/Setting the stage 

Setting the stage 

The Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) the regional tourism organization encapsulating the Haliburton Highlands revealed its new brand platform to local stakeholders late last month.

It’s a vast improvement over the branding the organization tried last year.

The Come Wander platform invites people to come and explore the communities of Ontario’s Highlands – Haliburton County Bancroft Hastings Highlands and parts of the Ottawa Valley – in a laid-back fashion.

“It’s the perfect backdrop to an unrehearsed day” a presentation stakeholders took in proclaimed.

Like penning a relaxing Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.

The idea seemed to go over much better than the Welcome to Nowhere campaign OHTO tried to run with last year.

Nowhere was widely hated in the county as many residents found it insulting and disparaging to the people who for decades have been building businesses and trying to market the Haliburton Highlands as a tourism destination.

However the branding campaigns at their core are essentially the same. Both promote the idea of escaping to the Highlands for a week or weekend away from the hyper hustle-bustle of the city. Both are meant to appeal to the tired Toronto commuter atrophying from the daily grind.

Come Wander just does it in a more nuanced way a better way a way that is not offensive to those who live in small communities.

The aesthetics are modern and fresh using bright overexposed photography with scenes that are suggestive if not quite whole.

For example the hand of a young woman in a colourful skirt reaching down to touch a blade of tall grass in a sunlit field.

A meandering roadway through a deciduous forest.

The imagery was a bit edgy for some stakeholders who said they’d prefer to see smiling faces families on the dock that sort of thing.

But that has been done. For decades. The aesthetics of the Come Wander campaign are hip and therefore appealing to the target demographic – youngish GTA professionals with disposable income looking to escape for the weekend.

One comment was that the images could be from almost anywhere in Ontario and while that may be true the same could be said of a picture of a smiling kid holding a fish.

OHTO practises what is known as experiential tourism – promoting experiences sensations emotions instead of a particular place – and that’s what the Come Wander platform does. It promotes a feeling of freedom.

OHTO does not have an easy task representing areas that in some cases are fairly distinct from one another. While one comment at the stakeholder session was that there was a blandness to the imagery the imagery is general enough that it can apply to all of OHTO’s catchment area. Think of the branding platform as a stage. It’s then up to individual communities to do their own performances on that stage – that’s where the county’s #MyHaliburtonHighlands branding comes in. Within that performance are the individual acts; the accommodators restaurants and businesses of the Haliburton Highlands.