View from the C-Suite: Destination Canada asks travellers to spend locally

As the sector continues to reel from the pandemic, the industry group's new campaign calls on Canadians to visit their own backyard.

Destination Canada

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After more than a year of restrictions, the travel industry remains in a state of critical care. But if Canadians were to re-allocate even just two-thirds of their unspent international travel dollars towards supporting local travel businesses this summer, they could help make up the estimated $19 billion shortfall currently facing the industry and accelerate its recovery.

So to mark Travel Week, which runs from May 23 to 30, the country’s tourism groups have released a 2021 Tourism Pledge and are calling on Canadians to find ways to travel domestically as restrictions allow. To support the efforts, Destination Canada has unveiled a new anthem video and postcard campaign to encourage travellers to explore their own backyard.

Produced by Canadian director Mark Zibert, the new “Heartbeat of Canada” video spotlights and features the performers, business owners and staff who make up the tourism sector. It’s being launched in conjunction with a campaign encouraging Canadians to send a postcard to the family and friends they have missed during the pandemic. The postcards can be accessed online, and are then printed and mailed anywhere in Canada.

Strategy spoke to Gloria Loree, SVP of marketing strategy and CMO at Destination Canada, about the new campaigns and how the industry’s challenges have changed since last summer.

How does the current situation at Destination Canada compare to what you and the industry were facing this time last year? 

Last summer, we were asking ourselves if we were allowed to be marketing, along with all of our colleagues. And the challenge that we had was we didn’t have experience with having to be soft on a message. Our experience in tourism is to tell people to visit now, but we were all questioning what the right thing was and, in the case of domestic marketing, how to help Canadians know what they can do.

We solved for that last year by reversing the way a lot of our resources go, and making sure that cities [and provinces] – who were going to have different responses to the crisis – had some resources to keep operating their marketing messaging. So we were leading from behind.

But we have so much more information coming into this summer in terms of the data and the research and the story that it’s told us and the confidence it’s given us to as marketers. We didn’t measure domestic sentiment [before], but we have done so for over a year now, so we can see a change in sentiment, and we can see whether or not it’s a material change in being willing for a community to welcome visitors from nearby – a near province or even internationally. That’s what wasn’t in place in March of 2020 that’s in place this year.

What has that research revealed? 

We can see that people welcome inspirational imagery that helps them dream and plan, even if they can’t travel right now.

We’ve learned that when we ask Canadians, ‘How well do you know your country’ or ‘Where will you go first’ that they respond with images and recommendations and engage in the content. They don’t say, ‘How dare you.’ That’s a difference from last summer.

Over the past year, we’ve heard from private businesses and large transportation partners that [when they] put out traditional advertising, they got a lot of negative press or pushback, saying ‘You seem to be counter to health measures.’ But it’s not a crime to dream. And our job has been consistently going back to curating information and helping Canadians know what they can do. If you’re helpful, that’s the most important thing.

How is that influencing your approach as the body responsible for marketing Canada as a tourism destination? 

We know that Canadians are looking for any kind of certainty, which we can’t give them. But we can continue to give them information about the changes that have happened in the industry to help give them some confidence [so they know], when they do travel, what [hygiene measures] will be in place for them. And we can give them practical information, which is all in the basket of ‘know before you go.’ For example, is there online registration now required for things you used to walk up to and visit?

We can also see where the capacity is right now based on booking as well as search data, and there’s a lot of capacity in our cities. We think our cities deliver a lot of what people are, in fact, looking for. When you think about how many city parks, canals, rivers, ocean fronts and lake fronts that our cities sit on, there’s a lot in terms of what people are looking for.

So that’s something else that we can do this summer that wouldn’t have necessarily been our key objective last summer. Some resorts just outside of cities are already booked up. As people become more confident about travelling, they might be surprised at what’s already booked. So how do we help point towards what else they could do?

Last summer’s “Canada Nice” campaign featured celebrity influencers like comedian Rick Mercer and former news anchor Peter Mansbridge. What influenced your approach to your new brand spot? 

Metaphorically, the spot goes from dark to light, which is where people are going, with vaccinations rolling out and the anticipation that restrictions will ease. People are feeling more hopeful. So it’s the dark to the light, and it [moves from being] quiet to more frenetic, hearing that excitement even come in through the drummers. We are still using, if you will, influencers, but these aren’t travel writers, known stars – these are the faces of the people of the industry.

In this past year, the people in our industry have brought all that data and research to life. We show models, we show graphs, we can release our analysis to the media. But it’s when you see these people and the different walks of life they come from, and who they are, then it really brings the story to life, and it brings home how much tourism impacts the quality of our life and the people in our communities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities.