Destination Canada looks to help restart the tourism industry

The national tourism board is shifting its focus to the domestic market and 'taking a back seat' to support smaller partners.
Destination Canada

With COVID-19 impacting the tourism industry perhaps more than any other, Destination Canada – the crown corporation that markets Canada as a tourism destination and provides resources to various operators in the industry – has obviously had to make a big pivot, and fast.

Gloria Loree, CMO at Destination Canada, says this year, the organization is projecting up to $62 billion in lost tourism revenue – roughly a 60% decline from 2019. The organization is also predicting 450,000 total jobs lost in the industry in 2020.

Loree describes the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry as being persistent in addition to profound, as – even if consumers were more willing to travel right now – many travel restrictions are staying in place. She says many tourism operators have advised Destination Canada that they can’t, or won’t be able to, open, and have begun looking ahead to next year.

Because of this, Destination Canada shifted its marketing efforts to the domestic market, having previously been focused on drawing in travellers from 10 countries, including the U.S., Germany and China. This has meant increasing the amount of tourism and travel data it gathered – “nobody was modelling for zero flights and zero occupation in hotels” – but also looking to new data sources, such as community sentiment (how receptive communities are to having tourists visit) on top of travel search behaviours, bookings for air travel or hotels more focused on what was happening within Canada.

“We’re not usually in a full-blown domestic program,” Loree says. “We’ve needed to do a ton of analysis and research in the domestic market to appreciate the changes in where opportunity is, as well as work with our partners – whether it’s provinces, or cities, or the businesses – and put together something that will help with the re-start, domestically.”

Roughly 67% of Canada’s tourism revenues last year came from domestic travel, according to Loree. However, she says Canadians spend a lot more when they travel abroad, and it’s Destination Canada’s job to “try and get that spend back.”

“What we have to appreciate is how impacted people are, economically, by this crisis, and will they be willing or able to spend, domestically, in any case,” she says. “If they’ve lost their jobs, for whatever sector they’re in, are they able to afford local travel? You would think so, but again, it’s a model – the level of uncertainty has never been higher.”

Destination Canada’s model has typically consisted of putting together a national campaign, and then having provinces, airlines, or other partners, buy into it. But that is changing as well. The goals of Destination Canada’s domestic marketing program are going to be ensuring that people not only travel to other communities, but that those local communities will welcome visitors and that they know what experiences they can do, local businesses they can frequent and the health and safety guidelines for travel.

“It’s the communities that have to lead the marketing, not us,” Loree says. “While we’re gathering evidence and working together to curate content, our job is to lead from behind and cheer the country on. That is really a different position for us to be in. It’s not just a different strategy, but it’s a different mindset when you think about how roles have to change.”

Over the next 18 months, Destination Canada will invest $30 million with provincial and territorial marketing organizations to support the recovery of communities. The organization has been working closely with the provinces, airline companies, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Parks Canada to determine how they can ensure that travelers are aware of what is safe to do.

“We’re trying to really understand the difference between talking about, ‘keep exploring,’ to really understanding the value of travel, and that intersection between social, cultural and economic benefits within communities as a result of tourism,” Loree says.

In recent weeks, Destination Canada, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) and local host partners have been hosting a series of virtual town halls, where it highlights research to help Canadian businesses in the tourism sector, broken up by province.

For example, during the virtual Ontario town hall on May 27, it was pointed out that the pre-pandemic market size for “local and hyperlocal” regions a one-to-two-hour drive from where someone lives is $13.3 billion. When going up to a five-hour drive, the regional market is valued at $19.7 billion – making local and hyperlocal travel the most pressing opportunity and one the organization suggests focusing on “out of the gate.”

“Where we have been able to focus more is on communicating what we’re seeing in our research on the domestic market,” she says. “Normally, we might highlight which international markets are areas of particular growth for them – whereas this year, we’re more focused on addressing the economic impact and where opportunities lie, domestically. We wouldn’t have previously provided that kind of domestic level of research at these town halls.”