Canadian communities with the right mix of memorable experiences are well poised to benefit from a low Canadian dollar, rebounding US visitation and ever-increasing visitation from China.
Creating these memorable experiences for travelers is important because increasingly, these experiences drive the word-of-mouth social media marketing that is so important for increasing visitation and local economic development.
But getting the right mix of memorable experiences can take some hard work, especially when creating the right mix so often requires collaboration between government, tourism sector entrepreneurs, local residents, investors, destination marketing organizations, non-profit organizations and increasingly First Nations. This collaboration isn’t always easy. Your community may not be purpose-built for tourism and not everyone in your community has a common desire to share their ‘home.’ When collaboration is lacking, visitors often end up with the wrong kind of memorable experience. Here are some examples from my personal experience.
A few years ago I was travelling with my wife and two young children, to quaint Community X in British Columbia. To make life easy, I booked a two-story character home (similar to the ones in the tourism brochures) just off the main district and in walking distance of most of my destinations. Little did I know that the home was above a ground floor suite home to a long-term resident. The main living area of our dwelling had a wood floor and with two kids just learning how to run, it was a recipe for disaster. I quickly learned what a Sony stereo set at level 10 sounded like through the floor. Unexpectedly, I also got an earful from the tenant about how tourism and illegal nightly rentals were ruining the community. So instead of the experience depicted in the brochure, my accommodation and encounter with the resident was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I won’t be going back and I won’t suggest a visit to my friends.
More recently, my colleague travelled to Community Y on Vancouver Island. She was there for a bike race and her trip included a visit to this community. While there, she went to the downtown core to find a festive atmosphere for a car show and related activities to attract people to the community. During the events, the Mayor thanked everyone for coming, and invited them to visit and spend their money in the community. Unfortunately, 90% of the stores were closed. It was Sunday and the shop owners obviously had other plans for how to spend their days. Or perhaps they wanted to hang their open signs but could not find adequate staffing – a problem that is all too common.
These examples of one hand not knowing or caring what the other hand is doing is a perfect example of uncoordinated tourism planning (or lack of planning altogether), and it is all too common.
So why doesn’t collaboration happen?
Tourism typically exists in one form or another in most communities, despite the fact that in many cases, local residents and businesses may identify themselves as a forestry, fishing or mining town, or even as a city with a diversity of businesses. Tourism often only really comes to the forefront when an area is discovered – these days via a selfie by a popular blogger or celebrity, or the decision is made by a group of residents or a business with very good intentions that the area should be ‘discovered’ by a few more people. These well-intentioned small groups decide to create a marketing strategy and advertising campaign to promote the area. In fact, there are even funds to support these types of tourism strategies. Unfortunately, the nature of this type of ‘imposed discovery’ that lacks broader collaboration can leave travelers and local residents with the wrong kind of experience. So what is a better approach?
A community-based tourism plan is a document informed by the broader community and developed collaboratively by a broad cross-section of organizations involved in tourism. A plan of this type is not just a marketing strategy nor is it a comprehensive workplan for every tourism organization; rather, it articulates what the community and tourism partners should focus on primarily – the key directions and deliverables to collaboratively achieve community success through tourism.
In addition to exploring current and new visitor market value, community-based tourism planning also identifies:
- A tourism vision that supports and aligns with broader community goals;
- Ways to minimize or eliminate negative impacts that could result from tourism;
- How to capture new economic opportunities while enhancing the cultural and natural amenities of the area;
- The educational requirements and support needed by residents to start their own tourism enterprises;
- Local infrastructure investments or policy and regulatory changes required to support tourism initiatives; and
- The roles of all the community players and funding avenues required to foster tourism.
Finally, the plan can help coordinate the phased roll out of actions for the greatest benefit.
So before you invest in a creative and well-intentioned, but perhaps uncoordinated and premature, branding and marketing tourism effort or a decision to roll out the carpet to the growing mass of American and Chinese visitors, make sure your left hand and your right hand are aligned for a common purpose. Your visitors will thank you and they’ll likely tell their friends about it.
Service page: Tourism Planning Service Page
Project page: Tofino Tourism Master Plan project page