The Dryden Observer

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Tourism apps square off

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

The province of Ontario has replaced most Northwestern Tourism Centres with a smartphone app.

Unfortunately, it’s about as useful to area visitors as the proverbial ‘teats on a bull’.

In the budget crunch of 2012, it’s easy to see how the region’s tourism centres symbolized the low-hanging fruit. It’s difficult to quantify their net benefit to the industry and times… they are a-changin’.

It is, however, impossible to deny their benefit to the swollen, distended bladders of travellers.

Where will the people pee?

To be honest, my interest in tourism information centres usually extends about as far as the urinal, then secondarily to how far out into the parking lot their free wi-fi signal extends. The rest, to me, is a roof keeping the pamphlets dry.

I have trouble disagreeing with the province’s argument that digital technology has fundamentally altered the manner in which most people access tourism information and that now is the time to switch to a new paradigm (that just so happens to cost a lot less money).

I doubt that even the plan’s most vociferous critic, our MPP Sarah Campbell, who submits her frequent columns via her iPad, could deny the importance of mobile devices to the modern traveller.

So, having never gained much more than kindling for the campfire out of the traditional tourism info centre model, I was willing to give the province’s Discover Ontario smartphone app a fair shake.

Now that I have, I can report with some clarity that it is entirely useless. In fact it is so shockingly devoid of regionally relevant information as to actually be humourous.

It’s a mismatch right from the start as the entire app is centered around events, festivals and other broadstrokes which run contrary to the kind of experience destination travellers are seeking in the Northwest. We have never been a place people generally come to gather in large groups. Our strength is in solitude and pristine wilderness experiences.

Be that as it may, certainly there are some local events that would be listed?

According to the app, the closest fishing derby is the Morson Bass International (128 km), followed by the World Famous Caramat Fishing Derby (341 km).

The nearest Aboriginal festival is 299 km away in Thunder Bay.

The nearest Canada Day celebration is 729 km away in Sault Ste. Marie.

What’s happening here? Communities must take the initiative to list their events where the province is sourcing its data. This is clearly not happening.

Is our region’s failure to adapt to digital technology the real problem?

I don’t know about that.

Ontario’s Sunset Country is adapting quite well producing a very useful, albeit member-driven app that will help you find your way to a liquor store, a boat launch, a gas station, a campsite or just about anything — so long as the listing is associated with a paid membership with the regional tourism marketing agency. As not all businesses are members, it doesn’t yet provide a perfect reflection of the services available in the community, but it’s a far more useful framework than the province is working on. Perhaps the work that’s been invested in the Sunset Country app will entice a greater number of businesses to seek membership in the regionally-based marketing organization.

To me the choice is clear over who ‘gets it’ and who does not.


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