How CTC gets the word out about Canada

Canada’s airports see millions of travellers from around the world each year. (Julia Pelish/

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

If you’re like me, then there are times you’ve probably asked this question — how do international travellers view Canada? And what motivates them to visit?

It’s one thing if you live in New York, Montana or even Mexico — geographically, we’re practically neighbours. But for someone living in Brazil, South Korea, the United Kingdom or Australia, a trip to Canada for leisure is a major investment. Why choose Vancouver or Las Vegas? Why choose Ottawa over Washington? Why pick Calgary as a travel destination over Buenos Aires? And this isn’t just about foreigners — how do you convince a Canadian living in Red Deer that a trip to Halifax will be as enjoyable as a trip to San Diego?

These are questions that the Canadian government must ask as well if our country is to be a competitive draw for travellers. And understanding this question is one of the roles that the Canadian Tourism Commission (CT C) confronts each day. The CTC is Canada’s national tourism marketing organization, a crown corporation that leads the Canadian tourism industry in selling Canada as a premier four-season destination.

CTC CEO Michele McKenzie stepping down

And the timing and importance of these questions are extremely important, especially today as the CTC faces personnel changes, an unforgiving marketplace and political pressures.

On October 1, 2013 CTC President and CEO Michele McKenzie announced she would be stepping down. McKenzie will be missed – her accomplishments with

the CTC include transforming  Canada’s international tourism brand and leveraging the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Her departure also comes at an important time, as some critics have accused the federal government of failure to properly promote Canada’s tourism industry at a time when the competition is ramping up their tourism and hospitality spending. In a recent Huffington Post article entitled “Tories Have Pushed Canadian Tourism Off the Map”, author Glenn Thibeault, an MP and Official Opposition Critic for Small Business explained that while many Canadians might not realize it, Canada’s travel and tourism industry is an important driver of economic growth in our country and consistently delivers positive GDP and wage growth. He added that in 2012 Canada’s travel and tourism industry generated $84.4 billion in economic activity, resulting in $9.6 billion in federal government revenue.

Thibeault wrote that Canada has cut its tourism marketing budget by 20 per cent, forcing the Canada Tourism Commission to abandon advertising initiatives in lucrative markets like the United States. Meanwhile, all of Canada’s major competitors are increasing investments in foreign tourism marketing to lure the growing volume of international tourists to their countries through unified branding exercises.

No help from the top?

None of this, of course, makes the mission of the CTC any easier. Their vision is to inspire the world to explore Canada. This isn’t always the easiest task because depending who you are or where you live, there may be stereotypes or perceptions to overcome. Are we really a bunch of hockey-playing lumberjacks wearing beavertail hats while roasting a moose over a campfire in front of a cabin while listening to Justin Bieber CDs? Is Canada really just a less fun and colder version of the United States — America lite, if you will? Don’t laugh too hard … even George W. Bush, while running for president of the United States, was tricked by CBC personality Rick Mercer into admitting he believed our prime minister was a tasty plate of poutine.

But humour aside, getting a feel for how the world sees Canada — and receiving an accurate message out about all the wonderful things Canada has to offer — is critical to driving tourism to our country. Is Canada a fun place to  visit? Is the country worth visiting in winter, and what is there to do during winter? Is Canada a good place to go for a honeymoon? Are there eco-travel opportunities here? Answering questions like these and telling the story of Canada is what the CTC does to bring international visitors into our airports, train stations, hotels, restaurants, attractions, and business events.

5 Ways the CTC Brings Visitors to Canada 

  1. Market Canada as a desirable destination: As part of its mandate, the CTC strives to tell the story of Canada in 11 key markets, including Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the UK, and the United States. By having offices in these markets, the CTC is able to sell Canada directly to the people who live there.
  2. Harness Canada‘s collective voice to grow tourism export revenues: Tourism is big business. According to the CTC, travellers from around the world and in Canada spent more than $74.1 billion in 2010. Nearly $14.8 billion of this amount — or 20% — is new money coming into Canada’s economy from international visitors. One of the ways that the CTC keeps those tourists interested and coming back — and growing those revenues — is by sharing and promoting a strong and consistent image of Canada to the world.
  3. Keep Exploring Canada: The nation’s tourism brand is “Canada. Keep Exploring.” The CTC’s main consumer website features places to go and things to do, as well as trip ideas. Are you one of those people who believe Canada is all about maple syrup and hockey? Then you need to check out some of these trip ideas that show the diversity of the country’s culture:
    • Of Capitals and Francophones: Ottawa to MontréalCruise through Ottawa’s canals and rock Canada Day with locals; then tour old Montréal with a taste for rustic French food and fine wine.
    • Calgary RoadtripExploring a wild west fair, dinosaur bones and friendly towns.
    • TorontoMusic, food and drink in Toronto.
    • Nova ScotiaBiking, kayaking and exploring history in eastern Canada.
  1. Contests that inspire: One of the innovative ways that the CTC has gotten the story out is by sponsoring contests and letting talented Canadians tell the story of their own country in their own way. The 35 million Directors Project is a great example of organic marketing using the voices of Canadians to show what the country offers to tourists. The CTC explained on its website that the final cut of a new international tourism marketing video, made with submissions from Canadians, capped its 35 Million Directors summer project. These videos are meant to function as an authentic and fun invitation from Canadians, of which there are approximately 35 million. Last year, Cecil Johnson’s time-lapse video of icebergs in Quidi Vidi, a tiny village within the Newfoundland & Labrador capital of St. John’s, won praise and votes from film buffs and earned him the Viewers’ Choice Award. (To read more about this contest and Cecil Johnson’s exceptional video, click here.)
  2. Media Coverage: Getting Canadians to see the value in their country and tell the story is important. Getting domestic and international media to tell the story of Canada is another. But they do it by constantly keeping in touch with journalists and sharing information when necessary.



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Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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