Tourism industry conjures up new strategies

The tourism industry worldwide has suffered a bitter blow in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. Tourists are cancelling flights and hotel bookings, airlines are making huge staff cuts and travel agencies are experiencing mass financial losses.

The tourism industry worldwide has suffered a bitter blow in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. Tourists are cancelling flights and hotel bookings, airlines are making huge staff cuts and travel agencies are experiencing mass financial losses.

Meanwhile, marketers in all areas of the Canadian tourism industry are struggling to combat the crisis with a huge push on domestic travel, and increased incentives for travellers and agents alike.

Airlines around the world have cut more than 100,000 jobs since the attacks. The first Canadian airline to jump on the downsizing bandwagon, Montreal-based charter service Air Transat, announced 1,300 layoffs on Sept. 24, after Canadian bookings fell 50% since Sept. 11. Air Transat plans to cut 30% of its winter flight schedule.

Air Canada has recently announced a further 5,000 layoffs in addition to 7,500 announced during the past year, and a 20% cut in its services, and has asked for $3 billion to $4 billion in federal aid. However, according to spokeswoman Laura Cook, marketing efforts are ‘business as usual’ at Air Canada. ‘Given the current circumstances, it is too early to discuss any new marketing plans,’ she says.

Marketers ought to be careful to adopt a sensitive marketing approach according to Lyle Hall, national director of hospitality, leisure and tourism industry practice at Toronto-based consultancy firm, KPMG.

‘The one thing that the industry doesn’t want is to be perceived as taking advantage of the situation,’ he warns. ‘I suspect in the short term the marketing strategy will be focused on packaging and value pricing within the domestic marketplace.’

Elsewhere in the industry, marketing plans are forging ahead. ‘Now, more than ever, we all need to kick-start our business to get confidence back up and to get business back on track,’ says Martha Chapman, manager of corporate communications at Toronto-based travel agent, Signature Vacations. ‘Some people are telling us that they still want to travel and they will not allow the events [in the U.S.] to change their lives, which is very gratifying to hear,’ she says. ‘We need to continue to build on that sentiment.’

Over the next few weeks, Signature will be offering some huge discounts and agent incentives. ‘I have never seen anything like the price reductions that we have got coming out,’ says Chapman. ‘We are getting reductions from airlines and from hotel chains, so we are acting as the middle man to bind the whole thing together and offer a really great package,’ she continues.

Signature has, however, suspended all print advertising for the immediate future. ‘This is a temporary measure to cut costs while we re-evaluate our needs,’ explains Chapman.

Many other travel companies have also been forced to pull or alter advertising plans. Calgary-based Greyhound Transportation Canada, made the decision to pull a planned advertising campaign shortly after Sept. 11.

‘The Go Anywhere Fare,’ which was due to launch on Sept. 24, would have featured creative that satirized air travel and promoted Greyhound’s North American go-anywhere price of $119. It will be replaced by ‘Happy Places,’ created by Parallel Strategies of Calgary to promote the affordability of domestic travel by bus.

‘More and more people are focusing on domestic travel at this time so we wanted to concentrate on pushing that service,’ says Cheryl Heilman, director of marketing, passenger services at Greyhound.

‘While air travellers are having to check in earlier than usual to go to a neighbouring city, it can actually be quicker to go by bus,’ she comments. ‘We are emphasizing our downtown-to-downtown service, which is very popular at this time, as well as our low prices.’

Ironically however, Greyhound was touched by its own tragedy early on the morning of Oct. 3, when a passenger slit a bus driver’s throat, while in transit in Tennessee. Six people were killed in the subsequent accident, while Greyhound service in the U.S. was halted completely until early afternoon. Cross-border trips were also grounded.

At press time, Heilman could not be reached to comment on whether this event would further impact the company’s marketing plans.

The ‘Happy Places’ campaign kicks off Oct. 15 and will include TV and interior transit elements to be displayed in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa. The creative features Greyhound’s dog icon thinking about happy places while it pushes the bus company’s frequency of service and competitive pricing.

Hotels have also suffered huge losses and are now pulling out the stops to fill their rooms. Days Inns – Canada is concentrating its efforts on business travellers with its ‘Days Inns Means Business’ campaign. As well as a series of giveaways, the campaign will include print advertisements in major newspapers across the country.

‘Like every other hotel chain, we are experiencing a fall in sales at the moment,’ says Melissa Evans, director of national marketing for the Toronto-based chain. Days Inns launched a new TV campaign, ‘If Lovin’ Us Is Wrong, We Don’t Want to Be Right,’ in the first week of October. The 30-second spot is airing on TSN, the Discovery Channel, PRIME, Space and Rogers TV Listings Channel.

Toronto-based chain Choice Hotels Canada (CHC) also experienced cancellations in late September and early October, primarily at airport destinations. John Allen, SVP of operations, says that marketing activities are continuing as planned, with some added elements.

‘We are working to enhance our presence to the travel agency community,’ he says. A four-week national television campaign scheduled to launch on Oct. 8 is to be amended to include information about how people can make a donation to Choice Hotel’s collection for victims of the attacks.

The Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC) is taking its latest marketing plan on the road to help Ontarian tourist boards promote themselves to the international market. The province-wide tour runs from Sept. 13 to Oct. 23.

A fundamental element of the plan, which had already been established prior to Sept. 11, is the launch of a new Web-based tourist information system, which includes customer tracking.

Eugene Zakreski, COO at the OTMPC, says the tour is continuing as planned, but the key focus has changed to reflect the times.

‘A good deal of our marketing efforts over the next three or four months will be focusing on the domestic market and the U.S. border market,’ he says. ‘We need to pump up the volume in Ontario and add a more streamlined layer to our marketing, by using radio to promote weekend getaways.’

The OTMPC is in talks with the Ottawa-based Canadian Tourism Commission and other industry parties to carry out a combined advertising campaign to aggressively promote domestic travel across Canada. A proposed national campaign is likely to involve TV, Internet and print elements as well as newspaper inserts. The OTMPC also attended a meeting called by Ontario’s Minister of Tourism Tim Hudak, on Sept. 28 to discuss possible marketing strategies.

With plans to continue with its regular four-season marketing strategy, the OTMPC will launch its winter campaign in the next few weeks. Zakreski says the winter season depends very much on NATO’s next step. ‘If we do see a build-up in military activity, that will have a big impact on winter travel, but if this is not the case, we hope to see things getting back to normal by January,’ he says.

The international market is not forgotten. ‘My sense is that Europeans do regard Canada as being entirely separate and culturally different from the U.S,’ says Zakreski. ‘Canada is regarded as a very safe country so we may see some individuals choosing Canada instead of the U.S,’ he says.

Despite industry slowdowns, some land-travel companies are actually experiencing an increase in business since Sept. 11, as flights are cancelled and fears about flying continue to linger. Greyhound saw an initial 50% increase in bookings, which has now dropped to a year-on-year increase of around 10%. Vancouver-based Rocky Mountaineer Railtours, owned by Canadian Pacific Railways, experienced a 30% drop in business during the two weeks after Sept. 11 as people were unable to reach departure points. However, business is now picking up.

‘If there’s one thing we’ve got going for us it’s that this is the best time to be a niche product,’ says Graham Gilley, Rocky Mountaineer’s VP of marketing. ‘ A lot of people are wanting to take their holidays closer to home, so we’re hoping to see some real interest from Canadians and Americans who would otherwise not have considered a tour train.’

The rail operator is currently reviewing its whole strategic marketing approach and is in talks with Vancouver-based Bryant, Fulton & Shee to create a new advertising campaign. Gilley says the company also hopes to convert this year’s cancellations into next year’s business.