Keep it cool, eh? Destination Canada takes tourism to new heights

Cruise ships docked at Ogden Point, Victoria BC.

By Amanda Wilson

We live on Vancouver Island, a tourist hot-spot. We’re lucky to enjoy a diversified economy, but visitors are still a vital component of business success here. So it’s important for us to stay informed on what’s being done to attract and entertain visitors, in our region and beyond.

Spark Strategic participated in the BC Hospitality Summit this past April in Whistler, BC. One of the key-note speakers was Destination Canada President and CEO David Goldstein. He told the audience that Canada welcomed a record-breaking 20.8 million tourists in 2017, the highest in our history. We are more popular with international visitors than we’ve been in almost two decades, and projections point to a continuation of the tourist boom. That’s good news.

Now comes the tricky part – and it’s a challenge that comes with being the cool kids on the block. How do we harness the economic benefits visitors bring, in a way that balances the gain and protects our natural habitats? We’ve seen other countries grapple with too much pressure on their infrastructure – how do we ride the wave without getting swamped by it?

First, says Goldstein, “we want to mitigate over-tourism so we’re working closely with tourism agencies across the country to ensure we have the capacity for increased travelers. We also believe that instead of reacting to the market, it’s time to get pro-active. It’s time to offer our visitors new destinations, in rural and smaller communities who could benefit from the economic spin-offs of tourism.”

Destination Canada’s latest focus is therefore on creating custom campaigns through provincial tourism agencies to showcase lesser known but equally spectacular places, providing different and unique experiential adventures. The idea is to attract the tourist who’s looking for something off the beaten path, customizing a visit they’ll cherish.

“Our advantage lies in understanding and creating alignment with provinces and with travel, accommodation and tourism operators, as well as retail and food and beverage operators,” says Goldstein. “These collaborations result in amazing, interesting ideas that translate into remarkable experiences for our visitors. We are inspiring and confounding our competitors because of that.”

In fact, Destination Canada feels their plan, one they’ve named North Star 22, will help achieve their goal of seeing 25 million visitors contributing 25 billion dollars to the national economy by 2022.

“We’ve set up a dashboard of key performance indicators to measure the same success, so we have the proper data set to work with when analyzing and creating goals. Goodwill across all players in the tourism and hospitality is integral here.  We need to set clear goals and objectives to ensure we meet our benchmarks.”

Speaking to those tourism operators and agencies who are concerned about unbalanced seasonal returns, Goldstein emphasized the importance of thoughtfulness when it comes to maintaining the charm of attractive destinations. “Ensure you keep some special space for your locals, so they don’t feel overrun,” he says. “You don’t want to fall into the problem that cities like Paris face, of too much strain on your infrastructure because all your visitors compress into three months of the year, so look for ideas to entice tourists outside of the traditional season. Explore new ways to create interesting experiences that are not your typical cookie-cutter type. Tailored marketing is crucial here.”

2017 research shows air flights were up, meaning more affluent travelers are coming to Canada, and our country saw the most international visitors since the last peak in 2002. Primary markets remain the US and China, but we are seeing more visitors from Mexico and Brazil as well as Europe.

Why has Canada become so popular? Goldstein thinks it’s because perceptions of us are changing. Destination Canada actively engaged the international market in a campaign to transform the stereotypical view of us as only moose and Mounties and mountains. “We posited that Canada is not cold, it’s cool,” he says. “We wanted to make people understand how dynamic and engaging we really are as a nation, and how interesting our people are.”

Goldstein pointed to tactics like promoting Victoria as a sophisticated foodie hot-spot in the New York Times and as a musical city in Rolling Stone Magazine. “We’re working with travel media and international publications in a whole new way to showcase our hip factor, and it’s paying off. Canada is among the top travel destinations, with brand equity as a safe and welcoming place, and now also one that offers unique adventures.”

Destination Canada operates in 12 countries, stimulating business and leisure travel. Goldstein says he is proud to represent us on the international stage. “Canada is a fantastic destination. When we entice international visitors, they are four times more likely to return and seven times more likely to recommend us to their friends. The path to wealth and success is figuring out how to nurture and grow stronger demand for Canada from international travelers, and we think we’re on that path.”

Click here to learn more about their 2018-2022 marketing plan.