Drawing tourists via passions

How Destination Canada has been using "passion-based" content marketing to bring new faces to the country.

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This article appears in the January/February 2018 issue of strategy

Travellers abroad tend to have a one-dimensional, clichéd perception of Canada: it’s all moose, mountains and Mounties. It’s a sticky impression that tourism boards are constantly challenged to unhinge, but Destination Canada may have found a solution through what it calls “passion-based” content marketing.

When the national tourism board began working with Vancouver-based consultancy Modern Craft three years ago, it wanted a more data-driven approach to its marketing. The solution to changing traveller attitudes toward the country lay in targeted content focused on the niche interests and passions of its international audience.

Hundreds of pieces of content spanning web, television and print were created for 11 countries from Australia to Brazil to Japan, merging cultural trends in those markets with experiences available in Canada. European audiences, for instance, might find a five-minute spot featuring a German artisan hosting an Aboriginal moccasin-making session. Meanwhile, Japanese audiences are exposed to a 30-second anime video featuring Canadian tourism hotspots. In 2016, the approach resulted in 344,000 hours of cumulative viewing time in the U.S. alone.

Jon Mamela, CMO at Destination Canada, says the tourism board’s research revealed that visitors from the U.S. and some other markets were split between those who travelled to Canada for its positive reputation and those who came to pursue a passion while on vacation.

So Destination Canada partnered with publishers, brands and influencers to leverage the country’s image as a place to pursue passions, including working with Rolling Stone on content focused on Canada’s music scene and Refinery 29 to showcase the Canadian fashion scene. Those passion-focused collaborations have become the cornerstone of the tourism board’s long-term marketing strategy.

International visits to Canada declined precipitously between 2002 and 2013, says Mamela, following an all-time high of 20 million visitors in 2002. But in the three years since implementing the new strategy, he says Canada has “rebounded,” returning to numbers seen in 2002. Last year, the Canadian arrival rate grew almost three times that of the global average of nearly 4%.