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A Convervation With Gail Kesslar, CHDA

By Jordan Parker The Cypress Hills Destination Area is a Destination Marketing Organization that has been opening the eyes of tourists and residents alike to the wonders around them. Whether you’re looking for the best restaurants, most tranquil parks or most astonishing experiences, the CHDA is a masterful way to promote companies and services, and bring people in to the elite businesses and places this area has to offer.

Gail Kesslar, Executive Director of the CHDA, has been around for 18 months trying to push and promote everything worthwhile in the area, and The Advance checked in with her to see how it’s been going, and get an overall feel for uninitiated readers as to the benefits of the CHDA.

This is A Conversation With Gail Kesslar.

JP: Tell me a bit about the history of the CHDA, and how you got to this point.
It was originally a coalition with Fort Walsh, Cypress Park and a few other key stakeholders. We wanted to cross-promote and undertake joint marketing. In 2011, Tourism Saskatchewan dismantled regional tourism entities and spoke to us about what we’d look like as a destination marketing organization.
We put the group together and hired a part-time administrator. The board of volunteers worked their tails off to set up a website and get things underway. We had two wonderful interim marketing directors in Jori Kirk (EcoAdventures) and Kristy Thienes (Harvest Eatery) before I was hired. We needed someone full-time, and the board was getting exhausted.
I came in to bring the CHDA to the next level and grow the membership, outreach and marketing.

JP: How have things progressed since you came aboard?
We have had our membership double. We had 23 members when I started, and now we have around 43. A lot of people weren’t sure about us in the beginning, and it took a lot of effort to push forward. When people saw us actively out there — and when we won the Tourism Saskatchewan Marketing Award of Excellence — people noticed. They saw we were bringing initiatives in for members and championing their businesses and attractions. They realized we might be here to stay.

JP: Why are you important to this area?
The Cypress Hills themselves had 330,000 visitors last year, which is the highest number to date. The park is reaching capacity and people are coming here. But there are other areas just as beautiful and there’s so much to do around us. With Eastend you have the t. Rex Discovery Centre and we have the Grasslands National Park. We are seeing attendance increases, but we need to showcase all the amazing things around us and get even more traffic.
But we want to help visitors too. It’s such a vast area and it’s difficult for people to fathom where to go and what to do. We give all the information, distances and help them plan their trips. This makes for happier visitors, and happy visitors will come back.

JP: Can you explain the Destination Marketing Fee to me?
Basically, we enter into a Destination Marketing Program Agreement with members of the CHDA. They agree to give us two per cent of gross sales. We work to bring people to the area and move them around in it. We are trying to expand business.
Some choose to just build it into the cost of food or accommodations, some take it out of their marketing budget and some just choose to put it on receipts of customers. It’s up to the establishment how it’s done. But this money goes to our website, updating it, creating the map for finding members, creating an insiders guide and attending trade shows. We do all this marketing for businesses, put ads in Edmonton and Calgary, pay for online marketing and help with familiarization tours. These are some things the DMF goes towards.

JP: What has response been from some customers who see the DMF on their receipt?
The vast majority of the time people do not even realize that they are supporting tourism when they patronize one of our members as those members may have included the Destination Marketing Fee as part of their pricing strategy.  However, when one of our members identified a DMF on their final bill, they are following what has become a standard and widely accepted practice in the hospitality industry across the Province and across the country.  For visitors the revenue generated by the DMF helps cover the cost of the trip planning and tourism support services they received.  For residents it directly benefits economic development and regional growth.  We are make our communities more sustainable 2 cents at a time.

JP: Why is it important to have people exploring around here?
It’s important that people explore the area for three reasons.  1) Tourism Saskatchewan conservatively estimating that tourism injects at least $30 Million into the area’s economy.  2) having people explore more of the area and extend their stay in the area increases the economic impact of tourism on the area as a whole.  3) statistically, new residents and new investment in areas comes from individuals who first visited an area as a tourist.  Increasing, expanding and extending people’s exposure to the area creates opportunities to sell the area from not only just a tourism perspective.

JP: Is there anything you wanted to add, Gail?
The vision of the board has been fundamental in achieving our success. We created this and we are connecting people to quality tourism experiences. We are connecting businesses to people and people to wonderful businesses. We’ve weathered the ups and downs and we see what working collaboratively can bring for all of us.

via The Gull Lake ADVANCE

A Convervation With Gail Kesslar, CHDA SouthWest Saskatchewan Tourism  Cypress Hills Destination Area

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