Ontario tourism operators flock to CRM portal

Ontario is seeing the fruits of an outsourcing deal with EDS Canada to spruce up the province’s online tourism offerings.

The deal, worth $16.2 million over three years, began in August 2001 and has produced

an integrated customer relationship management (CRM) package involving a business to business site, business to consumer site, call centre and travel brochure fulfillment centre.

The package replaces a call centre and Web site that operated independently. “”The big difference with this is that it is all powered by one database and enables us to engage in CRM on a much more meaningful basis,”” said Hilary Duff, vice-president of strategic development, for the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corp. “”Before, the system was operating in silos and this is a fully integrated system.”” The OTMPC is an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation designed to work with tourism operators in the province to develop programs and marketing vehicles.

The B2B portion of the CRM portals allows these tourism operators — which include bed and breakfast inns, hotel chains, museums, art galleries and wineries — to add online content which will then be moved over to the public site. To date, 8,000 of these operator listings have been transferred over from the old site.

“”I think this is the real strength in the solution,”” said Andy Blenkarn, vice-president of acceleration services for EDS Canada. “”It’s not like government is trying to manage and control the content. It really leaves it in the hands of partners.”” The B2B site will also allow the businesses to communicate with government, he added, and co-develop marketing programs.

The growth of Ontario tourism has moved it up to the sixth-largest industry in the province, responsible for half a million jobs. The old site generated about 700,000 visits a year. Since the new site’s launch last Friday, “”we are seeing a tremendous increase in the number of user sessions,”” said Duff. As a result of the growth in popularity of the Internet as a travel planner, use of call centres is starting to wane, she added.

“”I think it’s quite important,”” said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Joe Greene. “”By doing this, the ministry is certainly helping . . . tourism operators in Ontario, to better meet the needs of their customers as well as potentially increase the number of customers (visiting) Ontario.””

According to Minister of Tourism and Recreation Frank Klees, the project represents an opportunity to show leadership.

“”It’s an indication that we’re not prepared to sit back,”” he said. “”We have to provide this kind of tool, not only to the consumer but also to the industry that we’re counting on to make some significant investments and strides in the province of Ontario.””

Klees added that the site also acts as a research tool, which could help determine where tourists are spending their dollars and where they’re travelling from.

So far, 55 per cent of site visitors are from the U.S., according to Blenkarn, followed by Canada, Germany and the U.K.

EDS will continue to host and maintain the sites for the duration of its contract with the provincial government, but, as Duff puts it, “”it’s not like we’ve handed over the keys to EDS.”” The OTMPC is maintaining a team to oversee the entire project.

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