Local Journalism Initiative
Despite there being no international travellers this summer, the overall numbers of visitors to the Explore Hinton Visitor Information Centre (VIC) were down by only 20 per cent compared to 2019.
The increase in local travel largely offset having no international travellers.
“What was really surprising was the main destination for visitors, 47 per cent of people visiting the VIC were here primarily to see Hinton, 29 per cent were here to visit Jasper. They wanted to try something new and avoid the crowds in Jasper and they felt that Hinton had just as much as much to offer, maybe less expensive, and they just felt safe here,” said Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce during the regular council meeting on Sept. 15.
The VIC, managed by the chamber, opened on June 20 and was staffed until Sept. 7. Chamber staff now operate the centre during the off-season. While the pandemic kept international travellers away, Charlton stated this summer was a great opportunity to market the community to Albertans and she feels many of those visitors will return to Hinton in the future.
“We had a huge uptake on the disc golf, we rent out some of the discs here and we didn’t have enough to give to people, we could’ve had more. They were really interested and loved the fact that we had so many recreational activities at no cost,” Charlton said.
Ninety-six per cent of travellers came from Alberta, with the majority from Edmonton, Grande Prairie and other West Yellowhead communities.
Visitors mostly asked for hiking maps of the area, the Beaver Boardwalk, fishing licenses and park passes, Switzer Park, places to camp, places to eat, and disc-golf rentals.
The VIC was previously operated by the Chamber while funded through Travel Alberta for more than 10 years, but provincial funding ended this spring mid-contract.
Through a partnership with the Town of Hinton, the Chamber was able to address the tourism gap by continuing to manage the VIC.
“We’ve done more than re-branding our VIC, however. Explore Hinton is a multi-faceted initiative, and has set itself apart from other regionalized tourism initiatives in the province,” said Charlton.
Through the new initiative, Explore Hinton, the chamber re-conceptualized the visitor centre, set up a new website, and created a social media and content strategy.
“We’ve been able to encompass not only what Hinton has to offer as a tourism destination but what opportunities there are for them to visit local businesses, restaurants, retail stores, and hotel accommodations. It’s basically a one-stop-shop,” Charlton said.
Social media pages have gained a local audience and receive continuous engagement.
Forty per cent of Explore Hinton’s Instagram users are non-local, while its Facebook page has also gained a mostly local audience.
Charlton added that they also created a blog, targeting partnership marketing funding received from Travel Alberta, which presents stories of life and travel in Hinton. This allows social media cross-promotion and strategy.
The Hinton Chamber, in partnership with the Town of Hinton Economic Development, was the recipient of up to $20,000 from Travel Alberta to be used towards the initiative for marketing purposes. Those funds were used to send postcards to key cities and addresses, develop digital content, create social media content, and for interpretive signage for the visitor centre.
Future opportunities include continuing to produce high level content, destination marketing organization (DMO), merchandising, and increasing municipal and regional partnerships.
On Sept. 16, a meeting is scheduled to discuss a DMO for Hinton with local stakeholders as a viable strategic priority for regional tourism, especially following the pandemic.
“We will be looking to see what is the right model for a destination marketing plan for Hinton, and we’re hoping that that will open up the door for further tourism initiatives,” said Charlton.
For more information on Explore Hinton, go to explorehinton.org