Opinion

Regional marketing is a natural when it comes to tourism

In the British Columbia tourism industry we operate under a three-tier system. The provincial agency, Tourism BC, bears overall responsibility for promoting British Columbia (Tourism BC, under the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, will soon become Destination BC).

The province is divided into six tourism regions. Ours is the Northern BC Tourism Association (NBCTA), responsible for representing over 50% of the province’s landmass. The Northern BC Tourism Association receives provincial funding, which is used to partner dollars and effort with communities and tourism operators throughout the north. The communities are of course the third tier, through Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) such as TPR.

In a single column I can do no more than touch upon all of the different things that we do in partnership with Northern BC Tourism. On the financial side, they form an important part of our fundraising. The hotel tax received by a community DMO traditionally accounts for as little as a third of the budget of an average DMO. We take those dollars and use them to increase our available resources through a complex series of programs that allow us to leverage the initial investment. A successful visit by a travel writer or tour operator, for example, usually requires the help of the individual tourism businesses in Prince Rupert, TPR, the NBCTA, and often other agencies such as the Canadian Tourism Commission.

This sort of relationship holds true for almost everything we do. For example, say it was important for a certain travel guide or magazine to include a strong Prince Rupert presence. The NBCTA might offer to “co-op” a certain amount of space in that publication, paying a portion to make it affordable for us. We might then offer further savings to our members, paying for a portion of their advertising, making it affordable for them to advertise where they wouldn’t normally have the resources to do so. The end result is a section of Prince Rupert advertising, encouraging the publication to increase the amount of editorial coverage of Prince Rupert. It works for everybody.

Imagine this same system at play through a broad spectrum of marketing activities. In addition to that, the region uses a portion of its funding to do things that are of benefit to the entire region – from traditional advertising such as the Northern BC Travel Guide, to Twitter accounts such as @RVNorthernBC (which provides up-to-the-minute travel information for RV visitors to the North).

Even this doesn’t tell the whole story. They advocate when we need advocates, working at the provincial level to further the needs of the communities. When needed they come into the communities to solidify local support for tourism.

That highlights one more vital role. The regional tourism office is a conduit that fuels the ongoing relationship of northern DMOs. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have some sort of initiative on the go that included at least a few communities between Haida Gwaii and Dawson Creek. The northern communities have much in common, and we work together on a daily basis through the regional organization. One of the most dramatic recent examples of this was the launch, just over a year ago, of a Northern BC smartphone app that was developed by the communities and region working together.

Given the size of our region, we have a special situation in the North. Without the Northern BC Tourism Association, none of the northern DMOs would be able to effectively promote our communities, and the businesses and attractions within those communities, in the way that we do today.

It has become fashionable in recent years to call for a regional approach to promoting northern economic development. But in tourism, this has been happening for years. We used a regional approach as our starting point.

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