Northern Ontario Tourism reflects on a ‘big’ year

The third annual Northeastern Ontario Tourism AGM was held recently at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference in Little Current. photo by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Northern Ontario Tourism (NeONT) reflected on the last year of the organization at its third annual general meeting held recently in Little Current.

“Good afternoon and thank you for taking time out of your very busy fall schedule to join us here today in Little Current on beautiful Manitoulin Island,” said NeONT Executive Director Donna MacLeod. “Fall is always a great time to take stock and look at where we have been and where we are going.”

Ms. MacLeod noted that Northeastern Ontario, as a region, encompasses more than 184,000 square kilometres and that NeONT represents a vast array of tourism businesses, unique geography and some of the best outdoor experiences available in Ontario. She added that the NeONT board is comprised of representatives from tourism business, attractions, events, associations and destination marketing organization and municipalities.

“The board undertook the development of a business strategy and marketing plan based on research and statistics,” said Ms. MacLeod. “We began the rollout of the new strategy in the fall of 2014.”

NeONT teamed up with TWG Communications for refreshing NeONT’s brand, media planning and buying and advertisement creation. They also created a Digital Content Strategy, a plan for NeONT’s online presence.

“We asked ourselves ‘what defines Northeastern Ontario’?” Ms. MacLeod explained. “And the resounding response was ‘size’—Northeastern Ontario is big in every way. Geographically the region is big, with big lakes and rivers and big forests with big trees, and of course, one very big Island. There is room to roam thanks to big outdoor expanses. It is home to a big nickel, big cow, big chair and big-hearted people providing big hospitality for visitors from far and wide. Tourists create big memories from time spent enjoying big beaches and big trail systems. Northeastern Ontario has big northern lights and big sunsets. Visitors are welcomed with big smiles and our cities have big hearts and big personalities.”

“People are fascinated by big things,” continued Mr. MacLeod. “Big things intrigue us and Northeastern Ontario provides all manner of big for visitors to experience. So we are using ‘big’ as the vehicle to go forward with our marketing.”

From the new ‘big’ theme, Ms. MacLeod said they came up with the new slogan “Northeastern Ontario, undeniably big. Unbelievably close.”

“We launched our new website in March of 2015,” shared Ms. MacLeod. “The goal of the website was to drive consumers to our partners in order that they could close the sale and confirm a booking. We did this through listings such as ‘things to do,’ ‘places to go,’ and ‘places to stay.’ We provided inspiration through stories, blogs, photography and events listings. We linked partners on all these pages and we provide an A to Z listing direct to our partners. In addition, a link from the reservation system takes the consumer directly to our partners’ reservation system or rate page.”

Ms. MacLeod said that the first month of operation exceeded their target with 5,668 visitors. Of these, 2,009 were ‘deeply engaged,’ spending an average of 7.08 minutes on the site. The click-throughs to partner pages were 1,041. Ms. MacLeod was also pleased to report that the website is on target to reach 200,000 plus visitors this fiscal year.

“We continued to build our Meridian Reservation System, our online booking/referral tool,” said Ms. MacLeod.  “The reservation system generated 13,007 click-throughs to partner pages with a minimum potential of almost $40,000 in one-day sales alone. There were nine packages offered by our partners and 170 packages booked generating just under $44,000 in revenues and 31 room nights.”

NeONT’s guide also saw a complete re-design and transition in 2014-2015 becoming a lure piece—‘The Big Adventure Guide.’

The guide features 48 pages of spectacular photography and high-quality articles by celebrity outdoor writers who are also award-winning experts in their respective fields and was available with three different feature covers—Outdoor Adventure, Motorsports and Fishing—to appeal to three different target audiences.

The ‘big’ branding was also carried over into print advertising with full-page lure ad campaigns appearing in Food and Drink, Ontario Out of Doors, Attractions Ontario, American Outdoorsman, Motorcycle Mojo, Game and Fish, On-The-Go and Canadian Geographic Travel and Explore Magazine.

“We saw the continuation of our CTV commercials in 2014-2015,” said Ms. MacLeod. “Reach for these ads covered southern Ontario and into the boarder states and this initiative kept NeONT top of mind with vacation planners.”

NeONT hosted 14 fam (familiarization) tours last year and brought writers, bloggers and television production companies directly to the region to experience first hand what Northeastern Ontario has to offer.

As well, NeONT attended three fishing and hunting shows, two outdoor shows and two motorsport shows, all targeted in areas.

“I have barely skimmed the surface; our marketing initiatives are far too many to mention in this presentation,” concluded Ms. MacLeod. The complete Year in Review and copies of any of our reports mentioned here today are available on our website at www.northeasternontario.com.”