By Chad Ingram
“We don’t govern by survey” AlgonquinHighlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said as Haliburton County’s tourism committee discussedand ultimately supported running a Haliburton Highlands campaign on popularonline travel website TripAdvisor for 2020.
As previously reported the purchase of adestination page on the website along with an ad campaign is part of thetourism department’s marketing plan for the year. The tourism committee hasbeen discussing the issue during the past few months. There has been somepush-back against the idea particularly from accommodators since the onlinetravel company takes a large commission – somewhere between 15 and 30 per centaccording to one committee member – of any bookings made through its internationallyprominent website. A number of committee members have suggested that manypeople use TripAdvisor to find accommodations but then typically contact thoseaccommodators themselves to make bookings.
During a committee meeting in Februarymembers had a teleconference call with a representative from TripAdvisor wherethey were able to ask questions about the destination page which is a newproduct for the company. As county tourism director Amanda Virtanen hasexplained it would allow the county to customize and control some of thecontent on that home page the idea being to drive as much traffic back to thecounty’s tourism website with its links to local accommodations eateriesattractions event listings etc. as possible. The cost of the destinationpage for one year is actually $2500 the rest of the approximately $14000expense for an accompanying ad campaign on the site. At least $10000 a yearmust be spent with TripAdvisor for the year under the program.
During the February meeting committeemembers had also asked for more feedback from tourism stakeholders and includedin the agenda for the committee’s March 11 meeting were the results of a surveythat had apparently been conducted among stakeholders.
“We all appreciate the intent behind thesurvey that was taken” said Moffatt who chairs the committee. “We didn’t askfor a survey we asked for feedback so we didn’t have any input into what thesurvey said or asked.”
That survey which indicated it contained143 responses showed about 22 per cent of respondents indicating support forthe TripAdvisor campaign as planned more than 45 per cent indicating they’dprefer the county seek alternatives to TripAdvisor and the remainder supportingdeferral until more was known along with other options.
“There’s accusations there’s beensuggestions that it’s been hijacked I don’t know by who or why” Moffattsaid. “There’s been speculation. This entire issue has gone to a crazy placeand there are lots of issues in the world that are worthy of outrage and thisis not one of them.”
The committee opted not to receive thesurvey as information.
“File it under um garbage” said Dysartet al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy. “We’re here to make a decision and if it’sbeen hijacked it’s of no value to the committee or staff or anybody.”
“This is the way of travel now” saidDysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts expressing support for the campaign.
“Proceed absolutely” said Minden HillsMayor Brent Devolin. “The world changes this is the future we need to get onthe bus and get going.”
Not all members of the committee whichconsists of county council along with some members of the public involved inthe local tourism industry were supportive however.
“I don’t disagree with the comments thathave been made however I feel strongly that because it has gone off therails because it is such a contentious issue that I just think we should setit aside personally” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County WardenLiz Danielsen. “I don’t think we’ve resolved the concerns. I wasn’t completelysatisfied with the responses that we got from the TripAdvisor person. I thinkthere was some conflicting information there and I’m not happy with the factthat there still are a number of people who are not supportive of this andthey’re the people we’re trying to help. So I’m not supportive.”
Committee member Rob Berthelot who ownsHalls Lake’s Sandy Lane Resort has repeatedly expressed his concern about theTripAdvisor idea and continued to do so.
“The large amount of people that areopposed to it are accommodators which are going to be the only ones that[feel] a financial impact” Berthelot said indicating he was concerned themove could ultimately force accommodation owners to start signing up withTripAdvisor individually. “The adventure types and the restaurants and thatthey do not have to pay anything. So if it does move forward it could meanaccommodators ultimately have to sign up for TripAdvisor in order to get thefull benefit of the county dollars.”
“We initially rolled this out in Novemberas a way to help accommodators and accommodators are saying ‘This doesn’thelp our accommodators please don’t do it’” he added.
Berthelot echoed Danielsen’s sentimentsthat the conversation with the TripAdvisor rep had left some unansweredquestions.
Committee members agreed that after a yearif they weren’t happy with the way the TripAdvisor campaign works out thecounty would simply not renew for 2021.
“Nobody around this table is out todeliberately undermine any business owner in the county” Moffatt said. “We’retrying to move things forward and sometimes trying to move things forwardrequires a little bit of risk.”