By Chad Ingram
Some members of Haliburton County’s tourism advisory committee and the manager of one of the county’s largest accommodators continue to have concerns about the proposed use of online travel company TripAdvisor by the county’s tourism department.
Part of the 2020 tourism marketing plan is for the county to purchase a destination page with TripAdvisor a widely used website for accommodation reviews and bookings.
“We definitely need to be there” said county tourism director Amanda Virtanen when she initially presented the idea to the committee in the fall. “It would also really help our Google presence.”
During a Jan. 8 committee meeting members received and discussed a letter from John Teljeur general manager of the Pinestone Resort and Conference Centre. Among other criticisms Teljeur’s letter implored the county not to proceed with the TripAdvisor plan.
“The plan to invest anything in a TripAdvisor promotion will actually hurt accommodation providers rather than help them” Teljeur’s letter read. “Every hotel brand and individual accommodator spends a lot of time/effort to reduce the impact of the excessive commissions paid to Expedia TripAdvisor and other online travel agents. You’re essentially opening the floodgates to something we work so hard to prevent. Pinestone cannot participate in this promotion in any shape or form (not even a listing) because it could lead to driving current customers through TripAdvisor . . . and gouge our rate structure. Please reconsider this project.”
Rob Berthelot who owns Halls Lake’s Sandy Lake Resort and is a member of the advisory committee also expressed reservations about the potential county use of TripAdvisor.
“The TripAdvisor [plan] concerns me greatly as an accommodator because they take somewhere between 15 and 30 per cent” Berthelot said. “They might not be asking for it right now but my perception is this is letting the fox into the henhouse.
“My concern is I want to know more info before we say let’s go ahead with TripAdvisor” he said. “I’m not saying we can’t go ahead with it but I’d like to get some more info before we make a final decision because I’m concerned about the potential ramifications going forward.”
“We did talk about the booking aspect of TripAdvisor a couple of years ago and because of push-back from the stakeholders we said OK we won’t go there on your behalf because of those percentages” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt explaining that the destination page being talked about in this case was a new product from the company.
“We’re all in this together” Virtanen told committee members. “I’m not going to recommend a tactic that I don’t think will work. However I’m going on what Trip-Advisor has told me.”
“It’s a new product that they’re launching this year” Virtanen continued. “It’s a page that we have full control over the content. All of the advertising that will be on TripAdvisor will go directly to the accommodators themselves. You don’t book through TripAdvisor it sends the traffic out.”
The cost for the full year program would be $13000 which includes a customizable destination page and full ad campaign.
“This isn’t adversarial at all” Virtanen said. “I just want to do what’s best for the community and when you Google where to stay in Haliburton Highlands the first thing that comes up is TripAdvisor. I’d rather control that content if we can.”
A number of committee members agreed they would like more information about the program before making a recommendation to county council and Virtanen will bring more info back to the committee table.