As with every other industry, travel is seeing its share of "disruption" from emerging and evolving technology. But it isn't just on the consumer side, such as booking apps and the sharing economy. The cultural fabric of Silicon Valley has started to leave fingerprints on destination marketing.

A small organization in Canada is a shining example of this.

The Ministry of Tourism Culture and Sport in the province of Ontario established 13 regional tourism offices, and one of those — RTO4 has become known as the "petri dish" because of its innovative, analytical and nontraditional approach to growing tourism and economic development, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission.

"We're a bit of a tourism incubator," CEO David Peacock said, explaining that RTO4 was created by the government of Ontario to spur growth and to "look at best practices and find the optimal use of resources for growing tourism in specific geographic areas."

Specifically, RTO4 provides leadership and support for tourism in Huron, Perth, Waterloo and Wellington. But its methods and successes are gaining international attention.

As most destination marketers will tell you, it's no longer enough to simply tout the natural beauty of your location or highlight your main attractions in a brochure or television commercial. Furthermore, tourism and its impact are becoming more connected than ever to the entirety of the destination. At its core, RTO4 encourages direct investment in the community with a bigger purpose in mind.

"The future of destination marketing is where it's an important part of civic life because it increases the quality of life for residents, offsets costs and brings economic activity," Peacock said.

That's why RTO4 looks beyond the old school of destination marketing.

"Rather than investing in traditional 'Eat, Play, Stay' ad campaigns that many destinations rely on, we're putting our money into helping create highly sharable visitor experiences," Peacock said. "In a way, we're harnessing the power of word-of-mouth with a digital-age twist."

Image: RTO4

RTO4, using DMAI's DestinationNext as a jumping off point, has established a development process that aims "to create vibrant destinations by emphasizing capacity building, a culture of innovation, and the transfer of key skills to Destination Network partners, as well as unlocking co-investment from traditional and nontraditional stakeholders; in essence, a virtuous loop of continuous destination improvement."

There are five parts to the plan, ranging from identifying the destination's DNA to increasing "the efficacy of DNA storytelling and amplification."

Image: RTO4

Probably the phase of the process most actionable for innovation is the fourth step — "destination animation." RTO4 has a saying: "The best tourism destinations are the product of engaged communities taking an active role in shaping their collective tourism futures."

To help spur that community animation, RTO4 has established a program it calls the Destination Animation Fund. In our next article, we take a deeper dive into the details of the Destination Animation Fund.