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New Strategic Framework Will Strengthen Regional Tourism Organizations

Bracebridge, Ont. – The thirteen Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs) established by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS) are working collaboratively on the implementation of a ‘strategic framework for tourism’, which is being developed by the Ministry as part of its ongoing efforts to build the tourism industry in the province.

One outcome of the 2009 Tourism Competitiveness Study Report (Discovering Ontario: A Report on the Future of Tourism) was the creation of a regional tourism model in the province. In 2014, the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario was contracted to conduct a 5-year review of the implementation of the Discovering Ontario recommendations (20 in all) and, based on stakeholder feedback, MTCS will lead the development of a strategic framework that will iterate the “key priorities and specific actions both government and industry can take to grow tourism in the province.” This strategic framework will be key to fostering greater collaboration across the province by stakeholders, and will allow the established RTOs to strengthen their already significant contributions to the development of tourism in Ontario
“What is of note with the regional model is that each RTO across the province sets its own specific objectives relative to the unique offering of the area represented,” says James Murphy, executive director of RTO12. “Key performance indicators (KPIs) established with MTCS also help drive the business of the RTOs to produce measurable results and optimal ROI; the development of a new strategic framework by MTCS will further strengthen alignment between tourism stakeholders, including RTOs, to help identify new opportunities to collaborate for maximum impact.”
While no date has been set for the launch of the strategic framework by MTCS, the 13 RTOs continue to introduce innovative and diverse projects in Ontario to build provincial tourism. For a brief summary of region-specific successes, see below:

RTO12 (Explorers’ Edge): Representing Algonquin Park, Almaguin Highlands, Loring-Restoule, Muskoka, Parry Sound
Unique to the RTOs, RTO12 (known in the marketplace as Explorers’ Edge) has evolved into a leading content and social media travel marketing organization, not only within the province of Ontario, but arguably within the Canadian tourism industry.
As one of the lower-funded RTOs, Explorers’ Edge relies on the guiding mantra of “do more with less” to set measurable objectives and to build new audiences for its respective sub-regions. To that end, the organization has seen great success in abandoning the traditional outbound marketing activities it engaged in for the first few years of operation (e.g. OOH, radio, print), to developing innovative inbound strategies, including content marketing and (new in 2015) a lead nurturing program using Hubspot software.
The results of this strategy include:
• Explorers’ Edge has the second-highest followers on Facebook of the RTOs (second only to Toronto), with 89K fans
• Explorers’ Edge has seen substantial year-over-year visits to its consumer website, including a record-setting month in September 2015, when 122K visits to the site were achieved (a 34% increase)
• Outbound links to individual tourism operators and stakeholders by site visitors reached a monthly record in September 2015, with 29K referrals being achieved
• Since the introduction of the lead nurturing strategy, open rates for customer emails have increased to between 47-61% (from 29% average), and click rates have increased to between 11-22% (from 4.5% average). Additionally, 2K names of potential travelers have been added to the database since the introduction of lead nurturing, primarily from content marketing.
• The introduction of the Jack Rabbit booking engine has seen an additional success in diverting visits to the Explorers’ Edge site to tourism operators (30K outbound referrals since September 2014)
• Explorers’ Edge annually invests $160K in matching funds to support collaborative projects in the region, including the What’s Cooking Bracebridge event, the Kearney Dog Sled Races, Resort of North Muskoka, Golf Muskoka and more.
Additionally, Explorers’ Edge has made significant investment in supporting and promoting product development in the region, including the Ice Trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park, fat biking on Georgian Bay, snowmobiling, and the innovative Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery self-guided mobile tour – the first in a ‘Signature Suite’ of self-guided tours for visitors to take on their phones and tablets.
In an effort to build shoulder season business, RTO12 also continues to run its extremely popular Fuel & Fun program in spring and fall, when consumers who book two nights’ accommodation can receive a $50 gas card and $50 in cash vouchers to use at participating restaurants, shops and attractions.

Erika Navarro    11/2/2015


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