Bolton’s Dream Hunter Vacations saw digital as essential in coming months
Sharon Hunter has always been drawn to Disney. In grade eight, she wrote a speech about Walt Disney, about the world he created and the symbolism of the creator himself – the idea that one person with dreams could make a difference in so many other lives. Disney’s world was her safe place as she grappled with childhood trauma. And it was Disney World she escaped to with her family after finding out her husband had cancer with a five percent chance of survival.
“It’s always a place you can escape reality for a while,” says Hunter, now a travel agent and owner of Bolton-based Dream Hunter Vacations. For the past 14 years, she’s made it her goal to share that world with others. Sure, she’s sold trips to beachy destinations and Europe, but her passion has always been with Disney.
“There’s just something about it,” says Hunter, who broke away to open Dream Hunters Vacations a few years ago and focus exclusively on Disney destinations and Universal Vacations. “It's about enjoying time with the people that you love but it's designed in a way that whether you're two years old or 80 years old, you can enjoy a lot of the same stuff together.”
Disney has always sold itself but more recently Hunter has been looking to explore social media. Prior to the pandemic, she’d connected with a Digital Service Squad member through Digital Main Street, a program that combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities.
“I didn't even know where to start, that was the hardest thing, (but) Loucas talked me through the steps and opened my eyes to what was available helping us tweak our website,” says Hunter. She began experimenting with Facebook as a way to advertise and reach more vacationers, bouncing ideas off Loucas as she went. “It was kind of like having a sounding board, somebody who took the time to get to understand my business.”
Hunter admits that the pandemic derailed her progress on her digital presence. “Unfortunately, COVID hit our industry so fast and I dropped the ball because I had to pick up a different ball that was a lot heavier and needed immediate attention.”
But she says she plans to pick up where she left off when the travel industry restarts. “I'm going to need digital more than ever now… that's how I'm going to reach the masses to say, ‘Hey, we're back, we’re running strong,’ ” says Hunter. “I've been spending this (down) time wisely, learning how to market a little bit better.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
This case study was completed during a prior expansion of DMS in partnership with the Province of Ontario and Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
In June 2020, a $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario and an additional $7.45 million from the Government of Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19.