Frederic Gonzalo, Gonzo Marketing, addresses OVTA delegates
Nearly one hundred Valley tourism business owners met at the Santa Fe Grill in Renfrew on April 30 for the annual conference of the Ottawa Valley Tourism Association (OVTA) where keynote speaker Frederic Gonzalo of Gonzo Marketing told delegates how to better manage their online reputations to attract and keep customers. Nicole Whiting, Executive Director of Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO), discussed how the regional tourism organization helps Valley businesses develop a positive visitor experience and how operators can maximize their marketing budget by piggybacking on OHTO’s Come Wander online campaign. Emphasizing the economic importance of tourism, Melissa Marquardt, OVTA Marketing Coordinator, said Renfrew County welcomes 1.6 million visitors per year who spend $165 million in our region.
Some well-known business owners from the Madawaska Valley area attended: Sharon Mahussier of Spectacle Lake Lodge, Yvette Boudreau-Smith of Pinewood Inn, Don and Mary Helen Deakin of The Deakins, and Corinne Evely of Hush Lodge.
As a tourism based business in the Madawaska Valley, I feel it’s really vital to connect with other like businesses in the Ottawa Valley. This event was the best turnout I have seen. I am always amazed at the effort that the staff of the OVTA has put into these events. They are well organized and always feature relevant and timely speakers. The tools provided by and information gleaned from these sessions are inspirational and motivating which, let’s face it, we all need from time to time.
From left: Yvette Boudreau-Smith, Corinne Evely, Sharon Mahussier, Anya Gansterer consult their notes after the keynote speech
Gonzalo spoke about online reputations and gave delegates tips and tricks to manage their online presence more effectively. During his address entitled Online Reputations Gonzalo explained how to develop a strategy for dealing with internet reviews, both positive and negative. This prompted a lively question and answer session with the delegates. A show of hands indicated many Valley businesses already work hard to develop and maintain online relationships with customers. Millennials like Scott Hamilton (below) who has worked at Bonnechere Caves for several years, said much of this is second nature for his generation.
Whenever I go somewhere, I always google the area. I check out the negative reviews first because the way people handle their online critics shows me how they will treat their customers in person.
A highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of the fifth annual OVTA Tourism Awards. Bob Peltzer received the Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award which recognizes a member who is an active tourism champion for the Ottawa Valley. Teresa Hebb, President of the Renfrew County ATV Club, was also nominated as tourism champion.
The Special Event Award of the Year Award went to the Upper Ottawa River Race and Paddle Festival in 2017 and was accepted on behalf of the Town of Pembroke by Heather Sutherland, Tourism Coordinator. Valley residents may recall that Sutherland lived here and reported for Barry’s Bay This Week. Other nominees were Ontario Festival of Small Halls, Cavestock – Subterranean Concert Series, Paddle and Fiddle the Bonnechere and Frewtober – Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival.
The final award, for Business of Distinction, was won by Whitewater Brewing Company. Other businesses nominated were Valley Cycle Tours and Renfrew County ATV Club.
From left: Chris Hinsperger and Melissa Marquardt display Tourism Champion Award; Heather Sutherland accepting Special Event Award from last year’s winner Mark Bru; OVTA delegates listen intently at Renfrew’s Santa Fe Grill
Boudreau-Smith summed up the day,
Sharing the challenges and joys of operating a tourism business in the Ottawa Valley, being able to encourage and support fledgling enterprises, and most of all networking with people who face the same obstacles that we do is a positive and motivating experience. We are fortunate to have this vital resource, one that is constantly evolving to the needs of its members.