Huron County, population 60,000, is a rural municipality located in Southwestern Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron. Agriculture is our primary industry but with a 100 km. of freshwater shoreline and 15 public beaches, tourism is also a significant economic sector, generating $116 million in direct economic impact annually. Our 1.2 million visitors spend an average of 2 nights per visit and are evenly spread among age demographics – 27% are 18-34 years of age, 33% are 35 – 54 years of age 33% and 40% are 55+. Huron County Economic Development is responsible for tourism and marketing under our Ontario’s West Coast tourism brand as there is no DMO. Our primary marketing tools are our website, ontarioswestcoast.ca and our annual printed Visitor Guide.
One of our challenges is how to encourage visitors to explore beyond the lakeshore and beaches to disperse the economic benefits of tourism across all nine of our lower-tier municipalities. A 2022 Tourism Economic Impact report conducted by Ipsos, showed that 68% of our visitors only visited one of our nine local municipalities while visiting Huron County. The Ontario’s West Coast brand is popular and has been in use since 1992, but a few feel the brand favours the lakeshore over the more in-land agriculturally based communities in the County.
To address these challenges, we reimagined the content in our 2023 Visitor’s Guide. The goal was to expand the Ontario’s West Coast brand by spotlighting the rural farming way of life enjoyed here and to invite our visitors to embrace and experience that by “slowing their roll” in Huron County this summer. We also wanted to inject some humour into it after years of stress, concern and rebuilding efforts caused by the pandemic. We used self-effacing humour in our copy, leaning into stereotypical rural perceptions and idioms. The imagery selected underscored our intent, favouring candid pictures over polished and formal promotional imagery. Our cover eschewed the typical sunsets and day-at-the-beach tropes opting instead for a humble picture of sheep.
Another strategy employed in this year’s guide to encourage visitors to move about and explore more of what Ontario’s West Coast has to offer was to collaborate with our partner municipalities to develop individual day-long road trips. All nine municipalities were consulted on the attractions and sites that they wanted to promote in their road trip and the County’s GIS Department created the road maps. The addition of the 9 road trips not only expanded this year’s guide from 40 pages to 56 but also fostered greater cooperation and shared responsibility for tourism promotion between the County and its municipal partners.
The 2023 Visitor Guide succeeds in both expanding our brand and distinguishing us from other beach destinations by elevating the unique agricultural character and charm found here.
The 12,000 printed copies of the Visitor Guide were distributed to our tourism operators, local and regional visitor centres and through Ontario Travel Centres across the Province. A digital copy of the guide is available on our website – https://www.ontarioswestcoast.ca/