“There’s no subsitute for the West Koot Route.”
“Have a hoot on the West Koot Route.”
“Uncover your roots on the West Koot Route.”
Those are some of the slogans presented for the West Koot Route, the new brand adopted by the West Kootenay Tourism Alliance, a coalition of regional chambers of commerce organized to help promote the area from the Nakusp to Kaslo.
It rhymes. It lends itself to easy slogans. It’s somewhat distinct.
That was part of the pitch made by Tom Hudock of the Victoria marketing agency Brand Reinfluencer to local stakeholders last Friday.
“It’s short, it’s catchy and it’s memorable,” he told the gathering of about 30 people. “As a name, those are all very important things.”
The WKTA was established last year by the Nakusp, Slocan Valley and Kaslo chambers of commerce. Following a series of workshops, they decided to form a regional tourism organization in order to bring more people to the region. With funding from Kootenay Rockies Tourism, they hired Tom Hudock to craft a brand and create some marketing ideas for the region.
The results were presented at a series of meetings in Kaslo, New Denver and Nakusp last week. On Friday, Hudock was in Nakusp where, along with Peter Welkering, the president of the Nakusp & District Chamber of Commerce, he showed the idea to local tourism stakeholders.
The brand came about through a series of meetings starting in the fall. Each area was asked to look at the highlights of the area. “We asked if you could put a personality to Nakusp, what would that be,” said Hudock.
From those ideas, Hudock looked at the overlaps and looked at what competitors were doing to come up with a brand for the region. He looked at what the region has going for it, what makes it stand out, and what the challenges are.
“What we realized is the region is brand new,” said Hudock. “While geographically it’s there, from a tourist standpoint, it’s brand new. No one knows about it from a tourism standpoint.”
They also wanted to create a brand that would stand the test of time.
The theme they settled on was “Explore” — explore the history of the area and explore the lakes and mountains. The idea is to promote the areas almost island-like isolation — three of the entrances are by ferry — and the ability to escape from the trappings of rural life. Hudock noted the lack of cell phone service in large parts of the region, something that is appealing for many people. He called it “releasing the urban armour.”
“They want uncrowded spaces where you can follow your own path and learn about the landscape,” he said. “I think what they really want is getting to a place where they can unplug.”
Hudock spoke of promoting the ferries. He also suggested focusing on festivals like Kaslo Jazz Fest, Hills Garlic Festival and Kootenay Sufferfest.
With that, he presented the West Koot Route name and logo — a road sign shaped by mountains and illustrated by a road and rivers flowing through. It would evoke imagery of the iconic Route 66, said Hudock. Someone noted it looked a lot like the Powder Highway logo. “Not on purpose,” replied Hudock.
The logo would be plastered throughout the region — on road signs, painted on the road, and even blended into natural settings. “Instead of seeing it in travel brochures and websites, you actually see it where you’re at,” said Hudock. Local artists could be engaged to find creative ways to use the logo.
The main tagline he presented was “Go wander.”
“You’re not lost. Go wander. Check things out, enjoy the journey,” he said. “You aren’t necessarily a destination brand. What you want to promote is the journey through.”
Tom Hudock of Brand Reinfluencer (left) and Peter Welkering, the president of the Nakusp & District Chamber of Commerce, lead a presentation of the West Kootenay Tourism Alliance’s new brand in Nakusp last Friday, Mar. 21. Photo by Alex Cooper/Arrow Lakes News
Hudock’s presentation also included conceptual advertisements, and merchandise possibilities. He talked about the idea of a passport for the region that tourists would use to get stamps at different attractions and businesses. Generally, the ideas were well received — until he handed out sample tri-fold pamphlets that included top five lists for activities, attractions and events.
There, he experienced resistance from people who saw the pamphlets as promoting specific businesses. Linda Tynan, the chief adminstrative officer for the Village of Nakusp, said picking a top five was “at odds with developing a regional brand.”
“It’s somewhat arbitrary that five things are picked and it automatically causes division where it doesn’t have to, especially when the big chore over time will be getting people to buy in,” she said.
Others felt different wording could be used. Instead of top five, say five favourite. Others noted the lack of Nakusp attractions in the top five. “I’m looking at these top five activities and where’s Nakusp in there?” said mayor Karen Hamling. “We’re supposed to be working as a region and we’re not in there.”
There were suggestions like instead of top five activities, have a top five for each area; or just suggest generic activities like hiking.
Hudock replied to these criticisms, saying that the pamphlets needed to advertise specific activities because that’s what tourists want to know. The idea is to get people to come to the region, and tourists will want specific places to go to. Once they’re here, you point them to other activities and businesses.
“This whole region needs to figure out how to make this work. We’re not here to actually say how to make this work. We’re showing you what we think needs to be done,” he said. “You need to know it’s about tourists, it’s not about you guys.”
Other suggestions were that instead of the term “Go wander”, they use “Come wander” as a more welcoming slogan. There was also talk of need for a friendly website and mobile app. One person pointed out that tourists today are “sophisticated travelers.”
“They’ll want to find out stuff that isn’t on a brochure. They’ll want to find out where the locals go,” she said. “They aren’t simple people.”
The branding process is just the start for the West Kootenay Tourism Alliance. Now it’s a matter of implementing all the ideas developed by Brand Reinfluencer. That will mean the region coming together and cooperating even further on tourism initiatives.
“As you probably noticed, this was almost the easy part. Now comes the part to make this work,” said Peter Welkering. “We need to cooperate and communicate with each other throughout the region and get businesses to buy in.”
The next step will be creating the website, www.westkouteroot.ca. The tourism alliance is hoping to get funding for that.
Moving forward, the goal is to have the tourism alliance as a sustainable entity, funded by chamber members so a full-time employee can be hired to handle all the marketing. “The goal is because we’re all volunteers, we have to come to the point where we have a hired person to take this over and promote it and work on it,” he said. “We’ve delivered a brand. Now it needs to be executed on.”
The key will be convincing chamber members and other stakeholders that the initiative will be worth their investment.