View from the C-Suite: Jon Mamela completes the tourism circuit

The new CMO of Tourism Toronto looks back on his time at Destination Canada to help build out the agency's strategy.


Jon Mamela is a globetrotter of tourism marketing.

After starting out in Toronto in a sales and marketing role at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, he travelled cross-country, seeing every level of tourism marketing along the way.

Mamela has served as VP marketing for Travel Alberta and was, until recently, SVP and CMO at Destination Canada in B.C., where he helped drive several years of record-level visitation to the country, in part through a “passion-based” approach to content marketing. Presented with an opportunity to come home after five years with the organization, he took on the new role of EVP and CMO at Tourism Toronto in January, completing his circuit of the Canadian tourism industry.

In a recent interview with strategy, Mamela discussed how his new organization is taking cues from his former employer and data-driven national counterpart, Destination Canada.


What are the differences between tourism marketing at the national and municipal levels?

At the national level you have a little more of a longer-term view, but [at Tourism Toronto, it's about] finding the balance between long-term and short-term expectations, [because it's] a membership organization. We have multiple members throughout the city, so the cash registers are a lot closer to us than it is at the national level. There’s an appreciation for how [members'] business is operating and what we can do to drive heads in beds or visitors through turnstiles on a more near-term basis. So, consideration of the membership base, their needs and how we can drive value for the members. The other big difference is we [at Tourism Toronto] focus some of our investments in the drive-market region. While I was at Destination Canada, we did only one initiative in 2017 where we marketed in the country, otherwise we did not. Here in Toronto, we do a fair bit of marketing into the extended drive-market. So the focus is a little bit closer to home.

You were involved in helping Destination Canada transition into a data-driven organization. Do you have similar goals at Tourism Toronto?

The group here has been doing some good work in terms of foundational data strategy for the organization, as it relates to what we’re doing on the marketing side and capitalizing on that. It’s a work-in-progress. It’s not as if we’ve been working against using data. We’ve done some work on leveraging social conversations and identifying interest among audiences to then capitalize with targeted marketing. We’ve customized website visitor experience based on who we think you are. Also, we’ve become more progressive working with other data providers, working with non-identifiable data, permitting us to better understand who’s on the ground, who’s visiting, where they’re visiting. For us, it’s about trying to get a sense of what the data is telling us from devices, from browsers, both in the city as well as outside. Foundational to our success will be working both internally and with external enterprises. We’re not weak, but we can improve.

What are some of the core insights that went into your new creative platform? Was any of it inspired by your time at Destination Canada? 

The campaign we put out [this summer] was about capitalizing on the momentum of the Raptors and the city exploding onto the global scene. It was the first campaign behind our new platform. The platform in itself was derived from insight and work I was leading at Destination Canada. What we uncovered was the fundamental benefit or the power of emotion in travel. More and more, travellers are choosing where they go [based] on beliefs, what they believe and what they buy into. The pursuit of a life filled with curiosity and joy was an area we explored. We validated that idea through our research, and really dug in. This idea that we envision has a narrative that can be told over multiple years. Discover something new in our city while simultaneously learning, which dovetails nicely into the trend around personal transformation through travel. We want to embody and showcase this destination to our people, which is foundational to Destination Canada’s platform with “For Glowing Hearts.” Our first foray into this was grounded in the idea of “Let Yourself In.”

Your former CEO at Destination Canada, David Goldstein, recently spoke to strategy about balancing the “plumbing” with the “poetry” in tourism marketing. He suggested having the right plumbing in place was critical before moving on to the poetry. Do you agree? 

Certainly, because having great capability without the story to be told is a little bit like no water flowing through the pipes. And I think they have to be done in parallel  to find the balance in an organization’s capabilities, to have the skill sets to invest and align those capabilities is important. But it’s not that you wait. Our latest brand platform is underway, and we’re doing that without fully standing up as an optimal data-marketing organization just yet. So I’d say, absolutely you need it, and you can do it in parallel, but at the end of the day, it has to be a test-pilot-learn approach to building the organization. To use an analogy, we’re in an express lane on the 401 and we’ve got to run a business today and get things done. But every once in a while, you’ve got to move over to the collectors’ lane and get off the highway. Take an exit and focus on building the capability of the business. Learn, and then get back onto the highway and move even better through the express lanes. It’s the analogy I’ve given my team. We’ve identified 15 initiatives that were working on, while running the business simultaneously, to get better at what we do.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.