The County of Haliburton plans to help create a “tourism ecosystem” with a focus on improving the sector’s digital footprint.

Staff unveiled the 2020 marketing plan to the county’s tourism committee Nov. 13. The plan highlights initiatives such as a destination development plan, workshops and the Hike Haliburton winter edition.

County director of tourism Amanda Virtanen said the plan is to build on stakeholder feedback gathered from surveys, workshops and meetings with the local stakeholders group.

“All of this has fed into where we’re at today,” Virtanen said. “It’s very important to say no feedback went ignored.”

Virtanen’s report highlighted the results from the county’s Destination Next project and digital audit. The report said the county has strong outdoor recreation, arts and entertainment and events space.

But a digital audit found the tourism sector lagging behind online, with 37 per cent of destination websites not mobile-friendly, a lack of video storytelling, and gaps in key information from operators.

Areas identified for improvement also included transportation and avoiding negativity.

“Internal conflict, infighting, judging other operators, nobody cares,” Virtanen said. “They (tourists) just want to come here and have a cool experience.”

The plan also identifies accommodators as needing more focus. To that end, the department is planning to spend 10 per cent of the marketing budget on a strategy to promote the highlands with a focused page on TripAdvisor. The County will also workshop how to best use TripAdvisor and other social channels.

Committee member and Sandy Lane Resort owner Rob Berthlot voiced opposition to TripAdvisor.

“One of the factors why I don’t use a lot of these other third-party vendors … they all take a piece of whatever I make. 10 per cent, five per cent, all money out of my pocket,” Berthlot said.

Virtanen clarified accommodators would not have to make their own paid arrangements with TripAdvisor if they do not wish. The destination page is a new product.

She added although the tourism department has pushed stuff out online, that needs a more unified approach.

“2020 is about, not stopping doing that, but also letting stakeholders be able to do more of that,” Virtanen said. “If we’re not all creating content, we’re not creating a good digital footprint.”

The committee voted to receive the plan as information.

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