B.C. tourism industry reckons with the rise of online reviews

B.C. tourism | BCBusiness
TripAdvisor has become a powerful tool for digital-savvy travellers.

Customers may or may not be right, but online they get the last word

Our perception of destinations is being shaped less by traditional marketing and more by people sharing photos and experiences online, according to Chris Fair, president of Resonance Consultancy, which analyzes and advises regions and cities on travel and leisure trends and consumer behaviour.

Speaking at the BC Tourism & Hospitality Summit 2014 in Vancouver, Fair said, “It’s not about where you rank per se. It’s about thinking about how travellers view your destination and aligning the way you develop, manage and market your destination with the way travellers are defining it for you, because it’s not entirely within your control anymore. The control has shifted to the customer, and whether we think it accurately reflects your customer or not, the reality is 80 million people a year, and growing every year, are using these sites to define and decide where to go.”

Illustrating the difference between how destinations are marketed and how travellers perceive them, the Okanagan Valley received the highest number of positive recommendations for food experiences, yet only 10 percent of Thompson-Okanagan visitors travelled there specifically to visit a winery, according to a Destination BC visitor profile. And even though culinary tourism wasn’t in the top five motivators for visitors to the region, 39 per cent participated in culinary and wine experiences once they got there.

Travellers do not differentiate between regions and cities when searching for or posting reviews of destinations online—Vancouver Island was the top-ranked destination, followed by Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley and Victoria—or adhere to the destinations defined by destination marketing organizations. Fair advises aligning regions and their identities with terms that are searchable and understood within social media channels, for example, Okanagan Valley rather than Thompson-Okanagan.

Fair also cautions that the more variety a destination offers, the more resiliant it is and the more effectively it will be able to adapt to change over the long term compared to destinations that specialize in a particular category. “It’s great if you’re really strong in outdoor adventure in one particular category, but what happens if 10, 15 years from now, the tastes of consumers change?” The rankings in the survey favour destinations offering a wide variety of experiences rather than those that specialize in one particular category.