Destination marketing makes a difference for the Cypress Hills area

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Royce Pettyjohn speaks at conference.

The success of the Cypress Hills Destination Area (CHDA) Inc. as a destination marketing organization for the Cypress Hills and surrounding area was featured as a case study at the annual conference of the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association (SEDA).

SEDA’s annual Creating Intersections for Growth Conference took place at the Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current on June 1 and 2.
CHDA Board Chair Royce Pettyjohn and Executive Director Gail Kesslar made a presentation during one of the breakout sessions on the first day of the event. The importance of cooperation between all roleplayers to build momentum and capacity for the tourism industry in the Cypress Hills area was a key message during their presentation.
They identified a willingness to work together and institutional capacity as two key factors for the success of a destination marketing organization.
The different communities in an area, various levels of government as well as businesses and other non-profit partners have to collaborate to achieve a common goal.
“Even if they don’t have a tradition of working together, even if they’ve had bad experiences in the past working together,” Pettyjohn said after the presentation. “If they’re not willing to put their differences aside and come to the table and work collaboratively, it’s not going to work.”
The CHDA has 46 funding members and annual revenues of over $200,000. There is participation by three levels of government, including four municipalities. There is strong business support and involvement by non-profit organizations in an area that stretches from Elkwater, Alberta, to Val Marie, Saskatchewan.
According to Pettyjohn the CHDA was able to foster a sense of cooperation through a gradual process of working together.
“Before we really incorporated and formalized our entity we had this loose knit organization, which we were calling the Cypress Hills Destination Area Coalition,” he explained. “That was a way for us as an area to start getting our feet wet, working between levels of government, and between businesses and between our province. So we already slowly started to create a sense that maybe working together is not that bad and because it was a loose knit thing there wasn’t any hard commitments.”
Eventually the benefits of collaboration helped to foster even more involvement and interest from organizations to become part of the CHDA.
The CHDA membership increased from 31 to 46 from 2014 to 2015. There has been a 39 per cent increase in revenue from the destination marketing fee from 2014 to 2015.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “When they start seeing 250,000 visitors turned into 330,000 visitors, people having their best sales in the tourism season in 20 years, they start seeing this collaboration is working, this organization is working.”
CHDA’s own experience over the years indicated the importance of a dedicated staff to provide the organization with sufficient capacity to achieve its goals.
“You can’t do this as volunteers, you can’t do it off the corner of your desk and be a professional meaningful endeavour,” he said. “If tourism is a real industry, that means that there are real professionals that work in the industry and we’re fortunate enough to be able to attract Gail to the position.”
Pettyjohn noted the capacity of the organization will remain an ongoing challenge as it continues to look at ways to attract more tourists to the Cypress Hills.
“Our initial challenges were not having a dedicated employee and not having enough money,” he said. “Now we have a dedicated employee and we have a certain amount of money, but now we need to move to the next level, which includes bringing on new members and getting into new markets and doing infrastructure investment and more product development. … So as we evolve, what we’ll end up seeing is more staff, more initiatives, more product development and greater market penetration and new markets as well.”
The activities of the CHDA is based on a key principle that tourism is an industry. The ability of a tourism destination region to make a difference requires an understanding by member organizations that tourism contributes towards the growth of the local economy.
“Tourism for the longest time was very misunderstood,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t see it as an industry. People saw it as a social activity or a cultural activity or a way of being friendly. They didn’t necessarily connect how tourism actually injects meaningful dollars into the local economy.”
Tourism was already contributing $25 million to the economy of the Cypress Hills area in 2010. Since then the number of visitors to the area has increased from 250,000 to 330,000.
“I would venture a guess that the economic impact that has had on the economy of our area has also increased significantly,” he said. “I would suggest we’re probably well over a $30 million impact in our area as a result of tourism, and that’s conservative.”
The CHDA is launching a new marketing campaign this year. The “Making Memories” campaign will replace the previous “Time to Explore” marketing theme.
“This year and for the next two years it will be the ‘Making Memories’ campaign,” Kesslar said. “We have things to do that are going to last in the memories of your kids, your family, everyone, for years to come.”
She noted that the purpose of the previous campaign was to make people aware that the Cypress Hills is such an interesting area to explore within close driving distance.
“I was flabbergasted when I started with the organization,” she said. “I would meet people in Swift Current or in Medicine Hat that have never been to the Cypress Hills. …  So that was our initiative with that: Take time to explore. Go to these places that are near you and make the effort.”
The new campaign will highlight various activities and events in the Cypress Hills area that will help people to create unique and longlasting memories, varying from kayaking adventures to culinary tours.
“The kind of things that we really are showcasing with our ‘Making Memories’ campaign is that we’ve got those experiences to really stand out in your life,” she said. “These are memories that you’re going to go back to when you’re old and grey and thinking about that weekend in Cypress Hills.”

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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