and was able to let council know that the town saw an almost 4% increase in visitors in 2023 (the first full year of implementing their plan) over 2022. After the presentation, one of the council members asked me what one thing I would invest in to keep the momentum going.
I replied that the number one thing is to work with businesses so they understand the importance of, and have the capacity to grow, the visitor economy. As we all know, this is not an easy task but, we have seen time and again that those businesses that get it are often the most successful. This opened the door to a larger conversation about role and function. No municipality nor CCT, nor the province for that matter, should LEAD tourism growth. And that is because we don’t actually own the attractions, restaurants, accommodations and shops that drive visitation. At GlowZone 360, it drives us nuts when the municipality calls us to buy space in their coupon book or visitor guide because “it is going to be great at driving business”. How do they know what is going to drive my business, especially since they didn’t reach out before hand and ask us what we could use help with. If they had, maybe they would have focused on creating a “What to do in town” electronic brochure that got emailed to all of the team managers coming in for the various sports tournaments through the year. We would have paid to have our information in there with a link to our website because right now, we have to call the city to find out what tournaments are coming, track down the tournament organizer and work with them to get our information in front of the team managers.
All of us not directly making money from visitors, SUPPORT tourism growth. As soon as I wrote this, I thought about Festivals and how they fit. Bear with me as I go off on a little tangent to reconcile the statement against festivals and events. There is a good argument to be made that many festivals and events LEAD tourism growth. They are bringing in hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, to a specific destination and introducing all that it has to offer to a new audience. If it is a non-ticketed event, then a festival does not directly make money from visitors. However, they do operate with a break-even budget, with much of the funding coming from sponsorships and grants from BIA’s, municipalities, CCT, the province and corporations. Those organizations are SUPPORTING tourism growth by funding the festival that LEADS tourism growth. Okay, that was easier than I thought to keep my hypothesis relevant…
When we work with a community to create a Community Tourism Plan, we don’t LEAD the process. Rather, we facilitate the process with a working group of businesses, organizations and municipal staff who determine what visitor success looks like in their community. Once implemented, the municipality is often tasked with the implementation of action items that SUPPORT tourism growth. For many of the plans, this includes developing a website and a social media strategy – both of which are fed by content from businesses and organizations that drive visitation. And, in the more recent plans that have been developed, the need to engage with clusters of businesses and get them working together to build destinations has become a more prioritized action item.
We really agree that business engagement is key to destination development. You are reading this, so you probably do as well. The issue is that there are still hundreds of businesses who are so wrapped up in day-to-day operations that they may not even know about us or understand that there are lots of opportunities to learn how to grow their visitor base. In order for us to collectively grow our network of businesses who want to be more successful through working together to build stronger destinations, we need to get the word out there. It would be great if you would share this newsletter, or even our stakeholder website (centralcounties.ca) with your business networks so others can take advantage of some of the opportunities we provide to SUPPORT your abilities to attract and retain more visitors.
Speaking of SUPPORTS, we have our annual Tourism Symposium taking place on April 8. There are only 180 tickets available for the event, which is now on sale, with Early Bird rates in effect until February 29. Don’t miss out on this amazing day of learning and networking. We also have a free live information session on the 2024-2025 CCT Partnership Program on February 1 at 1pm. I will be going through the new priorities and types of projects we are looking for and then open it up for questions. Get signed up if you can, but don’t worry, we will also record it and make it available to everyone. We are also in the process of turning the Route Development Toolkit we drafted in 2023 into a new Learning Lab module that will help you and the businesses you hope to work with, develop and launch successful new products designed to drive additional visitation to all involved. We are hoping to get this out by the end of the summer.
Thank you to both those that LEAD and those that SUPPORT the growth of the visitor economy for taking the time to read this introduction and the rest of the amazing newsletter that the team puts together each month. We at CCT continue to work at engaging more businesses to LEAD growth, which, in turn, allows our SUPPORT to be more impactful. As always, I am only an email away if you would like to chat about anything. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!