The Power of Partnership: ShopStayPlay in Vaughan

How a Shop, Stay and Play Collaboration Bolstered Visits During Shoulder Season

What do you get when you combine a major tourist attraction, one of Canada’s largest shopping centres, and a Destination Marketing Organization? A blockbuster tourism partnership and a visitor’s dream! The ShopStayPlay partnership was a result of Canada’s Wonderland, Vaughan Mills Shopping Centre and Tourism Vaughan working together to create an initiative that would drive visitation to the city during the typically slower winter shoulder season. ShopStayPlay was a package offered to visitors that included tickets to Canada’s Wonderland, a gift card to Vaughan Mills, and an overnight stay. 

“It’s a true example of collaboration within the tourism industry,” says Ashley Angeloni, from Tourism Vaughan, “As the Destination Development and Marketing Organization for Vaughan, it was important for Tourism Vaughan to support initiatives that encourage overnight stays, but also work to extend the length of stay when targeting visitors from outside of 40km from the city.”

“Canada’s Wonderland spearheaded this first campaign with the support of Central Counties Tourism and Tourism Vaughan to bring all the partners to the table,” said Gary Lee, formerly with Canada’s Wonderland. Adds Emily Chan from Vaughan Mills, “Additionally, Vaughan Mills utilized our marketing resources to promote the package on platforms such as Expedia.ca and Hotels.ca, effectively extending its reach to a wider audience.”

Combining forces was a key factor in enhancing interest in the city during what is typically a slower time of the year. Tourism Vaughan noted that a partnership between these major attractions and hotels is a success in and of itself because it demonstrates the growth of the tourism ecosystem within Vaughan, and how the industry benefits more from collaboration than competition.

With weather being an uncertain factor during the winter season, the campaign focused on marketing to those who lived 40-60km away from Vaughan, who would be more likely to drive to the city in the winter. 

One challenge that the partners faced was having a central information hub, where marketing and promotional efforts could be collaboratively directed to increase awareness and ROI. Tourism Vaughan was able to leverage their website and provide this central hub on visitvaughan.ca. This provided Canada’s Wonderland and Vaughan Mills with the critical landing page to drive visitors to. Canada’s Wonderland and Vaughan Mills were then able to put marketing dollars towards a digital marketing campaign, targeting select travel/tourism DMAs in Ontario. “Bookings for the packages exhibited steady growth throughout the booking window, reflecting the effectiveness of the marketing efforts deployed by all involved parties in promoting the Shop Stay Play program. Moreover, the campaign provided valuable insights into our target market, enabling us to identify key demographics and refine our targeting strategies for the upcoming year.” Emily from Vaughan Mills said.

Gary added that “CCT and Tourism Vaughan further supported the partnership with funding that increased our marketing dollars.” The result of this combined effort was driving traffic to the Tourism Vaughan website, which in turn enhanced awareness of things to do in the city and allowed visitors to book online during a softer time of the year. 

The success of the partnership will continue to be leveraged for the 2024 shoulder season. Vaughan Mills aims to foster greater synergy among all stakeholders. Leveraging social media promotion strategies, they anticipate improved campaign outcomes. They also plan to expand their network of partner hotels beyond Vaughan to include those in Markham, broadening the program’s reach and appeal.

Tourism Vaughan also wants to continue the concept, incorporating additional marketing opportunities for greater reach and return on investment. “Summer is when children are out of school and the weather is less of a concern when making overnight trips to a different city. This means that ShopStayPlay will expand its marketing radius significantly for the new campaign period, and will run for closer to 5 months to give marketing dollars better time to convert.”

As for Canada’s Wonderland, they also hope to continue the program and to learn from the winter campaign to incorporate some key changes. One key change will be to get out to market earlier to try to hit the sweet spot of spring/summer road-trip planning that Tourism Vaughan mentioned. They also mention incorporating additional attractions/partners on the Tourism Vaughan landing page, to create a more robust planning tool for anyone thinking of travelling to the area and revising the targeted markets to add more “road trip” cities.                                                                         

When it comes to lessons learned, one common among all the partners was to make sure to leave enough runway to ensure everything is in place well in advance. As much as possible, they recommend trying to address any technical aspects of the campaign to iron out the kinks before launch. They also reinforced the value of having a debrief at the end of the campaign period to discuss new opportunities and areas for growth for the next iteration.

All three organizations have a history of working with Central Counties Tourism. 

Gary said, “Part of our team (Dwayne) is an active member of the board on CCT. We’ve leveraged industry insights and leveraged marketing support in the past and will continue to do so along with our partners.”

“Throughout the years, Vaughan Mills has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with CCT, receiving valuable support through project partnership, further bolstering our initiatives,” says Emily.

Tourism Vaughan’s Ashley speaks to their continuous collaboration with Central Counties Tourism, “Our websites – yorkdurhamheadwaters.ca and visitvaughan.ca – are connected so this means for Vaughan’s tourism stakeholders and businesses that putting up a business or event listing will not just go on our website, but also the others. This is great because it provides additional reach to other audiences, with the benefit of not having to do the work twice. Tourism Vaughan has also participated in joint campaigns such as Spend & Save in YDH, Ontario’s Staycation Tax Credit and more.”

Ashley adds, “Working with Central Counties Tourism is a mutual, beneficial partnership: any events, businesses or activity that benefits Vaughan also benefits RTO6. Tourism Vaughan helps Central Counties Tourism reach Vaughan’s tourism stakeholders more easily, and Central Counties Tourism provides industry insights and knowledge that aids the work our team does to better assist our tourism businesses. We also work together on data analysis and research, marketing and social opportunities. Chuck Thibeault is also a member of the Tourism Vaughan Advisory Committee.”

The partners also stress the importance of working together with other tourism stakeholders.

Vaughan Mills actively cultivates partnerships on both the B2B and B2C levels, to drive tourist traffic. “We engage with hotels in Vaughan and Markham to offer enticing Shop & Stay packages, including discounted room rates and Vaughan Mills gift cards. Furthermore, we collaborate closely with organizations like OMCA and tour operators, offering incentives and perks to keep Vaughan Mills top-of-mind as a premier shopping destination.”

As the Destination Marketing Organization for the city, Tourism Vaughan provides ongoing support to tourism businesses and stakeholders, from advisory to partnership connections, information and data sharing to business development programs meant to grow and strengthen Vaughan’s tourism industry. 

Gary, formerly from Canada’s Wonderland, says, “I think there are a few key elements in building partnerships: being able to tap into audiences that align closely with each other, but that you may have not been able to reach on your own; being able to pool our resources together and building a more robust campaign, and this grows even more when we take this partnership plan to our tourism teams like CCT to provide additional funding and support!” He also mentions that leveraging brand equity from partnerships is critical, “When we’re able to showcase all the different things to do in our area, we’re building a much stronger case for visitors, than only showcasing individual one-off locations.”

As for advice on how to most effectively partner on campaigns? These three powerhouse partners all agree that it’s best to plan in advance and collaboratively. 

While some of the best ideas come from collaboration, true collaboration takes not only time but open communication. Planning together while being open and giving enough time to ensure the outcome will provide guests with a great experience is the best way to move forward.

Individually, these partners run strong, solid organizations that each prioritize providing visitors with an authentic, enjoyable experience. Collectively, they were able to work together to provide visitors with a unique and fun experience that showcased the power of partnerships in the tourism industry.

By Jessica Gedge


Learn more about CCT’s Partnership Program

If you have an idea for a Partnership application, be sure to speak to your region’s Industry Relations Manager ahead of submitting it.

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