The weather may have turned cold and gloomy, but my mood is like that first day in May when the sun is shining and the temperature crests 22 degrees. And here is why. People – and not just you amazing folks who are obviously already engaged – are not just recognizing the importance of the visitor economy, but engaging with us to figure out how to play a bigger role in it.
Before I dive into that, I want to share an experience I had last month which, to me, exemplifies the epitome of best practice in terms of stakeholder-led destination development. If you are a fan of this newsletter, I am sure you have seen me reference A Country Path from time to time. It is the first industry-led trail that we had a hand in developing and, as they close in on 10 years of partnering with each other, they asked us to come spend the day on the path. Over the years, I have made stops at one or two of the businesses on my way to or from Bancroft or Ottawa but, even though the staff always engaged me and suggested I check out another location on the trail, I had never done all of the stops. Boy, was I missing out!
I have tried to start this paragraph four times, but can’t find the right words to express how delighted I was through every moment of that day. Part of it was pride because I was there the first night that a small group of the original stakeholders got together to discuss how they could work together and what that could look like. Part of it was incredulousness. At every location, a giant map of A Country Path stops was prominently displayed, at the foot of each driveway was the A Country Path logo, and on every countertop or display rack there were A Country Path brochures. Part of it was wonder. I hadn’t been to all of the locations before and was blown away, not only by what I learned about each business, but, by what they had to offer. And the biggest part of it was pure joy. The passion that each of the stakeholders involved in the delivery of A Country Path exuded was almost palpable. I left each location feeling that I got to see behind the curtain to get a glimpse of the magic that made each business the success it is. For all of its current perfection, the partners involved are always looking for new ways to grow and evolve, which is a true testament to the success they are having with the program. If you haven’t already spent a day wandering A Country Path, I highly recommend that you do.
In addition to that wonderful day, September and October have been full of very productive and engaging meetings and events. This period is our planning season for fiscal 2024-2025, which begins on April 1, 2024. We firmly believe that our priorities have to align with the priorities of our municipalities and the businesses they support. There is no point in us developing a plan that is built in a vacuum, so what we do is set up meetings with each of our municipal partners to discuss what their plans and priorities are for 2024. As of the date of writing this, we have met with 17 of our municipalities. What has me beaming is that the visitor economy is on the radar of every single community within our region. And not only is it on their radars, they are actively working towards taking actions to support and grow the number of people who spend time within their borders. I was thrilled that each and every one of them had an idea of the market segments they wanted to grow and had already been planning their activities to support that growth. The following two charts show the rankings of both
What market segments do you hope to grow in 2024?
What activities do you plan on doing to support the growth of the visitor economy?
One of the reasons that many of our municipal partners were able to map out their priorities is that they, often in partnership with CCT, have been reaching out to businesses in their communities to find out what support they require to grow their success. Building on the success of the Headwaters Networking Events led by CCT, several of our municipalities have partnered with us to host similar events in their communities. They have been wildly successful with 30-50 stakeholders coming together (some for the first time) to learn about each other’s businesses and start conversations about how they may be able to work together to grow their success. It also provides an opportunity for CCT and the municipalities to learn about some of the successes and struggles businesses are having, which are translating into action items. Activities like Red Tape Reduction and Infrastructure Upkeep & Maintenance haven’t been top-of-mind with municipalities in terms of how they can affect the visitor economy, and now they are. This is a huge step forward and demonstrates a recognition that the visitor economy is a) important to the sustained vibrancy/growth of the municipality, and b) support for its growth lies across many municipal departments and needs to be taken into consideration when decisions are made. I fed off their energy like I was at a Mandarin Buffet!!
For most of our municipalities, resourcing is an issue. That, and staff support for growing the visitor economy is often just one part of the overall responsibilities of a staff member or team within the organization. Municipal staff recognize this and look to CCT to help fill the gaps. What I really found interesting is the shift over the last several years away from marketing support and towards development support. Our municipal partners recognize that they have the ability to support the growth of the visitor economy through marketing and communications. They know their branding and their stakeholders well enough to help them amplify their messaging. What they don’t have the resources (and sometime expertise) for, is assisting in the overall development of their municipality as a destination. Through our constant engagement with stakeholders across the region, we have a list of supports that we provide to help every business and municipality grow their success through the visitor economy. The below chart ranks what supports the municipalities are counting on CCT to provide. It almost mirrors what we are hearing from individual businesses and organizations, with only one item in the top seven having anything to do with marketing and communications.
What areas of support are you looking for from CCT?
Based on the above, us staff here at CCT have a lot to do in 2024-2025. However, with the ever-increasing engagement with our stakeholders, coupled with increased focus on growing the visitor economy by our municipalities, we are confident in our collective ability to have success creating and expanding our amazing destinations within York, Durham and Headwaters. You all give me energy that fuels my passion for this amazing industry. It really is true that when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Thank you for all that you do, and please feel free to reach out at any time at email@example.com.
Have a great day!