By James Murphy
Home to iconic destinations like Algonquin Park, Muskoka, Georgian Bay and more than a dozen provincial and national parks, Regional Tourism Organization 12 (RTO12) — also known as Explorers’ Edge — is blessed with stunning natural landscapes and fantastic tourism amenities to promote.
But with less funding than bigger tourism promoters in other parts of the province, it’s had to find creative ways to level the playing field.
Two years ago, Bracebridge, Ont.-based RTO12 took a hard look at its efforts and realized it needed a new marketing approach if it was ever going to compete against the likes of Toronto, Niagara Falls and Ottawa for domestic and international visitors.
Rather than putting resources primarily into campaign-style ad buys at specific times of the year, RTO12 began investing its energy and creativity into a content marketing strategy that runs throughout the year. Developed in partnership with its agency, Toronto-based Kuration, the marketing strategy uses traditional old-school storytelling techniques to capture the imaginations of visitors, promoting the pieces on its website via social media — especially Facebook.
RTO12 generates all of its content in-house, building it around a central narrative that showcases the region’s greatest draw as “the great Canadian wilderness just two hours north of Toronto.” The strategy focuses primarily on the shoulder seasons and features differentiated experiences and regional travel products.
The results have been remarkable, allowing RT012 not only to compete against bigger destinations with bigger budgets, but also to out-perform them in many categories.
With the two-fold objective of building new audiences for the region and increasing referrals to individual tourism operators, RTO12 saw an immediate jump in traffic to its website and outbound links.
In 2013, the first year RTO12 launched its content marketing strategy, a record 300,000 unique visitors turned to its new website. Last year that number more than doubled, to nearly 700,000. Even more impressive, outbound referrals to tourism stakeholders climbed from 47,000 in 2013 to 118,000 in 2014.
The numbers for 2015 — still being finalized — are even more impressive. This past September alone, we had 122,000 visits to our site — up 34 per cent over the previous September. More importantly, we had almost 30,000 outbound referrals to tourism stakeholders in our region — up from 9,700 the previous September — or more than 300 per cent.
RTO12 has also partnered with numerous local tourism promoters, such as Golf Muskoka, the Resorts of North Muskoka and the Kearney Dog Sled Races, to help them kick-start their own content marketing programs.
The beauty of content marketing is that a small organization or tourism operator with a limited budget can still get phenomenal results. Arguably what matters most is that you have an interesting story that will attract online eyeballs.
How does content marketing lead to visitors booking into resorts, hotels or B&Bs? It’s all part of a bigger marketing engine. We know that quality content leads to increased time on our site — especially longer copy pieces. Once we have eyes on our content, we try to move readers onto a business site, to our booking widget, or to our newsletter sign-up, where we can segment folks according to defined personas and then add them into a lead nurturing program using Hubspot automation and email marketing.
We are confident that this continuous engagement will ultimately lead to more visitors booking overnight stays in our region and help us stay ahead of our competitors.
James Murphy is executive director of Regional Tourism Organization 12, also known as Explorers’ Edge, the regional tourism organization for Algonquin Park, the Almaguin Highlands, Loring-Restoule, Muskoka and Parry Sound.