'Rural Renaissance' 

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From the...

Marketing campaign providing big boost to rural attractions

By Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Tue, Aug 9, 2005 3:00 PM EST

With the City of Ottawa now encompassing such a huge swath of countryside, a new marketing campaign aimed at city dwellers is paying off for rural attractions.

At Saunders Farm near the village of Munster, the campaign is being credited with driving up tourist visits by 50 per cent this summer.

The family-run farm, located 30 minutes southwest of Ottawa, is well known as one of the area's best Halloween attractions

and also boasts North America's largest collection of hedge mazes and labyrinths.

 Mark Saunders, executive director of Saunders Farm. (Darren Brown, OBJ)

While some of its visitor growth can be attributed to the farm's new "water spray zone," director Mark Saunders says it's mainly due to participation in the Ottawa Rural Tourism Council's (ORTC) new marketing campaign.

"I've been doing a social experiment this year and limiting everything else we do (for marketing) to try to see the impact of the Ottawa's Countryside campaign would have and it's been very positive," he says. "We've had great response to the campaign and our web traffic is way up. There's a buzz around which is great."

The $150,000 marketing campaign began in June in order to raise awareness of the large number of award-winning attractions, country fairs, restaurants and stores located in Ottawa's more rural areas. The promotions include advertising, brochures, a regional map, a website and a toll-free phone number.

Jo MacArthur, executive director of the Ottawa's Countryside campaign, says they have "over-achieved" their objectives.

"We've had glowing results. People are saying that this is the best marketing money they've ever spent and they've gotten their investment back and then some," she says.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the Ottawa's rural destinations is the lack of awareness, which has been reported in a number of studies.

 
 
"The Ottawa Countryside campaign really shows that there are so many amazing things in the countryside that people don't even know exist. It's about the idea that there are these great destinations, especially for the people in the city who are interested in taking a little day trip. What's better than going out to a little small town, checking out a store and maybe having a bite to eat?"
                                                                   
                                                                          - Carrie Oldford, owner of Laura's Corner, in Navan

 
 

After a few years of research, the ORTC asked interested rural businesses to participate in a marketing campaign at different buy-in levels.

"A business could join for as little as $300 or as much as $1,000, depending on the level of visibility they wanted," says Ms MacArthur, adding that 46 businesses signed up this year. "A lot of these companies have very little to spend on marketing so they're looking for an aggressive and effective way to actually get some eyeballs in the urban market."

She says there are no real boundaries restricting which companies can participate. The campaign's participants range from the Bearbrook Farm in Navan and the Black Dog Bistro in Manotick to Wilderness Tours in Foresters Falls and Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg.

She says the boundaries are "theoretically about 150 kilometres from the Greenbelt or from the core. It's a day-trip scenario ... We do definitely encourage overnight stays, but we recognize that the bulk of the traffic is day trips."

Ms MacArthur, who owns a home-based rural business, Junior Design and Communications, says the ORTC has also been working with Ottawa Tourism as a partner to heighten the profile of rural destinations, not only across the city, but the entire country as well.

"Part of our mandate is to also get Ottawa's Countryside on more of the national and international tourism scene," she says. "So, Ottawa can now attract (not only with) these great museums and attractions downtown, but also this terrific rural tourism escape. You can come to Ottawa and do a full circle visit."

Another participant in the marketing campaign is Carrie Oldford, owner of Laura's Corner, a Navan store specializing in home furnishings and décor.

She also reports an increased level of traffic thanks to the brochures, maps and advertisements placed in one of the local daily newspapers.

"A lot of people actually cut out the map from ads and are showing up at the store with the map in hand," she says. "You certainly can't beat that kind of advertising."

"The Ottawa Countryside campaign really shows that there are so many amazing things in the countryside that people don't even know exist," she added. "It's about the idea that there are these great destinations, especially for the people in the city who are interested in taking a little day trip. What's better than going out to a little small town, checking out a store and maybe having a bite to eat?"

Mr. Saunders says another benefit of the campaign is the added ability to attract what the tourism industry refers to as "VFR", or visiting friends and relatives.

"The number one reason people come to Ottawa is to visit their friends and relatives," he says. "The benefit of doing a local campaign has been that we're not only getting a lot of tourists, but a lot of friends are saying, 'come to Ottawa this summer and we can go to that great Saunders Farm place I've been telling you about' ... Word of mouth is always the number one marketing tool."

Ms MacArthur says she has already heard from a number of rural businesses interested in participating with next year's promotion.

"The campaign won't finish until the end of October, but I've already got my head spinning with next year and we're definitely going to do more," she says, adding they're looking at putting out a full visitor's guide with event listings as opposed to just a map. Ms MacArthur says there are also plans to increase the budget for paid media buys from $120,000 to $180,000.

"Another thing that is always a challenge for us is Ottawa's Countryside really does change season by season quite considerably," she says.

"What you can do in June is quite different from what you can do in November or March. So, we're going to try and communicate that people don't just need to come out to the countryside in the summer because you'll be surprised with what you can find during all of the seasons."

For more information, visit www.ottawascountryside.ca

By Kristin Harold

Kristin.Harold@transcontinental.ca



 

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