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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Free Prize Inside, or Mr.-Shouty-Trousers?

Recent news in VR-land suggests that the Muskoka Tourism Association is proposing that its member innkeepers levy a 3% "tourism tax," that would then be funneled into marketing efforts to bring more visitors to the region. It seems someone has put the idea in someone's head that there isn't enough being done to "sell" the region's "brand."

Nonsense. The brand isn't hurting. Many individual businesses are, whereas quite a few thrive. What should that tell you? Some win, some lose -- for good reason.

This type of business development fundraising is not completely unheard of, of course. Many cities have Business Improvement Areas, whereby businesses pool their efforts and money to spruce up a district, in the hopes of picking up business fortunes for everyone in it. Some sense of a united, friendly front is sensible, of course. Your district or region as a whole have to be cohesive enough that people can refer to it in a sentence, and it must be remembered as a place that has a commitment to quality and fun times.

Unfortunately many of the marketing funds seem to be used mainly for shouting at us.

In fact, many cities that sell a lot of accommodations have a "DMF," or "destination marketing fee," tacked right onto the cost of the room, which is what appears to be what the Muskokans just twigged to. The really interesting question about these fees (that we so rarely question) is how they are implemented. As consumers, we should be nonplussed about contributing to a regional marketing fund... but what about business owners themselves, especially the ones that are taking the most risks and creating their own brands already? Don't they have questions?

Some of the self-pitying business owners quoted in a local TV news report on this Muskoka initiative smacked of the growing trend towards everyone wanting to be a marketer (qua shouter), without really knowing how. With such gorgeous fundamentals (pine-scented air, beautiful lakes, luxury accommodations, golf resorts, etc.), presumably you don't need to turn up the volume too high on promoting what is already good. What's really lacking for many of these businesses is something else: the drive and risk-taking outlook to improve their own internal fundamentals (upgrade, beautify); topnotch service; etc.; all of which will lead to positive word of mouth; savvy about how you might promote online word of mouth; savvy about taking and holding bookings online; and an understanding of how to market directly to target customers, using for example this online channel you see before you. Once you get all these ducks in a row... sure... come up with a collectivized scheme to improve the overall message conveyed to the public. But first things first! Stop getting so many of your micro fundamentals wrong.

Collectivities attempting achieve overall regional gains face a firm-level motivational issue. If you're busy praising the fundamental strengths of all of your competitors' businesses, too, are you really going to be as driven as you should be to become outstanding within that region; to have "he was the consummate promoter" on your epitaph? If you're all consummate promoters at once, do you all win? Or do you just raise the noise level?

To her credit, Robyn Scott of Muskoka Tourism has been quoted as saying "we need to build a culture of service." Not that she's exactly proposing to risk her own money on said effort.

At this point I'll resist the inevitable comparison with SEMPO.

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