New Local Web Site Offers World Wide Exposure for Ontario Tourism

By Catherine Glass,
NORTH COUNTRY BUSINESS Publication,  May 1999

 Gord Bell was having a chat one evening with his sister, Sandra, about vacationing. Sandra was surfing the Internet for travel ideas and was becoming increasingly frustrated at the absence of Ontario information.

That discussion led to what is arguably one of the most aggressive private mass marketing ideas tackled to date for Ontario resorts.

Bell and his wife Nancy were more than familiar with the World Wide Web. Their resort, Beauview Cottage Resort, had an Internet presence for quite some time. A former manager of Computer Applications Development at the Bank of Montreal, Workers’ Compensation and Crown Life Insurance, Bell quickly adapted to the electronic age. Over the past three years, he had developed a site not only for his own resort, but for others as well, and saw the opportunity to apply the expertise built up over that time.

The search for a new project, and the demand for a more cohesive effort existed, and Bell seized upon the idea. "We realized that our tourism competition doesn’t come from across the lake or down the road. It comes from outside Muskoka, and outside Ontario. We want international tourists to come to Ontario. We want Ontarians to vacation in Ontario."

Thus was born the website.

From conception to launch, the project took about three months, sped up by the fact that the Bells already possessed the computer equipment and competency required. The registration took about a week and programming the initial pages took a month.

Bell credits the support and constructive criticism of friends, neighbours and business professionals within the area for the instant success of the site. "We had a lot of help defining the site. Chris Milner from the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, Bruce Howell from Colonial Bay Cottage Resort, Jack Stewart from Huntsville Big Print, Doug Beiers from Baytides Management, Carolyn Goldring and Melissa Wright from the Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Carter from Surenet, Susan Henderson from the TD bank, as well as our family were all very supportive."

Along the way, the team encountered, and overcame, hurdles, including the challenge of becoming known by the tourism industry. "To get the name out, we are putting rack cards in 80 tourism information office, CAA and AAA offices in Ontario and the bordering states. We sent press release, by email of course, to newspapers across southern Ontario, and we registered it with Internet search engines."

Word spread quickly through the resort community, and shortly after the site became operational in mid-March, resorts were requesting that they be included on the site, and the response from solicitations has been positive. "Presently we have more tourism businesses than any other Ontario web site, and we’re still adding. Our goal is to have all Ontario resorts, cottage resorts, lodges and inns listed with at least a name and phone number. This will be the most complete Ontario tourism directory on the web," projects Bell. At last count, the site listed more than 550 properties. The 1999 guide books are due out in a few weeks, and Bell will scour them looking for additional properties to include.

Unique to the Internet is a simplified, automatic tracking process, which maintains a running total of ‘hits’ or times a web page is visited, and the origin of the hit. Bell has added this feature to his site, recording hits on the town sites, where the referrals come from, and who is looking at what. This information is then complied and emailed periodically to the listed businesses, allowing them to track the effectiveness of their Internet marketing efforts. This is a claim that no other Ontario travel website offers.

As the season gears up, Bell is already fielding enquiries, both for his own business, Beauview Cottage Resort, and for his listings, indicating a variety of concerns. A person from Minnesota ask where he could fly in and fish for a few days. Someone from France wanted one night’s accommodation in July. Another wants to go to Port Dover while still another wanted a listing of all cottages at Sauble Beach. One person wanted an inexpensive place on Lake Rosseau, and still another was looking for a place on Lake of Bays that accepted a dog.

The site has had some help with exposure along the way, thanks again to Bell’s savvy marketing. It is listed with the Canadian Government travel website, and the Globe and Mail recently gave it an honourable mention in it’s travel section, and supplied a link in its on-line travel guide.

Bell himself is pleased with the success of the site, and continues to offer support to other tourism businesses looking for an Internet presence. He is known in the area for sharing both his wisdom and his business. He is quick to send a referral to another resort, happy to direct would-be clients to web page designers and hosts, and succinct in his belief in the power of the Internet. He considers the Internet to be on an equal playing field with television and radio as a marketing medium.

"The Internet is open 365 days a year. There are 80 million connected users, every one of whom is a potential customer. There is a captive audience driving by. If you don’t have a road sign, you don’t exist."

Anyone wishing an on-ramp can contact Gord or Nancy Bell at or toll free at 800-363-6047. Their own resort site, is an example of their talents.