Friday, November 2

Ontario navigates successfully through troubled waters

(Originally published in TOURISM)

“The hard numbers will prove how we did in the end,” comments Robin Garrett, president and CEO of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (OTMP). “But I can tell you that, having spent a good part of the summer speaking with operators across the province, we were pleased to see there was a very strong domestic market this summer.”

Garrett would like to believe Ontario’s heavy emphasis on its domestic campaign was a factor. “In some places in the province, it sounds like domestic visitors compensated for any losses seen from the US market. Visits were even surpassing results from previous years, because of the strong domestic market,” she says.

With very aggressive marketing efforts, Garrett believes, Ontario was kept top of mind. “I saw a Conference Board of Canada study recently which showed that Ontarians were feeling much more aware of what there is to see and do in their own province than for our counterparts across Canada,” she notes. “So that was good to hear. It means we made the inroads we wanted to.”

Garrett elaborates further: “The US continues to challenge us, particularly the overnight travel, but we have seen some solid growth in domestic and overseas markets as a whole. There are certain parts of the overseas markets that are stronger than others; this depends on the product offering and the type of consumer being sought.

“Obviously, we want to increase tourism of any kind. However the biggest opportunity and the best return on investment does lie within the group that is coming to stay longer and would be a higher yield customer - somebody who might have higher disposable income and might spend more and stay longer. That certainly would be a better focus area for us.”

The OTMPC has taken concrete steps in that direction, according to Garrett. “We are very excited about our new marketing plan being launched at our summit on October 3rd and 4th in Ottawa. Instead of approaching marketing from a purely geographic basis (identifying our customers by geography), we have instead looked at segmentation research and used sources of research available through the CTC, as well as some of our own work, and examined it in terms of what kinds of experiences interested certain segments of the market. All of the marketing programs we are putting forward for North America (US and domestic) will be based on this consumer segmentation approach.

“Central to this,” Garrett says, “is the belief (already identified by many marketing experts over a number of years) that there is a shift in the way people get information and make their decisions, heavily weighted in the interactive world. That does not hold you to geography; instead you can go after networks of people who are interested in similar kinds of experiences, no matter where they live. By using a heavy emphasis on the interactive channel, we will be launching several different marketing programs to market in that way.”

Robin Garrett explains that we can look forward to more of this kind of approach in overseas markets in the future. “It is not an immediate opportunity for us because we are working predominantly with the in-market, but where we do work with consumers (with the CTC) it is the kind of approach we’d like to go on.”

A voice for tourism in Ontario

Bill Allen, president of the board of directors of Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO)

(Originally published in TOURISM)

It may come as a surprise to some that Ontario’s $21 billion tourism sector did not have a provincial advocacy organization until now. As of this year, the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) is filling this role, and the board of directors has hired 33-year veteran career civil servant and former deputy minister of tourism Bill Allen to take the helm as president. TOURISM asked him why he felt the need to undertake this new challenge:

“I am very passionate about the tourism industry,” Allen responds. “We’ve got a great province, a great country, and we should be presenting it to people from around the world. Tourism is such a positive industry. When I was in government, I was always frustrated by the fact there wasn’t one strong voice for tourism. I felt because of that Tourism was losing out to some of the other industries like the auto industry, agriculture, forestry, mining and so on, which were much better organized and presented themselves with one unified voice. That is why I am doing it. I want to see a strong voice for tourism, so we can have the same profile as some of the other industries.”

Allen explains that TIAO is the fruit of some major soul-searching among Ontario tourism operators. “There was an association called the Tourism Federation of Ontario,” he notes. “They didn’t have any staff and relied on volunteers who were trying to raise the profile of the association. Three years ago, they did a review of the industry and came to the conclusion they should have a well-resourced association with paid staff who are able to advocate on behalf of the tourism industry. Coming out of the study was the formation of the TIAO. Here is a group of tourism leaders who have come together and formed an interim board and we, the Association, came into being back in March of this year.”

Allen expects TIAO to provide significant leverage for the industry. “Without a unified voice, it is difficult for government to take industry representatives as seriously as it could, and the government may be confused by mixed messages coming from the industry. The objective of TIAO is to present that unified voice on the key issues in which the government needs to be involved, either helping to solve problems or in partnership with the industry for its enhancement.”

One of these overarching issues, according to Allen, is the competitiveness of the tourism industry compared to other jurisdictions, particularly jurisdictions outside Canada. “With the strong dollar, our industry doesn’t have the same competitive advantage, cost-wise, it used to enjoy.”

This is compounded by many other smaller issues which contribute to the competitiveness challenge, he goes on: “If you look at how a traveller makes a decision to come to a particular destination, there are three factors that have an impact. First comes the product: what is the feeling about going to a destination? What is going to excite me about it? What are the attractions? What are the things to see and do? Second comes marketing: telling people what we have. There are certainly a number of areas where we need to do a better job of marketing, compared to what other jurisdictions are doing. The third issue is: how easy is it to get here? When I say easy, I am talking about air capacity and the cost of getting here. If it costs twice as much to come to Ontario or Canada, versus going to Europe, that is a negative factor.”

On this last point Bill Allen raises issues around barriers to rubber tire traffic, notably border issues. “Is there going to be a line-up? The high level of security is a complaint we see in our research, particularly coming from the US traveller.”

One of the roles Allen would like to see played by government is to be out there prospecting those new markets: “Traditionally, Ontario has gone after the border states. They are easy pickings - you just have to drive across. Those markets are becoming more difficult to attract. We need to be looking a little farther afield. The challenge to developing new markets is that it takes time and it takes money, and the challenge for destinations is they are looking for quick and immediate resolutions. What I am suggesting is that a role for government is to go into those new markets and promote the province. Then, after they raise the awareness of the province, the individual destinations can come in and ‘close the deal and close the sale’. It is this awareness-raising our association feels is critical, and the activity that requires the backing of government dollars.”

On the subject of TIAO’s collaboration with the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (the existing provincial marketing organization) Allen foresees a tandem cycle that pedals ahead smoothly: “Already we have a good relationship. We met with them several times, and talked about the role of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (OTMP) relative to our association. Clearly our association won’t be doing any marketing - this is not part of our mandate - but we will be representing a number of associations which do market, like Resorts of Ontario and the Ontario Private Campground Association, as well as destinations like Tourism Toronto, Ottawa Tourism and Tourism Niagara. When we meet with government, we would be promoting a collaborative approach to marketing with the OTMP and our members.”

Bill Allen cites TIAO’s partnership with the OTMP, which is hosting its 3rd Tourism Summit in early October, as an example of working together. “We are in this partnership with them this first year because we are a fledgling organization. It sends a very positive signal to government, as well as to the industry, that we are willing to work with the OTMP for the betterment of the industry.”

Betterment of the industry includes generating new investments, Allen believes. This is something the Ontario Ministry of Tourism is also committed to, and a pivotal element in helping maximizing industry revenues. “This gets back to the product factor. If we are not investing in new products, attractions and new reasons for people to come, then they will go somewhere else. When we are sitting down with government, we are saying we shouldn’t just focus on marketing, we need to place equal emphasis on building the product, the compelling reasons for people to visit. Investment is critical, and I think government can play two roles: one is investing in the properties that it owns (Ontario Place, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, the Niagara Parks Commission, Fort William, for example). The good news is that the government has recently put more money into those tourism destinations. The other role in which we see government assisting is the development of a public-private sector approach to renewing and revitalizing the tourism product.”

Bill Allen's passion for the industry, the clarity of his vision and his many years of experience, bode well for the future of Ontario's new tourism industry association.

Quebec cashes in on events, campaign tactics

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Tourisme Québec's advertising and promotional partnerships manager is Gilles Parent, and these days he takes some pleasure from looking at the numbers racked up by Tourisme Montréal. “They reveal a very interesting pulse on current performance,” Parent says. “If we compare Montréal in July 2006 to Montréal in July 2007, we observe right away that nearly 19,000 more nights were booked. This suggests that despite all prognoses, there is a 4.3% increase compared to last year, which is rather significant.”

Parent suspects the major events hosted by Montréal have played a huge role. “There are the Grand Prix of Canada, the Montréal International Jazz Festival, and the Just For Laughs Festival. We had the first NASCAR race in Canada, which was a huge success. There has been an increase in European visitors as well as Mexican visitors (thanks to two daily flights with Mexicana and Air Canada). We invested in the Mexican market two years ago and we are now reaping the rewards. So we are happy.”

Like other jurisdictions, Quebec is seeing fewer American travellers, he notes. Parent’s team is targeting households with revenues of more than $120,000 in that market. “We are hoping our campaign evaluation will confirm that the decline in numbers from the US will be offset by our greater emphasis on these higher-yield travellers.”

Parent says his team also worked hard in the Ontario market, through initiatives among ethnic communities like Hispanic consumers. “For the first time, we used Spanish-language media; we also worked with Portuguese, Greek and Italian-language media, inviting these communities in the Greater Toronto area to come to Quebec. Nobody ever bothered doing that before.”

Parent says a key development has been the call for proposals issued by his department asking stakeholders to come forward with projects. “We committed to enter partnerships with them on a 50:50 basis. We ended up with 26 different files totaling $4 million in value targeting markets outside Quebec only. We worked with the Laurentians and with organizations like Kéroul (a non-profit group which promotes and develops wheelchair accessible tourism).”

Earlier in the season, attractions like Parc Safari were reporting an increase in visitors from Ontario and the northeastern US. “We invested heavily in web marketing using streaming technology to attract over one million visitors a month to our website. We also got into the famous AAA TourBooks, but instead of advertising in the Québec TourBook, we got into the TourBooks for our neighbouring states (New York and New England), and Ontario. When users open the book, they come across a four-colour, ten-panel, accordion-style piece on Quebec, suggesting to readers: ‘you are so close to Quebec, why not come to see us as well.’”

Domestic market: a view from Nunavut

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Besides the Northwest Territories, no other provincial or territorial destination shares Nunavut’s predicament, argues Brian Webb, Nunavut Tourism’s director of marketing and communication. “We are completely a long-haul destination even for the domestic market. So the trends we see usually are the trends affecting the long-haul market, rather than those of short- or mid-haul markets.”

Most domestic travellers to Nunavut are business travellers. Webb has observed a consistent increase year after year, as more come north. “And more leisure travellers are also coming; we see a consistent 1% increase per year; and we see approximately 14,000 leisure visitors per year, of whom over 85% originate from the domestic market.”

If you take the business travellers out of the equation, those numbers shift significantly, Webb continues, to 65 % domestic and 35% for all the other markets. “Visitors surveyed last year indicated business travellers spend, on average, three extra days in Nunavut, which is very high. So, they extend their stay, they take in the area, the culture and the activities. If you are going to come this far, you might as well enjoy it!”

“Our tourism season very much runs from the end of April until the end of September. After that, there is not a lot of travel into the territory. Business travel will still continue, but even those business travellers don’t seem to want to come in the winter. It is amazing how unimportant a business trip seems when it is -40… ‘I think I’ll wait until June!’”

The vast majority of visitors come to Iqaluit, which is the capital. “This is by far what most visitors see,” notes Webb. “Second and third are our other regional centres: Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. I would say the three destinations account for 95% of the business traveller visits.”

Challenges abound. “Our biggest need in Nunavut continues to be product development. We do not have the wealth of product people are looking for when they are up here. What we do have is very good, but it is not sufficient to meet the demands of the business travellers. Conversely," Webb continues, “we are noticing that the businesses which have the products and the schedules have been doing very well.

Our cruise industry has doubled in each of the last three years, and I have heard it is going very well again this summer. “One of our cruise lines (Cruise North) is only three years old and is projected to make a profit this year in its third year of business, which is exceptional. The lodges in the area have been booked solid, but it is just our local community product where people have their boat trips, their adventures, dog sledding activities and excursions. They haven’t really formalized things, which is what we need to work on now because there is a market out there.

The most vivid example of success is the cruise product. Taking a cruise ship to see Nunavut, as opposed to doing it on one’s own, is an attractive proposition as an easy way to see the territory. “When you go on a cruise ship, everything is taken care of," Webb points out.

The Alberta factor

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Derek Coke-Kerr is managing director of Travel Alberta. Always accessible and candid in his analysis, here is what he sees happening in “Wild Rose Country” when it comes to the significance of domestic travel to his province: “I think we are seeing significant increases in our visitation particularly from Ontario and Quebec (where we have beefed-up our marketing) and also from Saskatchewan and BC.”

“This is strictly at an anecdotal level,” Coke-Kerr stresses. “We don’t have any numbers to support these observations at this time. Our industry seems pretty happy… really happy. The hotels are full; the campgrounds are full. The attendance at Edmonton’s Capital EX was a record this year; the Stampede was close to a record. In general, we are feeling pretty good about the year, but what percentage of that is domestic and what percentage of it is offshore? We really don’t have those numbers in such a way that I could confidently expand upon this.”

Coke-Kerr recognizes that one of the factors which might have influenced the current outcome is the fact Travel Alberta has increased its marketing weight across the country. “We had an increase in budget this year and we are able to increase our promotion and marketing in Ontario, Quebec, BC and Saskatchewan. We have also increased our marketing this year into Manitoba, where we are doing some research; and we anticipate doing more marketing in Manitoba in the future.

“Let’s not forget 'the Alberta factor', which always plays a crucial role in the industry’s performance, thereby warranting substantial marketing investment. Albertans are our most loyal market. We have seen growth in buy-in to our Travel Alberta Holiday Card. This is a program where 111,000 Albertans obtain a holiday card and receive emails from us twice a month with significant promotions… really good deals and bargains from operators around the province. We have an opening rate on this newsletter of just over 70%, which is huge. It is a very positive program indeed.”

“Stay-at-home” campaigns cut both ways

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Quebeckers have long enjoyed a special relationship with Prince Edward Island, and generations of them have made the iconic Canadian island destination a perpetual favorite for family holidays. However, the local provincial tourism industry has lately witnessed some fluctuations in the number of travellers from Quebec, and this has left the executive director of the PEI Tourism Industry Association, Don Cudmore, a little puzzled.

“The Quebec market seems to be inconsistent. One year it is up, one year it is down. If there is a trend, it is inconsistency in visitation from Quebec. We can’t seem to get a handle on it but we continue to try and work that market.” Fortunately, Cudmore says, Ontario (PEI’s largest market) remains relatively stable even if, in his words, “it doesn’t show a whole lot of growth.”

Cudmore notes that many of the neighbouring provinces have conducted effective stay-at-home campaigns lately. “Newfoundland and Labrador, one of our domestic markets, has continued to do a good stay-at-home campaign, which has impacted the number of people travelling outside of that province. Quebec and Ontario have carried out major efforts along the same lines. The reality is that this is impacting travel patterns and our numbers.”

Cudmore says provincial government and industry efforts to counter this trend are relentless. “We are just trying to find ways to be more creative in those markets, to continue to get people to come this way. We are looking at products which attract, and we are enhancing them.”

He is also quick to note that “although we have seen in the past few years some declines in visitation and tourism revenue in this country, the tourism industry is still a major vibrant industry. On PEI, it represents 7% of our GDP, which is very substantial, a lot more than what you will find in our sister provinces. It does have a major impact on our economic development.”

Cudmore also points out that the increasing popularity of all-inclusive vacations among Canadians who are frequent travellers outside of the country is not without consequences. “This has certainly impacted what they would spend on their trips within Canada. And more people are going to the US at the moment; all of these things are impacting domestic travel. The good news is, although they are having an impact on us, we are not having dramatic declines.”

“We know tourism is a growing segment. We have a great product. We are going through a process of cataloguing our product and making it easier for the consumer to understand and experience,” says Cudmore. Tourism stakeholders are also looking at opportunities emerging from the establishment of the Confederation Trail for outdoor-based vacations. “We are doing a lot of infrastructure work and we are spending much time telling more people about it. We are also cataloguing our beaches, so our visitors can select the beach that fits their needs, whether they are full-service beaches with large parking areas or secluded beaches where visitors might go to for a swim and a walk on a beach.”

Ontario seeks tourism investment through the web

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Sometimes, just helping establish a connection between an investor and an investment opportunity is all it takes. That is the thinking behind the Ontario government's web-based investment initiative ( that, according to Ontario's James Lynn is the most comprehensive one of its kind. Says Lynn (a senior investment consultant at the Ontario Ministry of Tourism’s Investment and Development Office): “As far as we know, we have never found another tourism investment website with the depth of knowledge of this website.”

Lynn provided TOURISM with a guided visit to the website and its associated investment newsletter. The Regional Tourism Investment Opportunities section is the first stop. “If I am an investor, I can search for investment opportunities either by sector or by region. For example, if I want to build a resort in Ontario, listings and municipalities are there.”

Business cases are prepared and made available online by economic development officials in those communities, he continues. “I spend a great deal of time talking to them about this resource that is available to them for free. We were very successful in the Town of Iroquois Falls, which put an ad online to attract an investor to come and build a hotel; as of 2006, an investor did contact them and, as far as I know, the negotiations are still taking place on the development of that hotel. So here is a wonderful example of where government has stepped in, assisting municipalities by creating this conduit to the investment community.”

In Lynn’s view, the rationale for developing a resource like this is simple enough. “If I was an investor sitting down in Atlanta, Georgia, and received hundreds of different proposals from communities saying ‘come build here', it is difficult to narrow down (the opportunities). By providing this one website and a site selector, an investor can sit back and say ‘let's find out what Ontario is looking for right now.’”

The website is the culmination of a community tourism development process that involves spending time with the communities, going through things like SWOT analyses or the Tourist Destinations Framework (an assessment and evaluation tool used to develop an inventory, analyze a region’s tourism amenities and attractions and identify opportunities for tourism investment and development). The framework is designed to result in a strategic action plan for tourism to improve the region’s performance in the tourism marketplace.

And, as a periodical reminder of Ontario’s potential, the companion Investment Newsletter it is a timely, quarterly communications piece started in April. “We first went out with a Niagara edition because everybody knows Niagara and we are reaching out to an international audience with a database of over 2,500 investors, site selectors and real estate people - anybody who would be interested in the tourism industry. We give a quick overview of the region. We talked about Great Wolf Lodge and to the folks at Ripley’s (The Jim Pattison Group), and asked them ‘why did you build here? What were the reasons you chose Ontario?”

The following edition focused on the Muskoka region, followed by a Georgian Bay-themed edition, continues Lynn. “With the website and it components, we have created something a lot of other jurisdictions in the world are starting to emulate, and it is the world’s largest tourism investment website. If you do a Google search and type in ‘tourism investment’, we come up #1. We have really staked our place in cyberspace in terms of being able to get on investors' radar.”

Targeted marketing starts with detailed intelligence

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Le Québec maritime was founded in 1997 by five tourism associations seeking to promote their regions to markets outside Quebec. Christian Ouellet, a research officer with the organization, says he has noticed an important consumer shift since 2002 in how consumers find out about products. “Consumers are less and less likely to access tourism products through travel agents and are becoming more autonomous when planning their trips,” says Ouellet. “This is mainly because of the increasing role played by the internet.”

Ouellet refers to a 2005 study conducted among visitors to the region which found that two-thirds of those surveyed had made use of the internet to plan their trip. “The internet is becoming a very important planning tool,” he points out. “This means it is also becoming an important marketing tool, which compels Québec Maritime to change its practices. More and more, we use the web to lure consumers; for instance, this year we worked in partnership with Tourisme Québec and the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SEPAC) to stream 20-second short videos introducing the Québec maritime experience on outdoor activity and weather websites. The intent was to get the web users’ attention and to lead them to our marketing campaign sites where products and tourism offerings were featured in greater detail.”

Depending on their profile, surfers were directed to different web channels. ‘Contemplative’ visitors were directed to one channel, and surfers identified as ‘outdoor enthusiasts’ were directed to another. “This approach,” Ouellet says, “fosters a market segmentation which allows us to get to know our clients better. It is also harmonized with our exit survey of 1,500 tourists from outside Quebec (English Canada, the US and Europe).”

With this intelligence in hand, Ouellet says they are able to flesh out a general portrait of their visitors. “It allows us to not only establish our visitors’ point of origin, but also to target regions, cities, neighbourhoods and streets. With the help of available statistics (like those from Statistics Canada), we can get to know the profile of people who live there, what their specific family income is, whether or not they have children, are part of the workforce, or are retired. By gaining greater knowledge of visitors’ profiles, it becomes easier to speak with them in terms they can relate to.”

Ouellet says his team has witnessed a growth in marketing tactic performance as a result. It also yielded valuable intelligence, like an observed increased concern for the environment: “We need to offer a quality experiences that respect the client as well as the environment.”

The other emerging aspect which matters is authenticity, Ouellet finds. “Along with beautiful landscapes, considerations around nature, local hospitality and culture also matter.” More specifically, he highlights consumers’ curiosity around what is commonly referred to as “free” culture (as opposed to museum or artisans shop visits). The memorability of the travel experience often stems from people finding themselves suddenly on shared, yet unfamiliar ground, thereby creating opportunities for exchange. That is often the essence of the journey, and an element that is all too often put aside.

Countdown to 400: celebration organizers shift gear

Société du 400e anniversaire de Québec president and CEO Pierre Boulanger
Photo: Claude-Jean Harel

(Originally published in TOURISM)

TOURISM recently caught up with Société du 400e anniversaire de Québec president and CEO Pierre Boulanger, who had been invited to bring Canadian Capital Cities Organization (CCCO) members up to date on plans for the celebration at the annual CCCO conference held this year in Regina.

Boulanger took the opportunity to invite influencers representing other capital cities like Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Victoria, Fredericton, Ottawa, Charlottetown, Iqaluit and Edmonton to impart a pan-Canadian flavour to the commemoration. “We must remember that this will not only be a celebration of the French presence on the American continent; it also celebrates Canada’s beginnings. There is a place for each one of us,” Boulanger explains.

One of the initiatives he hopes will remind Canadians of that is the bell ringing initiative he is actively promoting. “We hope that in all cities and towns, in as many Canadian communities as possible, on July 3rd 2008 at 11:00 a.m. (exactly 400 years after the arrival of Samuel de Champlain at what is now Québec), bells will ring across Canada to celebrate this milestone event and the fact that we are all together in this country.”

Boulanger has his sights set on an even greater reach. He is calling on specific American markets like New England (where many Franco-Americans of Quebec descent eventually made their home) to retrace the journey back to Québec; he is inviting Americans of Irish descent, whose forebears arrived at Québec as part the original wave of 500,000 Irish immigrants who have evolved into today’s 40 million American citizens of Irish ancestry, to commemorate with Canadians.

“This is an opportunity for these people to re-appropriate their roots. Across the Atlantic,” he goes on, “in France and other European countries, events will also take place to commemorate Québec’s 400th anniversary.”

As the countdown to the event gets closer, organizers are shifting gears for the final sprint to December 31, 2007. “The program is more or less finalized and the major contracts are signed. From the moment this is all in place, it becomes easier for us to be more active on the communications front.

“On December 31, 2007, we are entering the event production mode. Our 10-month long show starts then. From that moment on, participants in Québec city and everywhere will be in the midst of celebrations. Instead of saying ‘Come to Québec in 2008,’ we will say ‘next week there is this event taking place… come and see the show.’”

The Québec Convention Centre is recording 60% more conventions for 2008 than in 2007 which in itself was a banner year, and Québec City Tourism expects 2.5 million more visitors for 2008.

As the momentum builds, Boulanger has the following words of advice for other destinations wishing to take a commemorative opportunity like this to its fullest potential:

“It is all about partnerships. It is absolutely essential that the other partners - funding providers, organizations like Québec City Tourism with which we work on a daily basis, the Chamber of Commerce, and so on - work collectively on the project . It is everybody’s business. This may be an old cliché, but it is still valid in this context: it is not so much what the 400th can do for you that matters, but rather, what you can do to ensure its success.”

Events contribute to strong Manitoba performance

(Originally published in TOURISM)

According to information from Travel Manitoba, that province's tourism industry was reporting strong performance as the summer season drew to a close. The hotels and accommodations sector reports the number of room nights sold year-to-date increasing by 5.6% over the same period in 2006. Winnipeg's international Airport was also reported as busier compared to last year, welcoming 7.9% more scheduled travellers year-to-date, also as of June 30.

Domestic markets continue to play a vital role in overall tourism in Manitoba; the majority of visitors originating from Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. Travellers from North Dakota and Minnesota top the list of US visitors. Visits to the province by overseas guests jumped 13.6% from January to June, compared to the same period last year, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada, with the majority of guests originating from Germany and the UK. Overall visits from the US to Manitoba are expected to drop by about 4.5 per cent in 2007, according to forecasts released by The Conference Board of Canada.

Strong sector performance was demonstrated by attendance at Manitoba's major festivals in 2007, with events such as the 20th annual Winnipeg Fringe Festival attracting record crowds of 71, 921, compared to 69,320 in 2006, and the 18th annual Dauphin Countryfest attracting a record 48,000 attendees, compared to 44,000 in 2006. The 34th annual Winnipeg Folk Festival recorded near-record crowds and had a record 6,331 visitors camp on-site. Folklorama attracted a record 111 group tours and welcomed the highest number of visitors seen at the event in five years.

While final numbers on July and August's performance will not be available until later this fall, the Conference Board of Canada predicts that overall visits to Manitoba will increase by 2.3% in 2007 and 3.5% in 2008. Accordingly, tourism revenues are expected to increase by 3.4% in 2007 and 4.3% in 2008.

Domestic market: inexorable growth in Vancouver

Vancouver's False Creek viewed from Granville IslandPhoto: Claude-Jean Harel
(Originally published in TOURISM)

Domestic tourism activity is coloured with relentless optimism in Canada’s western-most metropolis, according to Tourism Vancouver’s VP of leisure travel and destination management Stephen Pearce. “For the last few years, domestic travel has been very strong, right across the board,” says Pearce. “We tend to look at the following market segments (BC resident travel, Alberta and Ontario), while ‘Other Canada’ gets grouped together. Year over year, we have seen anywhere from 3% to 4% growth from our key Canadian markets since 2005. From 2005 to 2006, overall, Canada was up by 3%; Alberta was up by almost 6 %; and Ontario was up by 4%. Similarly, when I look at the year-to-date numbers, we are still up 3% over last year.”

Pearce sees significant developments in Alberta and Ontario, with consistent growth. “We tend to have a peak period over our summer months, January to September, and that has been pretty consistent will all of our Canadian markets,” he notes. “We have a portfolio of markets that we monitor, so fluctuations in one market will be offset positively by growth in other markets.

“We haven’t spent enough resources researching domestic travel patterns, and we are embarking on some research in metropolitan Toronto to get a clearer understanding of reasons for visitation (perceptions about Vancouver and how these perceptions have shifted over time). We are seeking to identify the characteristics of the traveller that we are seeing today; we did this in Alberta about a year and a half ago, focusing on the key cities of Edmonton and Calgary.”

One of the perceptions to which Pearce will pay particular attention is stereotypes about prices in Vancouver—particularly hotel prices: “We found that sometimes, looking at competitive destinations where we knew we had a price advantage, Albertans still saw us as being the price leader, which often was not the case. We also found there were opportunities for us to package Vancouver in conjunction with other destinations such as Victoria and Whistler.” The Alberta research, Pearce notes, provided Tourism Vancouver with a good base with which to continue to develop messages for the Alberta market.

As far as the Ontario market goes, Pearce says he has observed a spike in visitation in the past few years “that has been driven by a whole host of factors.” He hopes to gain greater insight into the characteristics of those consumers, so Vancouver might be better positioned to meet their needs longer term.

On the US front, Pearce finds the drop in visitation has acted as a bit of a buffer in terms of the domestic market. “So even though our travel deficit has moved to an all-time high, Canadians are still opting to choose vacations in Canada in conjunction with travel abroad.”

Pearce believes the increasing perceptions and challenges with visiting the United States are helping domestic travel. “I don’t know this with great certainty, and it is something we would want to explore. What are the substitutes for a vacation in Vancouver? Are we picking up more VFR, or are we picking up people who are choosing to come to Vancouver for other reasons? We need to better understand these things; what we do know is we are experiencing year-over-year growth, and we are quite pleased with that.”

Saskatoon growth paying off for tourism

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Randy Fernets is upbeat when he talks about the tourism industry in Saskatoon in the summer of 2007. Fernets, director of corporate development & visitor services at Tourism Saskatoon, told TOURISM there is a “buzz” about Saskatoon these days, and while his organization had not targeted Ontario and Quebec specifically for this year, “we saw a lot of people from those provinces this summer, and I think a lot of this is attributable to Saskatoon's strong growth.” On the downside, Fernets reports that visits to his city from the US market are off this season.

Fernets suspects many people coming through are looking for a place to live, and for work. “The same can be said for Alberta, which is always our number one market in any case, but it’s bigger this year because of the Saskatoon 'buzz',” he explains. “Visits from British Columbia were up as well.”

Saskatoon has been engaged in a Cultural Capitals project over the last year, and Fernets feels it is paying off when it comes to driving in-province residents to the city. “We sense the advertising campaign we had under the cultural capitals program did really well for us in terms of attracting people from within Saskatchewan to our events. Some of our events struggled because of bad weather, unfortunately, but many of them did very well.”

Saskatoon's position as the fastest-growing city in Canada (according to a recent release from the Conference Board of Canada) has almost certainly been the underlying reason for the 'buzz' Fernets talks about. “Most of the folks coming this summer were leisure travellers, but many of the Alberta visitors particularly were interested in real estate; we had many people – speculators, it appears – coming into our visitor reception centres and telephoning us looking for sub-division maps!”

Adventure, touring and MC&IT are Yukon's strengths

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Pierre Germain will be the first to admit Yukon benefits from an unusual set of circumstances when it comes to the impact of the Canada's strong dollar on US visitation. Germain, director of tourism for the Yukon government, says there is a fairly reliable flow of rubber tire traffic which must come through Yukon in order to get to Alaska, but that does not make Canadian domestic travellers any less important for his jurisdiction.

“The domestic market is the second largest market in terms of visitation to Yukon, second only to the US,” says Germain, and he points out that marketing efforts have focused primarily on four key market areas: “We consider three gateway markets to be our priority – Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. They are markets with which we have direct air access. More importantly perhaps, there is a higher level of awareness of Yukon as a travel destination at these locations than there is in other parts of Canada.” Germain says the 4th key area on which Yukon focuses is Toronto. “With its strong population base and high concentration of affluent consumers, it offers a great opportunity for us to position Yukon as an adventure destination.”

Three product offering types are of particular interest, according to Germain. “One is adventure product, where your primary motivator is to participate in an outdoor adventure experience whether it would be canoeing, going to a fishing lodge, hiking or river rafting. The second key market is what we call our touring market, made up of people who want to come up, rent a vehicle and travel around the territory. There is some overlap between the adventure and the touring segments only in that some people who come up to tour feel that driving on the Alaska Highway is an adventure in itself. But we break it down for simplicity’s sake into touring, adventure, and our meetings, conventions and incentive travel (MC&IT) market.”

Germain notes that the touring market is the largest just in shear numbers, followed by adventure and MC&IT in terms of return on investment and market potential. “We consider all three of them to be significant. We have a series of other niche product offerings and experiences which are important to us, such as First Nations aboriginal product. We also have a cultural product, which is growing in size, but adventure, touring and MC&IT are our mainstays.”

And the current performance is encouraging, Germain points out. “As of the end of August, visitation to the Yukon for the year has been up 5%, which is significant compared to what other jurisdictions are experiencing. There has been a significant shift in Yukon benefiting from the tremendous cruise industry growth in Alaska. We have been benefiting through increased numbers of cruise tour visitors on trips up the Inside Passage who get on a motorcoach and travel through the Yukon.”

“We have also seen a significant increase in the number of visitors who are coming to Alaska on a cruise, taking a shore excursion into Yukon for a day and then going back. This has been followed by a trend where an increased number of visitors fly into the Yukon and then travel around the territory. So the fly‑drive opportunities are increasing significantly, and that was borne through by some of the statistics obtained from Whitehorse International Airport.”

In July, Yukon’s largest visitation month, the number of individuals boarding and de‑planing at the airport was up 19%, compared to July 2006. “It set a record for the number of people in and out of our airport. So there is significant opportunity for us, as we see the long‑haul independent rubber tire traveller continuing to decline a little bit. We are seeing new growth opportunities for fly‑drives, in air arrivals and in the motorcoach and cruise tour product.”

Germain attributes also some of Yukon’s visitation success to one strategy: “working with our northern territorial partners (the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) to position the north as a viable tourism destination for southern Canadians. The Canada Games campaign is a prime example of this. As a result of our partnership, more Canadians in southern Canada are aware of the positive aspects of travel in the north than they ever were before.”

"The innovation here," he continues, "is not rocket science. It is actually collaborating with our sister territories to position the north so we can generate some economies of scale. We know from our research that if Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are able to generate a visitor through our program, there is an increased likelihood they will come to the Yukon in the future and vice‑versa. There are people who view competition as a barrier to working together, and quite frankly, we are not competing against one another. We are working more toward market growth for us all.”

Disney production on Canada receives facelift

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Since 1982, people from around the world have been taken on a tour of beautiful Canadian landscapes and diverse cultures as they watched the film O Canada! in the Canada pavilion at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Now, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) and tourism industry partners have collaborated with the Walt Disney World Resort and Walt Disney Imagineering to give this movie a facelift. The newly enhanced film spotlights Canada in a modern, witty way - much like the CTC's new Brand Canada - by showcasing Canada's self-deprecating sense of humour as well as our best-loved icons in a fresh, unexpected way.

This fall, the reworked version will light up the screen in the Canada pavilion at Epcot. Actor Martin Short, a Hamilton, Ontario native, confronts Canadian misconceptions head-on and demystifies them. Viewers take a journey through a country they thought they knew, but discover Canada is so much more than vast landscapes.

The film is 14 minutes in length with 65% new footage. Instead of cars, clothes and cityscapes, the film takes in acrobatic Cirque du Soleil performances and rowdy rodeo action at the Calgary Stampede. Scenes portray Canada's diverse people, culture and wilderness - a modern, young and beautiful nation. The soundtrack features Québec singer Eva Avila.

“This film is a huge success story for Canada,” says CTC President and CEO Michele McKenzie. “It does what our Brand Canada does - paints a picture of Canada as it is today: progressive, colourful, multi-ethnic and original. It's time we show Americans and the world what Canada really has to offer.”

Partners in the project include theCalgary Stampede, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corp., Tourisme Montréal, Tourisme Québec, Québec City Tourism, Tourism Toronto, Tourism Vancouver and Travel Alberta. “Updating this production has been identified as a priority at several of our annual conferences,” says Tourism Industry Association of Canada president and CEO Randy Williams. “It is gratifying to see this done, and done well, in cooperation with all the partners.”

Uncommon solutions for uncommon times

(Originally published in TOURISM)

“We have seen a change in the mix of what our visitors look like coming in our front door,” says Dave Calder, vice-president of marketing and communications at the Vancouver Aquarium Dave. “There is no question that we have seen a softening of American tourists, particularly from Washington and Oregon States.” It would appear, he notes, that “the further away you get from Vancouver, the better numbers seem to have held up. It makes sense, because if someone from the US (not unlike someone from Canada) has made a decision to go on a trip, they probably planned it for some time and the dollar fluctuation may not be as relevant to them.”

“The aquarium, just by virtue of the kind of signature tourist attraction it is in this city, really draws well, year after year, from Washington, Oregon, Alberta, the interior of BC and Vancouver Island," says Calder. "Our sense of what has happened over the last few months is that while the American numbers have softened, the numbers from the Pacific Rim countries and Europe have pretty much (on a per-person basis) replaced that shortfall.”

And sometimes, the things that make a difference just happen spontaneously. “The #1 viewed ‘pet and animal video’ on YouTube is called ‘Otters Holding Hands’,” explains Calder, “a mere few thousand views away from the 8 million mark. It was posted this spring by a university professor from Florida who was in Vancouver a few years ago doing some post-graduate studies at the aquarium when she shot the video.

Calder’s team is making the most of this unexpected break to draw visitors. "We put this video (graciously offered to the aquarium by its author) onto the Air Canada in-flight package, so the people traveling out to Vancouver would see it. It was a simple solution, harnessed through creativity.” The exposure on the internet is phenomenal. Type ‘Otters Holding Hands’ into Google, and there are over 660,000 references to it. Sometimes, uncommonly good things happen when you really need them!