Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 23, 2024
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News
February 14, 2024
Volume 194 No. 7

Visit the County

In the digital space

Visit the County presented the first part of its draft annual business plan at Committee of the Whole earlier this month.

The fledgling Destination Management Marketing Organization said it would make PEC “a world-class tourism destination” by 2030. To do so they plan to create a “community-led” tourist economy to grow revenue and “enhance resident lives” at the same time.

VTC’s new website, still in the works, should launch in a couple of months. Estimated to cost $80,000, it will feature bookable experiences and direct referrals to accommodations providers.

Visit the County received $422,000 in 2023, its share of the $1.21 million the County collected through its Municipal Accommodation Tax. Another $105,000 went to STAY PEC.

No financials were presented, nor hard data. Clear figures about visitor numbers and the allocation of last year’s grant will come with Executive Director Eleanor Cook’s year-in-review report, scheduled for March 14. 

“We are being very strategic,” said VTC’s board Chair, Rebecca Mackenzie, who joined the meeting via Zoom. “We need to start driving visits during the shoulder season, as well as increase midweek stays.” 

A new focus on sports and recreation is in store. VTC has partnered with the Wellington Dukes to promote the County to those who watch their games from afar.

It also aims to expand its reach beyond the domestic market to those U.S. visitors who have not returned post-pandemic. Increasing small group business through events and private meetings, as well as bringing more coach tours is on the agenda.

Ms. Mackenzie stressed the VTC’s focus on “high-value consumers,” those who linger longer and spend more on dining and overnight stays.

Councillors, for their part, noted confusion about what VTC does, and where it does it. The material impact and visual presence of the Chamber of Commerce, with its Main Street location and printed materials, such as its beloved map, were a focus.

 “I’ve always had great difficulty trying to figure out what VTC really does,” began Councillor Braney.

“It’s a visual thing for me: I see this stuff on Instagram and social media, but what about a storefront for visitors that come to the County?” he asked.

Noting he sat on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Braney said, “just for example, you’d be surprised at how many visitors they get at their office; they don’t receive any money or funding for that, but they are doing that job. It’s not really their mandate; their mandate is to promote business. What about VTC — would it be possible to have a storefront?”

Of the Chamber, which used to be funded by the municipality for tourist-related services, Ms. Mackenzie noted, “they choose to do that, that’s their choice. It is an important service, but the MAT percentage that we receive is not enough to fund a storefront — that would be quite costly.”

“This day and age a lot of visitors use digital assets to help them get around; a visitor center really becomes just a washroom stop,” she said.

Councillor Pennell lamented the lack of print materials available, not just in the County but in the surrounding region. “A market is being missed by there not being that material available,” he said, noting there are tourist centers in Belleville and Quinte West. “There is nothing from the County aimed at people passing through the area that will give them a reason to come here.”

In response, Ms. Mackenzie stressed the importance of the digital space.

“All of the data and trends in tourism marketing drive to digital. It’s a tough argument to make with people who are used to perhaps being lured through print marketing materials, but they have been proven to be highly ineffective. There is much less print. Newspapers and magazines have gone by the wayside because of consumer behaviour patterns.”

“We can show through our digital marketing efforts how we are driving visitors to the municipality,” said Mackenzie. “The ROI [return on investment] for print is much, much less than for digital. We would be happy to provide data.”

VTCs advertising budget is largely directed toward digital platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Instagram. Its Instagram posts, about 4-6 per day, are designed by a full-time, dedicated social media content manager.

VTC’s target demographic on those platforms is women aged 35-44 in Toronto and Ottawa, Belleville, and Picton.

“Social media is much more targeted than you can be in print,” said Mackenzie, but she did not explain the decision to tailor advertising to a single demographic.

VTC’s presentation noted Instagram and Facebook statistics such as page views and link clicks, but not numbers of visitors or conversions, that is, people who actually visit as a percentage of page views.

Councillor Phil Prinzen asked if VTC had tried to diversify by including Canadian and local media, rather than spend exclusively on U.S.-owned digital platforms.

“We are very transparent with how we are spending our dollars, how much money we spend on social media, and which markets it targets,” said Mackenzie, who noted that financials would be presented next month.

She pointed out that VTC also focuses on what are called “earned media” spots, created by inviting both lifestyle journalists and social media influencers for curated stays which are then written up in taste and travel magazines.

At the same time, she said, “print materials are antiquated.”

“We make all of our decisions with the marketing experts on our volunteer board who have experience on how to get the most reach and the best return on investment.”

“The County gets a lot of exposure in print materials that we don’t have to pay for,” she continued.

“I completely appreciate that you may find that print is important to you and maybe your network or your colleagues or friends,” she said, but “digital is where the consumer is.”

As for reaching visitors who may not regularly scroll through Instagram, “we are doing what we can with the budget that we have, and making sure it is spent in the most meaningful way possible.”  

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 7 edition of The Picton Gazette
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