By Darren Lum
Published April 27 2017
Drawing visitors here is all about making connections with people online through personal authentic stories whether with words images or video.
This is the backbone of the Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization’s (OHTO) new regional brand Come Wander expected to be launched on May 19 with advertisements and promotion.
Local tourism stakeholders were educated about the long-term comprehensive campaign and related details of using the power of social media to engage and draw visitors at the stakeholders session Wednesday April 19 at the Bonnie View Inn in Haliburton – the third stop for the five-stop trip from April 18 to 25.
With a PowerPoint presentation and group activities OHTO representatives encouraged the stakeholders for help with this effort including a new website (comewander.ca) since the majority of content depends on stakeholders to sell themselves.
OHTO is a not-for-profit organization created by the provincial government working to draw visitors to the counties of Haliburton Lanark Renfrew portions of Frontenac Hastings and Lennox and Addington.
There are four stages people go through before deciding where they want to travel: dreaming about it planning it executing the plan and then experiencing it.
Most of the public uses the Internet for all of these moments and OHTO wants to influence decisions made during the dreaming phase.
This can be done by using the stakeholders’ stories across YouTube and the major social media channels such as Facebook Twitter Instagram and Pinterest.
Collaboration between the different levels of tourism bodies from the province down to the municipal level is ongoing. This allows images and stories to be shared with a larger audience with a variety of marketing channels.
A visitor can then engage with the content which is then linked back to the creator. ComeWander.ca is the aggregator of the content. Locally #MyHaliburtonHighlands is the hashtag being used.
Julie Mulligan said Come Wander is not a marketing campaign for the short term.
“It’s a brand platform that we’re using long term so you’re not going to see other messaging next year about something completely new. So this is what we’re defining as a long-term growth strategy so anything is going to be coming from Come Wander” she said.
There will be efforts to build off of this for not just the coming season but year round she added.
A website will tap into the yearning to escape the everyday. They identified six different types of travellers or “wanderer” such as the creative cruiser serenity seeker freedom finder rustic roamer and the memory maker.
The focus of creative cruiser is to create while a serenity seeker is interested in relaxing. A freedom finder wants to get away from the everyday seeking adventure such as hiking or off-road riding. Rustic roamers are interested in looking to meander downtown to visit stores and restaurants or live life like a local. A memory maker wants to have an experience he or she can share with loved ones.
Visitors to the new website will be asked a series of questions corresponding with one of the categories streamlining further searches and facilitating e-blasts and providing relevant photos depicting activities corresponding to type.
The benefit of this approach is that there is strength in numbers Mulligan said. Combining the efforts of a region will bring a greater audience to learn about an area and what it has to offer.
Mulligan said stakeholders have a simple task.
“All you have to do is share your story. Answer those monthly questions on the seasonal content request form. Also on your social media channels using #comewander so that we can use your story to our online community as well” she said.
In explaining the process further Mulligan provided “a story life cycle.”
A simple answer to a question related to an event could be part of a larger story. For example the Haliburton Forest Festival was presented in a quote as a truly Canadian event. The quote was then included as part of a story for the ideal road trip which is then posted and shared multiple times.
It not only draws visitors to the website for the event but markets the Forest and the area. The larger story is shared on social media to engage people.
Ensuring that the story is posted with hashtags helps market the event and the area on multiple networks reaching a wider audience.
In this case OHTO’s Wanderer then went to the festival and produced content about it.
As reported in the past this launch was part of a two-year process that started with two main questions of appealing to visitors (particularly urban ones interested in escaping) and how the industry will benefit from leveraging the messaging and participating in activation. The lead up included sessions held in the stakeholder regions.
This brand launch brings together experience development programs such as OHvation a “mystery shop assessment”; Ignite a hands-on training program and the networking opportunity to share best practices; OH! Tourism Summit the annual event for tourism operators industry leaders and community partners.
In posting to social media it’s important to use #ComeWander or @OntarioHighlands so more viewers/readers are reached by accessing more networks. If in doubt tag the most relevant hashtags and just tag organizations to save on Twitter word count restrictions.
Social media posts will bolster the content being produced by OHTO content producer The Wanderer who has a blog at ComeWander.ca about her travels in the Highlands.
OHTO said businesses are invited to ask The Wanderer to visit them to be profiled.
OHTO’s tourism development and industry relations co-ordinator Stephanie Hessel left the audience with important questions to think about on how to attract interest with posts.
“How do you want your visitors to feel at your business or enterprise or within your communities? Can you name what that feeling is? Do you live that feeling and does your staff live that feeling?
“If you can identify what that is then you can start to use that as an anchor to develop your stories or create your marketing message … What do you want to be known for? What do your visitors thank you for? That’s a unique one that people probably do in their own way but start to ask and interact with your customer … [then] what keeps you going? Keep that top of mind as you go forward” she said.
At the Bonnie View Inn session there were more than 60 people easily eclipsing the previous stops of Carleton Place and Stirling that only drew 15 people.
The OHTO sessions in Haliburton have been consistently well attended and participants have been helpful.
The quality of feedback by the stakeholders in Haliburton has proven to be invaluable for OHTO as far as shaping decisions related to marketing and strategy such as Come Wander Hessel said.
From the series of sessions held by OHTO stakeholders are invited to direct them questions.
Regarding marketing initiatives under Come Wander OHTO offers monthly guiding questions seasonal content requests product knowledge meetings and one-on-one engagement sessions to provide stakeholders with more details about Come Wander or to learn about personal participation concerns and challenges.
Also part of this campaign is the Come Wander consumer e-blast for exclusive experiences promotion of events and targeting potential visitors based on chosen personas.
Mulligan finished the session by making it clear this is only the beginning of the effort to make the Highlands a draw to visitors.
“This is our starting point. We want to keep this conversation going. … There’s going to be different levels [of interest]. People are going to be excited about it. People will be having challenges with it or concerns. And what is important here is that we’re getting the conversation going no matter what the level is” she said.