Blowing Saint John's tourism horn

Marketing Gail Bremner is heading up city's destination marketing organization

SAINT JOHN - Editor's note: This is the seventh and final story in a series about individuals we expect will help shape the future of Greater Saint John in 2009 and beyond.

                                      

Gail Bremner has been hired as the executive director of the city's destination marketing organization.

The first thing Gail Bremner has to do when talking about her new role with the city is explain what it is. Called a destination marketing organization, her role as executive director is not a replacement for the city's tourism department.  "It's to determine the direction, the model that tourism in Saint John will follow in the future," she said. "So it's a contract position to do the research and evaluation plus practices of other DMOs."

Over the 12 months of her contract, she'll meet with those who have a stake in tourism and determine what direction the city should take. But the consultations will not be focused on what is the best attraction in the area and what the city should promote. "It's a change, for sure, but what that change is going to look like is what we have to determine. My mandate is to come with a recommendation as to what this should look like - the governance, what the team would look like that's going to be working in this new entity, what the structure would be, what the markets would be."

There are a number of groups that currently market the city such as Venue Saint John, Enterprise Saint John and Tourism Saint John. A marketing organization would focus the tourism marketing efforts in the region.

"We want to make sure that we do it in a manner that allows everyone - the stakeholders, industry, the clients - feel that they've been heard and they're excited about it."

Bremner has worked in the tourism and hospitality sector for 18 years and is currently a minor partner in Aquila Tours. She'll return to that after her contract with the city expires.

"While I don't profess to know all of the concerns or needs, I'm tuned into it and the next stage is to make sure we hear it all."

Saint John, said Bremner, is the No. 1 tourism spot in the province.   "The bay experience, people come to see that and it's world renowned," Bremner said. "The bay is what you call the hook and the river system, of course."  In 2007, tourism was worth $240 million to the Saint John economy and 1.5 million people visited the city.

"It puts everyone on one committee. It avoids duplication of effort and we're all working towards the same thing."

While there will be changes, Bremner said she's not going to cajole people to buy in to one marketing group.

"They need to see in the model that what they need is there. In the end, it is absolutely about greater good."

Within the next four to eight months, Bremner will present a report that will lay out the makeup of the destination marketing organization.  "The process is to make sure that everyone is heard and my biggest job is going to be to listen and make these recommendations."

How the destination marketing group will be funded is also being discussed, but she said it will likely be funded in a public-private partnership.  "It's membership based."  Members will pay into the organization based on categories, but that will be defined during this ongoing process.

"I don't know the answers as to what those numbers are going to be - that's my job. That's what I'm here to do."

Halifax, Charlottetown, P.E.I., and St. John's, N.L. currently have destination marketing organizations in place, but the idea is still relatively new concept in Atlantic Canada.

Source: Telegraph Journal February 20, 2009