Posted by: montegroup | December 20, 2007

Marketing at Travel Manitoba

As we continue with the series on Marketers’ posts, this week we are featuring Rick Gaunt from Travel Manitoba.

Rick Gaunt is the Manager of Market Intelligence for Travel Manitoba, and has been involved in visitor services and marketing with Travel Manitoba since 1986. He has been responsible for Travel Manitoba’s online marketing program since 1996, and in conjunction with the management of Travel Manitoba’s e-programs, assumed responsibility for Travel Manitoba’s research and market intelligence program in 2006. Rick is a lifelong Winnipegger, and the proud father of two teenage children – both of who still acknowledge him on a regular basis.

Daniel: How have your campaigns performed in 2007?

Rick: As a smaller PMO (with similarly scaled budget) it has been a challenge for Travel Manitoba to easily shift some of our efforts from traditional marketing to online, however in 2007 we were able to begin moving forward in that regard. While some of our efforts involved some OTA campaigns, I think our best performance came though our SEM – we were able to really enhance support of our traditional offline efforts and extend their reach. And the success we saw through those campaigns really provided our senior management team some assurance that further changes were warranted.         

Daniel: What are some of the challenges marketing your destination? Is a budget a key challenge?

Rick: Once again, within a smaller operation, budget is always top of mind. Manitoba has some exceptional products for the international adventure traveler, and some of the finest sports fishing in North America.  But we also have some great opportunities for families traveling across Canada – and we’re right in the middle of the country! 

With such a varied product mix, we’re constantly challenged to stretch our finite marketing dollar to target the right customer with the best product – though optimum channels. We’re not always right, but we’re always learning.       

Daniel: What is your current budget ratio, offline/online? And do you plan on increase the online portion in 2008 and beyond?

Rick: About 25% of our high volume marketing campaign is focused on online, and represents a considerable transition from a couple of years ago.  I believe we will continue to shift towards more “e” – as I don’t feel we’ve met all the needs of the online marketplace, but any changes will naturally be dictated largely through successful results   

Daniel: Is the strength of the Canadian dollar hurting or going to hurt you in the short/long term future?

Rick: I don’t think there’s one right answer for that question, as the markets for many of our key international products aren’t quite as price sensitive as others. 

The adventure travelers wanting to get up close to a polar bear seem to be more driven by the experience, and in many instances their pocket books can withstand the changes brought about by the stronger dollar. 

Our fishing lodge industry also seems to have met the challenge as well this year – which speaks well to the quality of our fishing and hunting product, and the operations providing the services.  I know that the high Canadian dollar (and ongoing confusion over WHTI) will deter some weekend getaway visitors from our neighboring states – we’re seeing evidence of the decline in our border crossings – but our domestic market is strong, and appears to be helping to offset the loss of those visitors.   

Daniel: What emerging trends do you see happening online? And are you ready to take advantage of them?

Rick: It’s no mystery that the e-consumer is taking back the controls – the evolution of social networking was the number one topic of conversation at e-Connect this year – and its at the top of the strategy board for anyone working in online media.

I see a real value in traveler recommendations/testimonials – content that really adds sense of legitimate authenticity. I personally find that kind of information valuable in planning my travel and many other purchases. Travel Manitoba will be introducing opportunities for our customers to take part in the content of our web spaces this year, and we’re looking forward to seeing some of the results.    

Daniel: Do you have any best practice tips when it comes to online marketing?

Rick: I’m not sure that what I do here at TM is much different that most of our other colleagues are doing out in the wide world. I try to read as much as I can. We may not have the capacity to use all of the tools available, but I want to be able to at least understand their implications.

We’ve developed a strong relationship with an incredible technical group that we’ve been contracting with for a number of years – they’re familiar with our business and the synergy of our association has been very beneficial in expanding our abilities. And I’ve also learned a great deal by watching how my teenage children interact online – their ease with all things “e” simply reinforces to me the notion that at the heart of all this technology it’s still people wanting to communicate with each other – and I try not to forget that.    

Daniel: If we were to visit your destination, what would be the ‘things to see and do’ that most tourists may not know about?

Rick: I have been traveling to the Canadian Shield in eastern Manitoba since I was a youngster, and it will always be my favorite Manitoba space.

There is nothing like fishing on a special lake with eagles soaring overhead and a big pike on your line.  But I am really looking forward to heading up to Churchill to visit with the Belugas – they move into the mouth of the Churchill River by the thousands in July and August – I think it would be pretty cool to maybe take dip with them…

I would like to thank Rick for his time and collaboration; very insightful answers and comments.

If you would like to participate and share with colleagues in the tourism industry, please send me an email.

Below is a great polar bear video from Churchill, Manitoba.

Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading.

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