Canada is enjoying a place on the world stage, coming off a record-breaking year for Canadian tourism last year, with international arrivals reaching 20.85 million during the country’s sesquicentennial celebrations. This level of success was bolstered by the efforts of Destination Canada (DC), which reported more than 1.4-million attributable arrivals and $1.81-billion in attributable tourism-export revenue for 2017.
And, 2018 is on track to be another record year, with international arrivals up 1.7 per cent year-to-date for the first half of the year. Although attributable-tourism figures aren’t yet available for 2018 “the data shows we’re moving the needle with the kind of customers we want to bring to Canada,” says Destination Canada president and CEO, David F. Goldstein, who points to the U.S. market as a prime example. “Through aviation data, [we know] that, while U.S. [arrivals] are fairly flat, the numbers from the airports in the U.S. cities where we’re targeting our marketing are actually up.”
As Canada’s national tourism marketer, DC is dedicated to promoting the interests of the tourism industry and marketing Canada as a premier four-season tourism destination. The organization focuses its efforts on carefully selected target markets (currently 10 leisure and five business) to increase arrivals and grow Canada’s tourism economy.
As part of its efforts to grow the Canada brand, DC also hosts tourism-marketplace events, such as Rendez-vous Canada (RVC) and GoMedia Canada, which connect Canadian tourism organizations and businesses with international tourism buyers and travel media, respectively. In fact, RVC 2018 achieved the highest attendance levels in the event’s 42-year history, welcoming more than 1,900 delegates and facilitating more than 30,000 face-to-face business appointments.
And, although increasing visitation is the end goal, it’s far from being the organization’s only achievement.
As Goldstein explains, key changes made within the organization over the last three years have played a significant role in the current success of the Canada brand. “We’ve become a much more efficient organization with far lower overhead, so more of our investment is handed directly to marketing,” he explains. “And, I’m not shy about saying it, we have a much bigger megaphone — Destination Canada’s budget has gone up 40 per cent in the last [four years].”
Over the past year, DC has refined the way it targets potential travellers, shifted its focus to digital-content strategies and put increased emphasis on Business Events Canada (its business and incentive-travel platform), as well as expanding the country’s seasonality and regionality. Many of these initiatives are part of DC’s five-year strategic plan, known as NorthStar 22, which established a “Team-Canada” approach for the organization’s marketing efforts and set the goal of reaching 25-million visitors spending $25 billion by the year 2022.
This team approach brings together provincial, territorial and city partners to market Canada to international travellers in a unified, coordinated and efficient manner — an approach that’s unique within the realm of destination marketing. “[This] strong alignment is, frankly, envied by a lot of our competitors,” says Goldstein. “My friends in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. think we’ve found a unicorn.”
Another key aspect of the plan includes increasing the commercial competitiveness of the country’s tourism sector through enhanced consumer data, including visitor-spending and audience insights. “We have tools at our disposal that we didn’t have five or 10 years ago, from a digital and a research perspective,” says Goldstein. “We’re working with Statistics Canada to use financial-services data to get a better understanding of what travellers are actually spending.”
In 2018, DC also signed new partnerships with the Vancouver Airport Authority and Halifax International Airport Authority and it recently renewed a partnering agreement with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). These latest additions join existing multi-year agreements with industry stakeholders such as Air Canada, WestJet and Parks Canada.
Co-investment is a key element of DC’s approach, through which the organization forms industry partnerships to help extend its partners’ global marketing reach. The largest example is the organization’s “Connecting-America” campaign, which counts all provinces and territories, as well as several city, resort and commercial partners from across the country, as participants.
The launch of the Connecting-America campaign in 2016 marked DC’s re-entry into the U.S. leisure market. The program showcases unique Canadian experiences to prospective American travellers in key cities with direct air access to Canada through a variety of channels. As of year-end 2017, the program was on track to reach its goal of achieving 1.035-million U.S. arrivals to Canada by 2018, with arrivals sitting at 924,000.
“[We’ve also done] some innovative things within the direct-to-consumer piece with how we’re targeting [and] who we’re targeting using a broader view of publishers — not just specifically travel publishers,” Goldstein explains. “We [look at it as] not just fishing where the fish are, it’s fishing where the fish are and our competitors aren’t fishing, which means using brands such as Rolling Stone, GQ and The New Yorker…We’ve developed some really cool bespoke content across these different publications.”
But, perhaps the most significant example of DC’s exploration of unconventional content marketing came this fall when it launched the Vacations of the Brave series on Amazon Prime Video. The series follows everyday heroes from the U.S. as they are treated to extraordinary Canadian travel experiences. The project was informed by “a fair amount of research on the U.S. market and what motivates travellers,” and leans into growing interest in transformational travel.
With 2018 being the Canada-China Year of Tourism (CCYT), the organization has also been putting significant focus on the Chinese market, with initiatives targeting both business travellers and families, as well as participation in a tourism trade mission led by the Government of Canada, during which DC signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with UTour — a China-based travel-service provider — to collaborate on marketing and R&D. “We increased our marketing budget for China by about 20 per cent last year for CCYT and we’re going to continue to invest at that level going forward,” Goldstein says. “We always believed that the CCYT is not just about one year.”
Looking to 2019, Goldstein says DC will focus on “building on strength, increasing our research capacity, launching [new] initiatives and increasing our marketing capacity on the Business Events Canada side.”
And, with the continued growth of the global tourism industry, Canadian tourism is expected to continue expanding. “We’ve had some independent economic analysis done that says [our NorthStar 22 goals are] a conservative projection,” notes Goldstein.
“The Canada brand is strong,” he adds, pointing to Canada’s reputation as safe, welcoming and inclusive — as well as its authentic Indigenous offerings — as the country’s key differentiators. “In working with our in-market teams, you can feel it — it’s palpable.”