Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
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March 20, 2024
Volume 194 No. 12

Live like a Local

Annual Presentation from Visit the County shifts the lens to the local initiatives that animate County life — and draw local visitors

Visit the County presented financials and a year-in-review at the Committee of the Whole last week.

The VTC Board’s Vice-Chair, Charles McKee, made the deputation as Executive Director Eleanor Cook was ill. He championed the “industry-led” activities of the County’s new DMMO and its collaborative approach to working with and promoting the hundreds of STAs that generate its revenues. A DMMO is a Destination Management and Marketing Organization.

“Visit the County is not just one of the best DMMO’s in Ontario, it’s one of the best in the Country,” he said. Mr. McKee championed VTC’s top achievements: a new web site, soon to be unveiled; a strong social media presence; its hit “like a local” campaign; and a revitalization of Countylicious, for which the Ontario Tourism Association nominated VTC for an award.

Budget Items

VTC reports $814,000 in revenue in 2023, a sum that includes its share of the Municipal Accommodation Tax, $548,000; a carry-over surplus from 2022 of $241,000; and “partnership” revenue of 22k.

25 per cent of VTC’s budget, or $254,000, goes to wages and administration. Executive Director Eleanor Cook works with two contract employees, one of whom is a full-time, in-house social media content creator.

Much of the remaining 75 per cent is spent on what Mr. McKee called “driving demand” — building awareness of PEC as a specific travel destination, targeting those who might visit, and “converting” them, that is, bringing them here.

Visit the County Vice Chair Charles McKee. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

VTC spent $656,000 on social media advertising, PR, and earned media spots in 2023. A surplus of $157,000 carries over to 2024.

A key visitor metric is nightly stays. VTC reports 87,000 room nights sold last year, creating $30 million in STA revenue, and, in turn, $1.2 million in MAT revenue (short-term accommodation taxes) collected by the municipality.

VTC also identified 326,000 “unique” visitors to the County in 2023. Unique visitors are first-time, not repeat visits. Mr. McKee explained that that number came from “the geofencing of cellphone data. Anyone who comes more than 40 kilometres into the County is caught.”

“Remind me to turn on the privacy settings on my phone when I travel,” said Councillor MacNaughton, who was chairing  the meeting. “I did not realize I could be tracked!”

There were 2.4 million total visitors to the County in 2023. That figure indicates a very high “repeat” rate. The repeat rate suggests regional visitors coming into the County. Many might stay only for the day, and do not therefore contribute to the MAT.

Councillors Pennell and Grosso suggested that VTC might pay more attention to those who come for a day. “It seems to me that the County is pricing itself out of an entire market of younger families who cannot afford to come here,” said Mr. Pennell. “Once those families decide they cannot afford it here, they are never going to come back.”

Councillor Maynard suggested a real need for an inexpensive hotel, to help younger families who visit to stay overnight in what is becoming a very high-priced destination.  

“Those people are still going to businesses and generating revenue and they need your attention,” noted Mayor Steve Ferguson. “We need to engage as many people as possible. In 2023 business revenue in the County was down 30 per cent across the board.”

Sustaining Local Culture

Much of what VTC accomplished last year took place, understandably, outside the County. Mr. McKee noted that “residents do not see everything we are doing.” 

VTC targets visitors from Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, as well as those closer to home, in Northumberland and Hastings counties, Quinte West, Belleville, Napanee, and Kingston.

A focus in 2024 will be amplifying the presence of Visit the County in the County. A major revamping of the Taste Trail, new attention to the Arts Trail, ongoing marketing of Countylicious in spring and fall, and raising the profile of Elevage, Terroir, Wassail, and the Maple festivals are all in view.

Councillor Roberts noted that VTC is charged with supporting and sustaining not just the visitor economy, but the overall wellbeing of the County. It must flourish as an excellent place to live in as well as visit.

“There is a strong correlation between a healthy local media and the quality of local governance, and between those two things and the economic well-being of a municipality. We have CountyFM, the Times, and the Picton Gazette. I’m therefore experiencing some cognitive dissonance over the fact that you’ve been so unsupportive of local media,” said Mr. Roberts.

“I understand an online presence outside of the County is important, but in the context of the local media’s importance to community life, it seems odd to me.”

Mr. McKee agreed that different media opportunities, or “channels,” were appropriate for different events. “Certainly to turn out the community we need the local media on a paid basis as well as an earned basis.”

“If the messaging is appropriate for the [local] media, then the media should be used.”

Councillor Braney noted that VTCs social media spend of $366,575 last year translated into $67.00 per “follower.” He asked how to track the return on that investment.  

Councillor Hirsch also asked how to correlate VTCs intense social media spend with revenue generated and conversion rates.

Mr. McKee acknowledged that tracking results is a way off. “We are not quite there yet.”

“I agree that the activities we undertake must be measurable. The public knows there is a lot of money generated through the MAT,” said Mr. McKee.

Councillor Roberts also noted that Visit the County is something new, a “non-traditional community actor.”

“Non-traditional actors building local economies, as VTC is, must drive local development. I’d like to see VTC doing more to invest in the arts, in culture, heritage, and agri-tourism. These things are the foundations of the visitor economy. The work of VTC is not just in ‘driving demand’, but in ensuring a sustainable supply of the things visitors and residents enjoy.”

“A longer-term vision is required, not just short-term thinking around ‘driving demand’.”

Mr. McKee was emphatic in response. “I absolutely agree. We will be doing more work in this area, on the Taste and Arts Trails, and with the County Museums, to create awareness. We know our job is not just marketing, but destination development.” 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 12 edition of The Picton Gazette
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