Monday, August 23, 2010

Increasing domestic travel - kudos to new marketing campaigns

I have often called for stronger marketing campaigns to increase domestic tourism for a number of reasons:

1. Rural areas often rely on rubber tire markets for tourism as they have limited other travel infrastructure. They are often in need of marketing efforts that encourage urbanites to travel closer to home to experience what is in their own backyard.

2. The ecological footprint associated to travel is linked to distance from origin (with higher impacts coming from air travel) - therefore traveling in one's back yard can be seen as a green"er" travel choice.

3. Many Canadians (or British Columbians to be more local) are unaware of the rich natural and cultural amenities within our own region. Tourism marketing has often branded very stereotypical images of Canada and its subregions which can dilute the breadth and diversity of experiences that are available.

Year after year however, I see that the dominant view in tourism tends to be to attract international travelers (especially high yield markets) to inject "new" money into the economy. While this is important, this ideology has perhaps skewed the systems and programs in the tourism industry at the expense of those who rely on more domestic travel markets. I have long heard from operators in rural areas "I don't care if my visitor is from Vancouver or Frankfurt - if they stay, pay and play - I am able to stay in business". And of course, if they stay in business - the overall travel experience is better for all, the local community is able to benefit and so on...

I have been quite pleased this summer to see the ramped up efforts in BC and at the Canadian level with marketing campaigns aimed at getting people to travel within their own vicinity. The innovative "Locals Know" campaign by the Canadian Tourism Commission has caught my attention numerous times. They have been engaging Canadians to contribute images, stories and their own experiences and the photos on their site help to showcase unique places and people across the country. More recently as well, BC has ramped up their efforts to get people traveling by car into more remote and unique areas of the province by showcasing driving routes. As someone who has traveled most highways in BC, I am pleased to see that these driving routes give people good reason to explore their own backyard, linking experiences and enticing them off the beaten track.

Hopefully these efforts work to motivate travel within our borders, engaging our residents to be more knowledgeable about what is here and then share that with others. Just about every survey that asks how people find out about places indicates the power of "word of mouth". This powerful tool can only be used when people have experienced something first hand. I hope that this effort at domestic marketing pays off for rural operators and that is produces a whole new generation of ambassadors for travel within Canada.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back in (or out) of the saddle

Hello all,
I should have explained the absence from this blog for the past couple of months prior, but I was away on summer vacation. One of the advantages of my position is being able to take time off in the summer to enjoy the great amenities in the province. For me, this time was largely spent in the saddle, literally, as I am an avid equestrian. So back at work and into a new saddle.

Time in the saddle this summer brought me to many different destinations in the province and I couldn't help but think more about the potential role of equestrian tourism in BC. More and more people are travelling with their pets, and some of these are traveling with their horses. We've seen all sorts of modifications of tourism venues and services to provide for traveling pets, but I must admit - these are lagging behind for horses.

Traveling with horses can be a stress inducing experience as it usually involves trucks and horse trailers and live, precious cargo. It is important to have places to pull over and stop regularly to allow horses legs to rest or to provide water. Some like to take horses out of the trailer as well to allow them to stretch out their legs, especially on long hauls. Waiting in long ferry line ups or the hot sun is a real concern as trailers can soon become like an oven. And of course, deciding where to stay overnight with horses can be a challenge as few places allow this currently.

At the same time, there are a number of equestrians in this province who travel regularly with their horses either for competition or to access trails. Based on my conversations with many and my own experience, there is the potential to expand this travel by improving basic infrastructure, services and awareness among the equestrian community.

This summer I came upon a couple of notable venues that are worth mentioning. Last week I stayed at the Hills Health Ranch in 108 Mile House with my horses. They have worked with the Backcountry Horsemen of BC to construct and provide campsites for horses. The sites have small corrals, large parking areas for rigs, water, manure pits and maps to access some of the nicest trails I have ridden on in BC. They have housed this close to the main Ranch facilities so a $20 camping fee allows access to the showers, pool, restaurants and other amenities at the resort. We had a competitive trail ride on Saturday with about 30 riders from around the province attending (sport tourism) and all of us indicated we would be back. Check it out and if you are a resort, consider building on their concept as it was extremely popular.

The other venue closer to home that I visit regularly is Twincreeks Bed Bale and Breakfast in Duncan. A friend, Deborah Flinn provides overnight facilities for visitors, access to the trails and customized natural horsemanship lessons for visitors. She even puts on wine rides where you ride from winery to winery on horseback! Other friends, Doug and Mary Carr at Takala Ranch in Ladysmith have built a great little cabin and corrals for visitors to stay, ride and take part in Ranch activities.

When I speak of equestrian tourism to others, I often see a bit of confusion about what it is or the potential in BC. I honestly believe that we have the potential to position ourselves as an equestrian tourism destination based on our landscape and access to nearby markets with high horse ownership levels. Equestrian tourism is more than having visitors take a short trail ride on someone else's horse at a Ranch vacation. It needs to expand in scope to include a range of services and supports for those who travel regularly with their horses. We need more research to understand the size and scope of the market and to learn more about their travel needs in order to do this. And, we can learn from others that are leading the way (see horse travel in the USA for an example of how coordinated their services for horse travel are).

I sit on the joint trails access committee with Horse Council BC and am Vice President of the BC Competitive Trail Riders Association... Along with others, I hope we can further the conversations to allow folks to understand the full scope of potential with equestrian tourism and to harness it in the near future.