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Cypress Hills Destination Area wins a Tourism Sask. Award because of innovation and diligence

Written by  Ryan Dahlman

As an organization, the Cypress Hills Destination Area (CHDA) has been doing some innovative and solid marketing on behalf of a growing business-wise, yet still naturally-attractive area in southwest Saskatchewan.

With some interesting ideas plus blending of traditional media venues and an increased presence on social media, the region is in the minds of not only Sask. residents, but others elsewhere.
The group’s hard work has been rewarded with the Gil Carduner Marketing Award at the Tourism Saskatchewan Awards of Excellence April 16 in Saskatoon.
The Gil Carduner Award Criteria from Tourism Saskatchewan “recognizes creative and innovative marketing campaigns that increase business and enhance Saskatchewan’s visibility as a tourism destination. Selection of finalists will be based on quality of content, high levels of customer satisfaction with product offered, campaign distribution and quantitative results.”
Gail Kesslar, the CHDA’s executive director, couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I was surprised. I looked and saw we were up against the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Tourism Saskatoon. I thought, ‘Oh well, I don’t think we’re going to have a chance against them,’” says Kesslar. “I was shocked. I feel like a proud momma. Our group and the (region’s businesses) are doing some amazing things.”
Kesslar says she went to the conference last year and marvelled at what the tourism group from Waskesiu was doing and wanted to join their success. Now, the CHDA is doing it as well with 31 members.
Anyone who has worked with Kesslar knows her own brand of relentless enthusiasm she brings to any organization.
When she took over the Cypress Hills Destination Area’s executive director position in 2014, it was no enviable task to help co-ordinate and lead the marketing charge of an area that is 18,000 square kilometres which has been promoted through individual businesses.
She has worked in partnership with some heavy hitters in the southwest tourism industry including Kristy Thienes, restaurant director at the popular Harvest Eatery and Fresh Market, Jori Kirk, owner and operator of Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures and Royce Pettyjohn, manager of community and economic development / Main Street program co-ordinator Town of Maple Creek.
She says Kirk had a gameplan which formed the base and Thienes added her knowledge. Together they created an innovative plan which has been well executed.
Tourism Saskatchewan points to the fact, “Traditional marketing strategies were employed, including print advertising and producing an Insider’s Guide and map of CHDA partners. Online tactics engaged a number of bloggers and writers, whose positive accounts of the area’s tourism offerings were shared across social media channels. The CHDA utilized an innovative approach to moving people around the area by creating the Saskatchewan Skies GeoTour. An aggressive effort to expand engagement on social media yielded dramatic growth in Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Strong attendance at events and a 43.8 per cent increase in visitation to Grasslands National Park further underscore the campaign’s success.”
Kesslar also points to the fact the Cypress Hills Destinations Area organization is such a solid one, the marketing has been made easier.
She says those working within the CHDA including  Kristine Scheller, finance manager; Tina Creswell, vice-chair and Pettyjohn, chairman of the board have been fantastic. They all share a vision.
Kesslar who still operates Gailforce Writing, an independent marketing, freelance writing company, really delved into the tourism side of southwest Saskatchewan with a blog called GoHere Destinations she operated with Elizabeth Heatcoat. This was after stints working directly in media including in Swift Current with Overtime Productions (2013-14), consistent freelancing for Prairie Post from 2006-2011 and newspapers in action co-ordinator for the Medicine Hat News.
There is a lot in the way of new programs and features coming. There are plans for a shuttle bus to run from Maple Creek to go on day trips to the Sandhills, Eastend’s dinosaur museum and arts facilities.
There is also plans for more regular bus tours from centres such as Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat.
“Once we get the shuttle in there, we’re figuring we can do a Taste of Food tour, including some of the restaurants (in the area) and the Cypress Hills Vineyard &) Winery. We’ve got all the elements,” explains Kesslar. “The southwest businesses are growing and doing great things.”
They are also working out deals with Trip Adviser, which Kesslar calls a “gamechanger”  and new websites in working with Tourism Saskatchewan.
Nothing is finalized, but there is the possibility the Cypress Hills may have a helicopter company come in and offer aerial tours of the region as well which would be different.
On April 21, it was announced on the CHDA Facebook page the southwest region earned more recognition as the 20th Anniversary Edition of SkyNews Magazine listed its Best of Canada’s Dark Sky Preserves and Cypress Hills was named for Best Interpretive Program; runner-up for Best Observatory. Grasslands National Park was named for Best Observing Site and the Darkest Skies (Rock Creek Campground East Block).
The Harvest Moon Cafe in Val Marie (Grasslands National Park) and Dars Little Dipper in Cypress Hills,  (runner-up) were named as the “Most Unique Space-Themed Restaurants.”

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

Cypress Hills Destination Area wins a Tourism Sask. Award because of innovation and diligence SouthWest Saskatchewan Tourism  Cypress Hills Destination Area

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