What Hay River really needs is a brand

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On April 8, town council passed a motion to spend $100,000 – that would be $20,000 from the town and a hoped-for $80,000 from Ottawa – on developing a tourism marketing strategy.

Our initial reaction was surprise and bewilderment. Another tourism study? You’ve got to be kidding?

However, as we learned more about the proposal, it seemed less like a complete waste of money.

The project would develop and implement a tourism marketing strategy, which would begin with actions this year. We hope that most of the money – if the project materializes – will not go to simply thinking about marketing tourism, but to actually trying to attract tourists.

Tourism marketing is not rocket science.

The background material for the council motion listed some of the obvious strategies – branding, advertising, a new town brochure, social media development, professional media kits, tradeshow materials, and promotional videos and stock photos.

That all seems logical, and you certainly don’t need to spend the whole $100,000 to figure it out.

However, the first item on the list – branding – will definitely require some thought.

Hay River needs a tourism brand, a slogan that would catch the eye and imagination of potential visitors.

A logo can also be considered part of a brand, and Hay River has a relatively new one featuring the northern lights, a fishing boat and a tree representing the wilderness.

The town also has a nickname/motto: The Hub of the North. As nicknames go, that is not too bad, and even inspired the name of this newspaper. However, it is not a tourism brand.

Fort Smith also has a nickname, The Garden Capital. But it also has a brand – Unexpected. Unforgettable. It’s not a great brand because it could apply to many communities, but it’s better than no brand at all.

Arguably the best tourism brand in Canada has been around for decades: Super, Natural British Columbia. That’s a brand we can only dream of matching.

Over the years, we have heard the need for a Hay River brand discussed at various meetings. However, we have never heard a great idea. Instead, we hear people suggest aspects of the community they would like to promote – very often whitefish.

With all due respect to whitefish and fishers, we doubt that a whitefish-themed brand – say for argument’s sake, The Whitefish Capital of the World – would attract many visitors.

A brand needs to be considered from the viewpoint of visitors, not residents. The best brands are appealing, interesting and even mysterious.

But creating a brand is not easy. In fact, it’s extremely difficult.

So to help get the ball rolling, we will offer a suggestion – Hay River: Canada’s North… Nearby.

That proclaims our place in the North, but at a reasonable distance to travel.

We sometimes hear residents say they like to live in Hay River because of the less-than-onerous driving distance to the South. It only seems logical that our proximity to the South could work in reverse, and help attract visitors.

But that’s just our idea, which will no doubt be dismissed out of hand. Like we said, creating a brand is not easy.