The County Tourism Committee remained at an impasse about spending on a TripAdvisor page and will seek more stakeholder feedback before coming to a decision.

The committee asked questions during a Feb. 16 meeting about investing $13,500 from the marketing budget for a Destination Sponsorship package with the company. The package would allow the County more control on a TripAdvisor destination page for the Haliburton Highlands, but some accommodators have expressed concern TripAdvisor could end up costing individual businesses.

The committee asked questions of TripAdvisor’s Emily Fowler over teleconference. Committee chair and Coun. Carol Moffatt said she wanted to ensure the County’s investment would not take extra money from local businesses.

“We don’t want to use public money to facilitate something that will force the hand of our small business owners into somewhere that they don’t want to go,” Moffatt said.

Fowler explained that with the purchase, the County would be able to control most everything on a central page for the Haliburton Highlands to promote the area. The County would be able to curate the content of the page and direct it to link out to different local businesses.

She also said TripAdvisor would not force the hand of those small businesses, who could benefit from a controlled central page directing traffic to them without having to pay into TripAdvisor themselves.

“Working with their tourism board, they’re able to have that tourism board post on their behalf,” Fowler said. “It’s really a win-winwin for stakeholders.”

But Rob Berthlot challenged that. He noted TripAdvisor offers sponsored placements to make a business feature more prominently on its website.

“If the County’s going to sponsor something, I don’t want it to sponsor something that makes me feel beholden to upgrade my thing in order to get my benefit out of it,” Berthlot said.

Fowler said she can work with businesses that do not pay into TripAdvisor directly and that the destination page does not favour businesses with a paid membership. She added algorithms for viewing habits can impact what someone sees as they browse the website.

County tourism director Amanda Virtanen said the page itself is only a $2,500 investment, for one year. The remainder of the funding is different advertising for the County on TripAdvisor, one of several different marketing initiatives being worked on, she added.

Committee member Tegan Legge said she supports it, adding TripAdvisor is important to online presence. “To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Legge said, adding her Haliburton Forest utilizes TripAdvisor readily despite not paying into it. “There are other platforms out there, but again, this is the top one, this is number one … I am very passionate that this should happen.”

The committee voted to accept the discussion as information and have staff bring back feedback from the tourism stakeholders’ group to the next County meeting.

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