County monitors online tourism conversations
By Chad Ingram
Published March 7, 2019
Haliburton County councillors reviewed a report dissecting more than 2.5 million online and social media conversations pertaining to tourism in the Haliburton Highlands during a Feb. 27 meeting.
The report, which included what is referred to as a tourism sentiment index, included the monitoring of 2.5 million conversations – social media posts, largely – from 500,000 different sources around the world between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.
Conducted by agency Destination Think!, it uses a series of metrics to interpret how people are enjoying their experiences in the Haliburton Highlands.
“From here, I’ll be working with stakeholders and also our own marketing plan to look at further opportunities to further engage with consumers and up our social media chattering game,” tourism director Amanda Virtanen told councillors as she presented them with findings during the meeting.
In terms of overall performance, 45 per cent of conversations have been identified as destination promoters, “so people who came to the region and were really happy with their experiences,” Virtanen said.
This was just shy of the 48 per cent median for conversations identified as destination promoters among a group of five comparative destinations in the region.
The Haliburton Highlands ranked high in paddle sports, skiing and snowboarding, wildlife viewing and camping.
“So of those online conversations, these are some areas people are having really great experiences around,” Virtanen told councillors.
Overall for outdoor adventure, “the sentiment is a bit low around that, so it does tell me they could be having better experiences,” she said.
Outdoor adventure, culinary arts and art and culture are the three pillars of the county’s marketing strategy.
On food and culinary experience, the Highlands scored in line with its comparative regions.
“We’re actually doing quite well in that area,” Virtanen said.
“And then, in terms of under-performing assets, there are two things that may be a bit surprising, hiking and nightlife . . . nightlife maybe not so surprising,” the tourism director said.
On hiking, “I asked a specific question about this, because we have the Hike Haliburton Festival,” Virtanen told councillors.
The popular county-run hiking festival consists of a series of guided hikes that take place throughout the Haliburton Highlands during a weekend each fall.
“And so they said that conversation around that particular weekend and that one experience is very good,” Virtanen said, explaining the goal was to work on creating more year-round buzz around hiking. The tourism department is creating a hiking section for the county’s tourism website based on the results.
Dysart Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he thought the promotion of hiking could also be paired with assets such the Algonquin Highlands Water Trails.
“That’s all part of the same type of activity,” Kennedy said. “I think that hiking maybe is too limited.”
“Definitely,” Virtanen said, explaining that the department is working on bringing assets like the water trails and the wild water preserve under that umbrella.
“We often think we’re doing one thing, but feedback often tells us that maybe we’re not on target there,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “I wonder about, in order to drive the conversation and change these numbers, any thoughts on sort of a . . . promoter package?”
Moffatt said that when social media campaigns first debut, for example, there is often excitement with people jumping on board, but how that excitement can dwindle over time, as people stop using certain hashtags, etc.
“The sentiment score is really about . . . them looking at experiences that they’re offering and enhancing those,” Virtanen said.
“This is monitoring the online conversations of our visitors, which we can’t really control that much,” she added.
Moffatt wondered how the county was to get stakeholders, especially those who may not be directly involved in the county’s tourism stakeholder group, involved in the conversation.
“I think the biggest thing that they can do is start co-promoting each other and co-promoting other experiences,” Virtanen said. “The more conversations that are happening about what’s already happening in our area will help consumers talk more about what’s going on in our region.”
Also, while the feedback to dogsledding, snowmobiling and ATVing experiences in the county were very positive, those conversations are not happening in great volumes.
“The folks who are on their ATVs or their snowmobiles are keeping it to themselves for the most part,” Virtanen said. “So we need them to say more.”