Social media website eyed to help market area

Dan Falloon

The Sunset Country Travel Association is hoping to break in alongside Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.
SCTA executive director Gerry Cariou announced at the association’s annual general meeting here last Wednesday night that it is developing a new social media website called My Sunset Country.
Cariou hopes the site will be an interactive space for both SCTA members as well as past and potential visitors to the region.
He anticipated the site will be up and running by January, but will go through a vetting process first and likely be revised as feedback is received.
“We want to run it by a few people. Ask them, ‘What do you think?’” he noted.
“It’s something that will evolve. You always go out with something that’s not perfect,” he reasoned.
“There will be a learning curve.”
While exact applications on the site still are being discussed, businesses and potential visitors will be able to interact with each other through activities such as personalized profiles and sharing photos.
Cariou stressed the SCTA isn’t shunning Facebook completely as it also is planning to integrate with that site, which boasts more than 400 million active users.
But he feels that My Sunset Country will more actively engage users.
“Facebook is global,” he remarked. “If someone just clicks ‘Share on Facebook,’ that’s social media to some degree.”
Tom Pearson, one of the district reps on the SCTA, admitted he’s not as computer savvy as Cariou but is excited about the direction the marketing plan is heading.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing,” he enthused. “I just think it’ll be a great way for our guests and potential guests . . . to look and talk about Northwestern Ontario and Sunset Country.”
The key to the site is its interactive nature. A 2009 Nielsen survey found 70 percent of respondents trusted consumer opinions posted online—the same number as trusted brand websites.
The proposed website will bring both together.
“When we get it developed, anybody will be able to go on there and check out towns, towns like Fort Frances or Dryden,” Cariou explained.
“They’ll be able to post pictures . . . talk about fishing, talk about lakes.
“It’s a great way for people to really get a good look at
Northwestern Ontario, and talk to other people that come up here about different lakes.”
Cariou acknowledged online marketing has been a major part of the SCTA for years now as it tries to stay one step ahead of the online game.
“We were concentrating in the past on search-engine optimization,” he noted, adding the organization ensures its website is highly-ranked for major tourism-related searches on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
“We’re trying to get as many visitors as we can,” Cariou stressed.
Pearson noted Sunset Country websites have received more than seven million page views since their inception, and felt online marketing is the way of the future.
“The biggest thing with Sunset Country is our 28 websites,” he remarked. “Over the past few years, it’s gotten over seven million hits on the website.
“In the past, we used to do a lot of sports shows, a lot of print, in magazines, all that kind of stuff,” Pearson noted.
“But what we’ve done now is we’ve gone more into Internet because that’s the best. It’s always out there,” he reasoned.
“That’s where that social network is going to work out well.”
Pearson also said websites can have a purpose beyond promotions as visitors can recall memories of their past trips to Sunset Country.
“With my website, people call me and they’re elderly and they can’t come up to Canada anymore, they go on there and just go through my pictures, and go through Sunset Country and see the photo albums,” he remarked.
“You can go through slideshows for hours of just everything from Sunset Country.
“All the resort owners send in pictures from the whole area.”
The websites are just one of the forward-thinking ideas the SCTA is employing. For instance, it received a grant of $218,000 over two years through the federal Economic Action Plan to produce a television show promoting destinations in Sunset Country.
The program, “Real Outdoor Destinations Ontario,” aired 13 episodes, 26 minutes in length, on the Pursuit network in the U.S. and WildTV here in Canada, and is slated to produce a second season.
Pearson’s Camp Narrows Lodge was featured last season, with Pearson, host Tasmin Kaliska, and Pearson’s dog out duck hunting, with some fishing on the side.
“We had a lot of fun. Tas was great,” he enthused. “It was on about two, three months ago.
“It was running in the States, and they’re going to run it again in the next few months.”
Pearson and Cariou both said the TV show takes a different approach than other outdoor programs, focusing on the area and unique storylines as opposed to a star host.
“It was really about my dog,” Pearson noted. “We were duck hunting, so it was about my hunting dog.
“We did grouse hunting, duck hunting, fishing for all the species, and it was what people can do in this area and on Rainy Lake,” he added.
“We pushed more of the fall stuff, we wanted more of a hunting show.”
Pearson said the show helped generate interest in Camp Narrows, and through re-runs could provide a cyclical resurgence.
“[There were] a lot of inquiries right after, and then we’ll just see how the bookings go from that, once they start calling,” he reasoned.
“It’s going to run again, and they always runs through the season, so they come up again.”
Although the show takes place at select locations, Pearson maintained the goal is to help promote the region as a whole.
“I’ve seen the other shows, and the other shows are great,” he lauded. “It showcases Northwestern Ontario, and Sunset Country.
“It’s on your camp, but it’s really about Sunset Country.”
Others have included a joint episode focusing on Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls, as well as ones set near Kenora, Minaki, Red Lake, and Sioux Lookout.
“It was all over, all different lakes and different activities that happen in Sunset Country,” Pearson reiterated.
“It’s more about the destination—scenery and what to do in that area.”
With the tourism season set to kick off shortly, Cariou admitted the outlook for the coming year is mixed given the American economic recovery, which will be a major factor in the success of operators this year, has been unpredictable.
“Talking to a reasonably large sample, some are saying it’s a little better, some are saying it’s about the same, and some are saying it’s a little bit worse,” he reported.