Regional Tourism Organization Four Inc. (RTO4) – one of 13 regional tourism offices in the province of Ontario, Canada – helps cities in their region to market themselves efficiently by fostering product development and differentiation and provides operators with strategic insight and digital tools to help increase their ROI.

RTO4 takes a truly modern approach to destination marketing. And, says CEO David Peacock, they do it all without having a brand.

Why no brand? When creating RTO4, their team needed to be as efficient as possible with their budget. “$2 million sounds like a lot of money, but when you look at it from a brand creation perspective, it’s not,” said David. Instead, they opted to put the money into creating a framework for their local tourism economy and to create a “goal-strategy-measurement” model as their main tool.

Goal, strategy, and measurement: a case study

Following a “goal-strategy-measurement” process gave RTO4 the clarity it needed on core business decisions and resulting operating adjustments. What does this model look like in motion? At a Social Media Tourism Symposium event run by Destination Think, David shared an example where RTO4’s goal was to grow overnight visits in one of their region’s destinations.

The initiative

To get more overnight visits, RTO4’s DMO partners focused on their destination’s main themes: theater, heritage towns, sports, and culinary arts. With a six-figure budget, the DMOs jumped into what they knew best: fairly traditional marketing (TV, billboards, and other online content). RTO4 tracked every single initiative (click-through rates, time spent on web pages, etc.) and while their efforts “broke even,” they didn’t dramatically increase overnight visits.

The breakthrough

Why didn’t they significantly increase overnight visits? RTO4 identified that operators and DMOs weren’t providing simple and direct paths to purchase for their consumers. Not only did this lack create frustrating user experiences for prospective visitors, operator websites also occasionally lead to dead ends. This needed to change.


So RTO4 needed to prove its hypothesis. A major theatre festival was coming up in their region, so it used this event as an opportunity to return to the original objective: increasing overnight stays. RTO4 had a six-figure marketing budget, its target audience was out-of-province, and so decided to use ticket sales for upcoming shows to track whether or not these sales drove overnight stays in the destination.

Zac Gribble, Director of Media Technology at RTO4, identified that the theatre operator’s website wasn’t set up for optimizing accommodation sales. He ran an A/B test with an updated user experience (UX) to prove whether the dead path-to-purchase issues were impacting overnight visits.

“You don’t get to do the motivator side of marketing until you do the hygiene side first.”
-David Peacock – CEO, RTO4


Over the course of a year, accommodation sales doubled via the operator’s website channel and this increase was directly attributed to the UX change. From a $30,000 spend on UX alone, the region saw an increase from $750,000 to $1.5 million generated in overnight stays.

“Fixing those UX things that make websites frustrating and confusing is probably the highest single return on investment we’ve found,” said David. In working with their DMO partners and operators, they noted that broken paths-to-purchase are “absolute conversion killers”. And, he advises, “you don’t get to do the motivator side of marketing until you do the hygiene side first.”

Bringing it all together

“The most important things a destination can do for enabling engagement is, a) deal with digital disruption and b) futureproof a destination for the emerging and radically different buyer,” said David. He also recommends that DMOs shift their budgets from marketing communications, to initiatives that enable consumer engagement, which helps manage visitor experience.

Watch David’s presentation from the Symposium below and learn more from his slide deck.

Related reading: Cost and Revenue – Four critical trends impacting destination marketing leadership: Part 2

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Featured image caption: detsang, Flickr


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