Will locals keep Newfoundland & Labrador tourism afloat?

Facing a billion-dollar shortfall, a campaign reminds residents what "home" has to offer.

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Newfoundland & Labrador hesitated slightly before joining an Atlantic Canada travel bubble in June. Concerns around the health and safety of its residents eclipsed decisions around when, or if, Maritime regions should open borders to each other — the province wasn’t yet convinced that its residents could move around safely, let alone visitors.

Then, less than two weeks after N.L.’s Premier Dwight Ball told reporters that “now is not the time for us” to discuss when to open a bubble, a joint statement from N.L., N.B., P.E.I and N.S. announced that a date had been selected. And on July 3, Maritimers freely crossed borders for the first time in three months.

But before discussions among the group of four even began taking place, the Minister of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation for Newfoundland & Labrador, Barnard Davis, had already tasked his ad agency, Target Marketing, to work on a pandemic pivot.

Without any guarantee that there would be incoming visitors in the near, or even distant future, the tourism board decided to engineer a campaign that would lean on local residents to help make up a portion of the potential $1.15 billion shortfall in tourism dollars, lost to the global moratorium on travel.

With $450,000 earmarked for the local effort, Target created a campaign that’s geared at getting residents to experience attractions “either for the first time, or the 23rd time,” says Davis. “Whether that’s something from their childhood or something that they’ve always wanted to do, we’re saying, ‘Don’t put it off, do it today.’”

The entire effort revolves around a microsite, StayHomeYear.ca, where people who live in the province are encouraged to plan and book a “Stay Home Year” adventure by exploring the campgrounds, accommodations, attractions, tours, bars and restaurants listed on the curated site.

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The campaign lit up the night sky when it debuted on June 23, with the team installing the word “HOME” in lights on the Cabot Tower, which Davis unveiled when he flicked the switch attached to the Signal Hill National Historical Site that evening. The following day, the tourism board’s mass advertising rolled out, including three radio ads with actor Gordon Pinsent’s velvet voice asking locals to “stay for the innkeepers, the bartenders, the guides, the bakers and the skippers that’ll take you.” Another three television spots and social content round out the campaign that will run for the next 10 weeks.

Eventually, Davis says, Tourism Newfoundland & Labrador plans to have a presence beyond its home province and, much like Tourism Nova Scotia, the agency will go after visitors from the rest of Atlantic Canada. In the meantime, the focus is on local residents helping to support the industry, which creates 20,000 jobs.

Similar to the ongoing debate around whether brands should continue to market during a recession, Davis says one of his fears is the long-term impact of pulling back on tourism advertising targeting people in Ontario, the rest of Canada and parts of Europe, as it usually does.

“Any time you pull advertising in-market, you wonder what kind of impact that’s going to have years down the road,” he says. “The decision to come to Newfoundland & Labrador isn’t made overnight. It’s a bucket list destination, it’s not an easy place to get to. It’s generally something you plan a couple years in advance.”

“But, you can’t be advertising for people to come to your province when it’s not safe to do so,” adds Davis. “It was a decision we made as a group and we will market back in the rest of Canada and international market as soon as it’s safe to do so.”