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Jason Bent

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Jason Bent works as a Tourism Cluster Manager in the Iles de la Madeleine, an archipelago located in Eastern Canada. He coordinates collaborative projects that bring added-value benefits to the targeted businesses. His recent initiatives, one of which received the Best Strategy for Creative Tourism Development Award as part of the international Creative Tourism Awards, have led him to redefine his approach as a project facilitator. We are pleased to welcome Jason Bent as a speaker to #DTTTGlobal on 30th November & 1st December sharing some insights on 'Applying Design Thinking Principles'. Ahead of the event, we caught up with Jason to learn more about the work he is doing.

As a Tourism Cluster Manager, my mission is to generate or facilitate collaborative projects and help businesses innovate. The Cluster strategy is an offshoot of the ACCORD project, a provincial government strategy for regional development. Each year, I coordinate the Wild Gourmet Spree, an event where restaurants, producers, and artisans join forces to host one-of-a-kind thematic gourmet evenings featuring the best of what the archipelago has to offer. In collaboration with our partners, I also analyze and support regional tourism initiatives that meet the goals of our development fund.

Iles de la Madeleine Destination

The archipelago is composed of about a dozen islands, six of which are linked by long sand dunes. Located in the middle of the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence, the islands are accessible by ferry (5-hour crossing from Prince-Edward Island), cruise (both domestic and international) and plane from Montreal and Quebec. The islands or «Les Îles» as we call them in French are a well-known getaway for Quebeckers looking for breathtaking scenery, beaches and escape from the hustle and bustle of urban lifestyle.

Iles de la Madeleine / Magdalen Islands - Photo Credit: Mathieu Dupuis

Biggest challenge as a DMO

We have a small but effective team. Our DMO has three people working on marketing and development. We need to take control of content creation, get out of our office to capture what our destination has to offer and be more consistent. To some extent, this implies a change of role and requires leadership and talent. We're starting to talk about our future website. This will also be a challenge. It will require a fine balance between maintaining the ingredients that work well within the current site (ferry and accommodation search engine, user-generated content, islander portraits, where to eat, etc.) and innovating how we showcase our island destination.

Biggest opportunity in digital

User-generated content represents quite an opportunity. There's lots of good material out there and it's up to us to engage with travellers and locals and make the best out of it. Digital also plays an important role in facilitating the travel and accommodation booking process. Over the years, we've integrated the ferry calendar with the search engine for accommodation. Visitors can check the availability of the ferry and accommodation simultaneously. As an island destination, this is key! Increasing the use of data in our decision-making process is an ongoing opportunity. Communicating this data is also important to educate businesses and stakeholders and optimize our promotional efforts.

Use of Storytelling for Destination Marketing

Shortly after launching our website in 2013, we developed islanders portraits. These stories have been promoted in our newsletters and social media and have proven to be a great way to value the people that live here. Following this initiative, we developed stories around our producers, growers and artisans through the Food Trail project. These stories showcase the interconnection between the artisans and make great marketing material.

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Photo Credit: Nigel Quinn

We’re also working to develop and promote the culinary identity of our islands. Last year, we collaborated with eight (8) restaurants to highlight some of our typical dishes. With this Tour of Typical Dishes, we invite visitors to explore our current cuisine in all its originality and authenticity. The promotional material developed around this initiative values the island's culinary heritage.

During the winter, we launched an Instagram photo contest inviting the population to share their day-to-day moments. We used this content to showcase the island pace of life during the cold season. The Iles de la Madeleine have many colourful characters. Through this contest, we spotted two locals in their mid-twenties Annie Chevrier and Isaac LeBlanc who share a passion for photography and the region. The relationship we've developed with these two ambassadors has been profitable for everyone. It's given them the opportunity to discover activities and island attractions, provided us with authentic content and has been an innovative way to reach a younger audience.

Product development focus

Our strategy focuses on three experiences to discover «Les Îles»: nature, flavours and culture. A hiking trail crossing the archipelago has recently been inaugurated. We're currently developing a hiking trails map to meet visitor demands and promote this new way to discover the Iles de la Madeleine.

Food tourism is also a significant sector of the archipelago and we want to deepen the culinary identity of our region. There is a remarkably large number of creative artists in the Îles de la Madeleine. In their workshops and boutiques, the island's artists and craftspeople offer paintings, watercolours, photographs, sculptures and original creations fashioned from materials found on the Islands: wood, glass, metal, textiles, clay, stone (alabaster, jasper, etc.), sand, seashells, leather and sealskin. Not only can you see our artisans at work, but you can also participate in a creative workshop to make your own piece of art.

Fishing is a big deal on the archipelago. A project is underway to develop fishing excursions with professional lobster fishermen. Visitors will soon have the opportunity to go out to sea, learn about the different species we harvest (lobster, crabe des neiges, cod, halibut, etc.), visit oyster, scallop and mussel farms and, of course, have a taste!

Our focus in the years to come will be to enhance the quality and packaging of these experiences in collaboration with our entrepreneurs. We will continue our efforts to develop the shoulder seasons (May and June, September, October and Winter) and work closely with plane and boat companies that access the islands.

Industry engagement in destination development

The open innovation event organized by our Tourism Cluster two years ago was an amazing experience. The innovation games and co-creation activities proposed by the Rivière-du-Loup Open Innovation Living Lab facilitators allowed the participants not only to understand, organize, adapt and use the examples shown during all the presentations, but to build profitable collaborations. We also host a variety of networking activities throughout the year. These are important to get feedback from the industry in addition to encouraging people to work together.

Use of Design Thinking Principles

The museum networking project is a good example. Following the Open Innovation event, a project was initiated to help island museums define a new interpretation circuit. The user-centred approach put the visitors at the heart of the development and innovation process of the museum sector of the Îles de la Madeleine. The project partners put together a series of participative activities. One of the project highlights surely was the 4-day cocreation sprint. In addition to involving every organization of the Islands museum network, this creative blitz welcomed local ICT professionals. Both residents and visitors were invited to take part in the various activities offered.

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Photo credit: Living Lab en innovation ouverte de Rivière-du-Loup (Open Innovation Living Lab)

Future Plans

Planning the next steps of the ambassadors campaign and getting businesses to take ownership of our digital marketing strategy is also challenging. We've been quite successful with our «Fous des Îles» (Crazy about the islands) campaign on Instagram. Locals and visitors have adopted the #fousdesiles hashtag and we've integrated some of the content on our Website and decorated a wall of our Tourist Information Centre. Making sure that our DMO staff, businesses, stakeholders and population are on the same page is an ongoing feat. We will soon create a blog and we're also going to produce and integrate 360-degree photos and videos on our website.

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Why should attendees of #DTTTGlobal not miss your talk?

Insularity fosters innovation. For such a small destination (12 000 population), the Iles de la Madeleine have a wide range of experiences. My presentation will be very visual (it will be 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon after all!) and highlight some of our best initiatives. Recent open innovation projects I coordinated have produced interesting results and really inspired the way I work. I hope to give some of this back to the attendees.

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