How the CTC showed the world a new Canada
For two weeks in February, the world’s attention was focused on Canada as athletes from across the globe competed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. It’s not always easy to shine when you’re in the glare of the spotlight, but the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) was able to ensure we did just that, with creative, clever and, yes, innovative media relations. How’d they do it? Hotelier caught up with CTC president Michelle McKenize to find out.
Hotelier: What did the Olympics mean for an organization like the CTC? What were you trying to accomplish from a tourism perspective?
Michelle McKenzie: Our strategy from the get-go was to leverage the media coverage of the games, and not necessarily the attendees. About 99 per cent of everyone that experienced the games weren’t ticket holders — their experience was through media. Thankfully, during the broadcasts, TV producers had a lot of time to fill, and we had the ability to insert ourselves as the opportunities arose, with a great deal of high-quality material. Do you remember the Tom Brokaw piece about Canadians that went all across YouTube? All of those shots of Canada — about 35 or so — were our shots. We had the perfect opportunity to present the Canada that we wanted to show-off.
When your goal is to drive sustained tourism by leveraging an event like the Olympics, you’re going to run into challenges, both foreseen and unforeseen. What were some of those struggles?
It’s interesting. The world has a very positive view of Canada, but that’s not always linked to a strong reason to travel here. In the past, we’ve lacked that compelling motivator, so we worked towards refreshing our brand. During the games though, one of our major innovations was our ability to be nimble. We started each morning with a recap of what went on the night before, and then specifically chased those opportunities as they developed. A great example of that was when female Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na did so well. She was coached by Brian Orser, a Canadian. So we got material to the Korean media, which immediately connected that target market in Korea with a great travel story.
All of your efforts are getting noticed. The CTC has picked up several awards of late. We have. But I can say we weren’t really chasing awards — we were chasing brand recognition, which we’re definitely getting. In 2009, Canada ranked number 2 on the FutureBrand Country brand index for the second year in a row, which is up from 12th in 2006. More significantly, it marked the first time we beat Australia on the list, and we see them as one of the great tourism branders in the world.
A lot of your efforts at the Olympics targeted foreign tourists. What did you do specifically to
attract those visitors? And do you believe your efforts may have also piqued the interest of domestic travellers, too?
The torch relay across Canada was a great example of an innovative way we were able to draw some attention. While we had mostly Canadians running from coast to coast to coast, we invited celebrities from specific, target tourism countries to be a part of the relay as well. For example, a former Australian Olympian, who was also a member of the Australian media covering the games, ran a leg in the far north, and we had a Brazilian former Olympian run a leg in New Brunswick. Basically, we would not have received any media attention in those countries if we just had Canadians running the torch across the country, but with those examples, there’s a story that goes back to Brazil, or Australia. It’s a great hook.
In terms of the domestic market, it’s still too early to tell. But, I will say that though we came out of the gate a bit slowly, by the end of the games we saw a kind of patriotism we’ve never seen before. We saw the next generation of Canadians falling in love with Canada, and that will be an enduring image.