STRATFORD, Ont. (April 6, 2017) – In an industry where traditional marketing has been disrupted by the rapid growth of digital news and social media, an Ontario tourism organization is blazing new territory with an innovative incubator approach to destination marketing.
RTO4, which provides leadership and support to a growing tourism economy in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington, has teamed up with tourism partners to create the Destination Animation Fund.
The initiative offers business operators matching funds to create new or enhanced tourism offerings that align with the destination’s agreed-upon core DNA and activate visitors to share their experiences through social networks, enabling the partners to reach a broad and motivated audience of travellers.
“Rather than investing in traditional ‘Eat, Play, Stay’ ad campaigns that many destinations rely on, we’re putting our money into helping create highly sharable visitor experiences,” says David Peacock, RTO4 Chief Executive Officer. “In a way, we’re harnessing the power of word-of-mouth with a digital-age twist.”
But the Destination Animation Fund is much more than only a marketing push — it’s a catalyst for tourism development.
During its inaugural year in 2016, the Fund provided $30,000 in matching funds to launch 10 projects in Stratford, which translated to more than $103,000 in direct investment in new cultural experiences. Visitors shared their experiences via social media widely, reaching an audience of more than 190,000.
Funded projects are typically small in scale, but are designed to get visitors talking. They also aim to provide visitors with new opportunities to stay longer and interact more with destinations.
Projects created through the fund in 2016 included:
· Stratford Summer Music organized guided walks through the popular T.J. Dolan natural area, where visitors were delighted along the way by performances from the Canadian flute ensemble, Charm of Finches. The walks were led by Stratford field naturalist volunteers.
· Hidden quotes from Shakespeare magically appeared on sidewalks and walls but only when it rained, rewarding visitors with a charming reason to explore the community when they might otherwise stay indoors. Organized by Covet — The Community Closet on behalf of a consortium of businesses.
Stratford Writers Festival
· DigiWriting organized a two-day festival celebrating the literary arts by bringing together writers and readers to interact, discuss and share through author readings, panel discussions, Q&As, book signings and writers workshops to Stratford’s cultural downtown core.
Based on the success of its first year, RTO4 and its tourism partners have doubled the size of the fund to $60,000 in 2017. Business operators in three destinations — Stratford, Bayfield and Elora & Fergus — have been invited to submit proposals to get their creative ideas off the ground. Panels in each community will announce which projects succeeded at landing funding in coming weeks.
“We’re seeing numerous benefits to this approach, other than just straight marketing,” says Peacock. “We tap into the creativity and passion of local tourism operators to develop new ventures for their communities and we also create stronger local networks of tourism professionals who are united around the idea of enhancing the overall visitor experience.”