CTC readies its strategy to keep Canadian travellers in Canada

August 21, 2012  |  Chris Powell  |  Comments

A new tourism initiative will confront declining domestic travel and stiff competition from abroad

Confirming the old adage that everybody wants to direct, the Canadian Tourism Commission has launched a new marketing initiative that will use consumer-generated content to create a commercial for Canada.

Developed in association with DDB Canada’s Vancouver office, the new “35 Million Directors” project invites Canadians to shoot and upload videos and images of their Canada – whether a hike, a dining experience or concert – to a dedicated website.

Some of the most compelling submissions will be professionally stitched together into what the CTC calls a “grassroots video advertisement” designed to inspire international travellers to consider Canada as a vacation destination.

The CTC first began utilizing consumer-generated content about four years ago, said senior vice-president of marketing strategy Greg Klassen, scouring sites like YouTube for Canadian-specific content that it transformed into a series of 15-second spots.

“This is kind of an update to that, following from the theme of authentic and unique Canadian experiences and ones that perhaps aren’t widely known,” said Klassen. “It’s really a grassroots approach asking Canadians to help us build a commercial for Canada.”

The objective of the new campaign, said Klassen, is to create what he called “an anthem for Canada.” The final spot will marry emotional music to the consumer-generated images. Klassen said the CTC would likely create a long-form commercial that can be cut down to 60, 30 and 15-second spots to appear online. The videos will form a key plank in the CTC’s 2013 marketing.

“If Canadians are more engaged in helping us sell Canada as a destination, they’ll have more of an affinity for the industry we’re in, and for meeting and engaging with travellers while they’re here – turning a good experience into a great experience,” said Klassen.

The promotion, which features a contest element, is also being promoted on the CTV morning show Canada AM and its TVA counterpart, Salut, Bonjour!

Tourism is a key global export with a recent CTC report stating that it is currently the world’s fourth largest export category behind fuels, chemicals and automotive products. More than 1 billion people will travel this year according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, with the tourism industry contributing US$2 trillion in GDP and 100 million jobs to the global economy.

Canada’s natural beauty and cosmopolitan cities have long made it a premiere travel destination, with the report stating that international visitors spent $16 billion in Canada last year. However the report also said that the domestic traveller – traditionally the “bread and butter” of Canadian tourism – is no longer a sure thing.

“Our industry is increasingly reliant on domestic Canadians travelling within Canada, but they are now being marketed to far more aggressively than they have been in the past,” said Klassen.

For evidence, the CTC has to look no further than our neighbour to the south. As part of its massive US$200 million “Discover America” campaign, Brand USA is spending $20 million in Canada alone in an effort to recruit Canadian visitors. According to U.S. tourism data, Canada led the world in arrivals to the U.S. in 2011, with 21.028 million. That was up 5.3% from 2010, and comfortably ahead of the next two markets – Mexico (13.4 million) and the United Kingdom (2.83 million). Canadian travel to the U.S. is up an eye-popping 43.4% from 2000, according to Brand USA.

This comes at a time when the federal government has slashed the CTC’s budget to $58.5 million for 2013 from $72 million in 2012.

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At the same time, Canadians are spending 36% more on foreign travel than they were as recently as 2009, with a growing middle class and a strong dollar the primary factors. According to the World Tourism Organization, Canada ranks sixth among the world’s top tourism spenders behind Germany, the U.S., China, the United Kingdom and France.

Not surprisingly, this has put Canada on the radar for many other countries eager to attract well-heeled Canadian travellers.

“Brand USA is very aggressively trying to lure Canadians to travel to the U.S., and other countries are going to be following suit,” Klassen predicted. “The same statistics we read are being read by countries around the world, and you can bet that they’re starting to ramp up and say ‘We’re going after that lucrative market in ways we haven’t before.’

Brand USA will likely have stiff competition soon too, he said, singling out the United Kingdom, Australia and France – as well as non-traditional players such as China – as the most likely to aggressively court Canadian tourists.

Noting “increased marketing efforts” from competitive destinations, a recent CTC report said the organization must offer “ever-more rounded images” of Canadian travel experiences that showcase not only the country’s natural wonders but the “Canadian spirit” exhibited by its people, lifestyle, cultures and communities.

CTC research indicated that such well-rounded perceptions of Canada were key contributors to driving increased tourism from Mexico (up 4.4% on a year-over-year basis) and France (+3.5%).

According to CTC data, overnight arrivals of visitors from 10 key overseas markets grew 1.8% during the 12-month period ending in June, outpacing arrivals from other world markets, which fell 1.2%. Canada is seeing strong performance from China, Brazil and Japan, helping offset what the CTC characterized as a “slight pull back” from India and other losses from South Korea. Travel from emerging markets expanded by 7.7% on a year-over-year basis, said the CTC.

“New markets are growing very quickly, [while] some of our traditional markets are challenged and their growth rates are other muted or in a bit of a decline,” said Klassen. “We’ve got a bit of a mixed bag going on right now.”

While Klassen said the CTC’s use of consumer-generated imagery for the “35 Million Directors” project is a cost-effective approach to marketing, it is more emblematic of the organization’s commitment to “innovative” marketing rather a cost-cutting measure.

“Leveraging and relying on Canadians to help us tell stories about Canada I think is a really innovative grassroots approach,” he said. “We’ll pull together those snippets, those beauty shots that we simply cannot get to all corners of Canada to take ourselves and hope we get some real gems we can piece together.

“Even if we had three times the budget I would still be eagerly focusing on this kind of marketing.”

And so the search for Canada’s next Cronenberg or Cameron continues.

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