“The Lifeblood of Tourism is Marketing.”

In my blog on municipal marketing I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments , particularly cities.   Clearly in an  era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public, marketing can help governments accomplish this goal. With governments spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency . With the managerial shift of the public sector to mirror a business-like approach, the adoption of marketing and related managerial practices can serve as a key component in strengthening accountability in public sector operations

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and tend to be out of the box campaigns , and therefore fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

One area where cities spend lots of money is in the tourism area. Tourism marketing is a challenging  area of marketing and requires a strong  marketing and branding strategy. Let’s take Ottawa for example.  Ottawa is a superb tourism destination. It must  be, because visitors still continue to show up even though this city traditionally does a terrible job of selling itself.

Noel Buckley, the president of Ottawa Tourism,  states that “The lifeblood of tourism is marketing.” So you would think that the city would have a great marketing strategy!

I recently noted in an Editorial in my local newspaper (The Ottawa Citizen November 14, 2009) that my home town actually had a branding strategy. I was impressed until I actually read  the key elements of the  strategy .

Ottawa Tourism’s branding strategy is based on   “four pillars” :

  • Ottawa as a capital city (Parliament Hill and environs);
  • Ottawa as a cultural centre (our museums and galleries);
  • Ottawa as a place to enjoy nature (the Gatineau Hills and green space);
  • Ottawa as an urban experience (restaurants and shopping).

This is it … the branding of the capital of Canada.  How did they come up with these “four pillars”. Is it based on marketing research?   Are the messages in the tourism marketing being picked up by recipients of these messages.  I actually checked a few web sites to see how Ottawa is described. For brevity I will just describe the Yahoo site. ( many of the other sites were not much different)

This is how Yahoo describes Ottawa

The capital of the second biggest country on the planet, OTTAWA struggles with its reputation as a bureaucratic labyrinth of little charm and character. The problem is that many Canadians who aren’t federal employees – and even some who are – blame the city for all the country’s woes. All too aware of this, the Canadian government have spent lashings of dollars to turn Ottawa into “a city of urban grace in which all Canadians can take pride” – so goes the promotional literature, but predictably this very investment is often resented. Furthermore, the hostility is deeply rooted, dating back as far as 1857 when Queen Victoria, inspired by some genteel watercolours, declared Ottawa the capital, leaving Montréal and Toronto smarting at their rebuff.

In truth, Ottawa is neither grandiose nor tedious, but a lively cosmopolitan city with a clutch of outstanding national museums, a pleasant riverside setting and superb cultural facilities like the National Arts Centre, plus acres of parks and gardens and miles of bicycle and jogging paths. It also possesses lots of good hotels and B&Bs and a busy café-bar and restaurant scene – enough to keep the most diligent sightseer going for a day or three, maybe more. Here too, for once in English-speaking Ontario, Canada’s bilingual laws make sense: Québec’ is just across the river and on the streets of Ottawa you’ll hear as much French as English.

I guess you will find the “four pillars” in this description but is this how the folks responsible for tourism in Ottawa want their city to be described?

The editorial in the Citizen goes on to say:

In many ways, the national capital ( which is what Ottawa is sometimes called when it  includes the Quebec side.) is not a very visitor-friendly place. The signage is weak. Visitors staying downtown will often have no clue how to find the ByWard Market.

“We need to direct people better, and that means big signs pointing to the major sites. Instead, we opt for subtlety. We’re so subtle that some sites are almost impossible to find. It’s amazing that we all aren’t stumbling across people driving Edsels still trying to locate the west end of the Ottawa River Parkway.

Our main tourism information bureau is located across the street from Parliament Hill. That’s nice, but most other cities — even ones with a much smaller tourism industry than Ottawa’s — know that tourism information booths need also to be on the edge of town to catch motorists. This is especially important for the capital region because most of our visitors arrive by car.

Tourism has a central role to play in the economic future of this city — a city whacked by the decline in high tech. It’s fortunate that Ottawa has a good product to offer, but as the folks at Ottawa Tourism are trying to convince anyone who will listen, even the best products need to be vigorously marketed.’

Well  maybe  the folks at Ottawa Tourism should consider a strategy and messages that will generate some excitement about this wonderful city. The “four pillars”  reinforces the perception that Ottawa is a tired, old bureaucratic city with “little charm and character”. Maybe the good folks in Ottawa Tourism should  take a trip to Montreal to see how you market a city .(yes I am originally from Montreal)

Perhaps we need a fresh approach on how we market this city. Ditch the pillars and start thinking like a marketer rather than a bureaucrat.  Only bureaucrats would come up with “four pillars” .

On another note I am pleased to be included in the new edition of ‘Effectively Engaging People’. The original version, produced to celebrate the first World Social Marketing Conference in September 2008, showcased a diverse range of social marketing opinion. But while many of the world’s top social marketers took part in the conference, there were some notable absences. This edition showcases opinions for top social marketers from around the globe.


About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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6 Comments

  1. Ottawa Tourism 26-11-2009

    Interesting post on how to market Ottawa as a tourism destination. As the official tourism marketers for the region, Ottawa Tourism would like to clarify a few facts.

    In fact, the four-pillar strategy WAS based on research, conducted by ZinsBeauchesne, one of the top branding organizations in North America. It was the result of a year-long process that reached out to stakeholders, partners, and clients both within Ottawa and in our key markets.

    You should know, too, that the City of Ottawa does not invest in the tourism marketing of the city. Ottawa Tourism’s marketing budget comes from a 3% Destination Marketing Fee voluntarily collected by 39 members of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

    It is not “bureaucrats” who manage and develop our tourism marketing strategy — Ottawa Tourism is a private sector driven initiative funded by private sector dollars. We research, develop, execute, and measure our campaigns.

    In fact, the Destination Awareness and Advertising Effectiveness Study conducted for us twice a year by Harris Decima in our key markets of Toronto and Montréal show that we are top of mind when asked for spontaneous recall of tourism advertising, ahead of Mexico, Las Vegas and other destinations with larger budgets.

    Those studies also tell us that the small percentage of people who still believe the myth that Ottawa has nothing to offer has steadily declined in years since we implemented our marketing strategy.

    Our actual marketing materials do not mention the four pillars in a literal sense — the pillars are meant as guideposts to help us frame our messaging. The material speaks to experiences that our visitors can indulge in — skating on the Rideau Canal or cycling through the city, dining at unique culinary spots, attending top-notch festivals and events, visiting our impressive array of museums and galleries, etc.

    We appreciate your comments and encourage discussion on what motivates people to visit Ottawa and how we can share that message with the world.

    -Noel Buckley, President & CEO, Ottawa Tourism

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