A shift from traditional marketing to a content marketing strategy has helped transform the region that includes Muskoka and Algonquinn Park from a summer destination to a year-round tourism hotspot.
So says James Murphy, executive director of the bureaucratically-named Regional Tourism Organization (RTO) 12 – better known to consumers as Explorers’ Edge – which also includes Parry Sound and more than a dozen provincial and national parks. It’s one of 13 RTOs that were created about five years ago by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, aimed at marketing tourism in the province more efficiently.
Content marketing about unique winter tourism attractions, such as the 4-year-old Arrowhead Ice Trail – a 1.8 km. skating trail through a forest, has helped develop a shoulder season for the region, he says. As a result, Huntsville, which is close to the provincial park trail, is achieving full occupancy in the winter, compared to the 15% occupancy it used to get.
Murphy says a year-round content and social marketing strategy has paid off big for Explorers’ Edge and has allowed it to compete with bigger tourism promoters elsewhere in the province.
Occupancy rates were up 4% for the region last year compared with 1% for Ontario as a whole.
The strategy, which began three years ago with a blog, has replaced seasonal campaigns that used traditional marketing. These campaigns proved to be time-consuming and had little return on investment, he says.
“When you’re faced with a modest budget, traditional advertising is not the way to go,” says Peter Coish, president of Kuration, which developed the tourism organization’s marketing strategy.
RTO 12 receives $1.5 million in funding, making it the second lowest funded RTO. (Funding is based on roofed accommodations, not camping, and camping is very popular in the area.)
“Being the quintessential outdoor wilderness experience, we need to be nimble,” Murphy says. And with rapid shifts in the weather, “we need to be able to change our messaging and what products we go to market with as the seasons change very quickly.”
Using content marketing to showcase the region as “the great Canadian wilderness just two hours north of Toronto” has proved to be an exceptionally efficient way to spend media dollars, Murphy says.
In particular, Facebook has become very effective as a content distribution tool for Explorers’ Edge, says Coish.
Updated regularly with blog-like content, the Explorers’ Edge Facebook page now has more than 96,000 likes and about 16% of its impressions are organic.
Content is pushed out on social channels as well as by email.
Over the last few years, traffic to the Explorers’ Edge website has increased from less than 100,000 visits a year to 700,000, Murphy says. In addition, referrals to tourism operators in the region climbed from 47,000 in 2013 to 118,000 in 2014.
Facebook has proven to be “exponentially more effective” than Twitter as a content distribution platform, Murphy and Coish say. However, while it’s “very difficult to achieve meaningful reach” with Twitter, it continues to be used to engage influencers.
Instagram is becoming increasingly important as a distribution channel for driving content and as a brand-building media, they say.
Enterprise Canada handles PR for Explorers’ Edge.