Selling Canada: Fake Lakes and other Misguided Marketing Activities

In  my blog “The Lifeblood of Tourism is marketing”, I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments. With public sector organizations spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency. Not to mention some common sense.

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 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.

Our organization the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing mission is “To advance the marketing discipline in the public sector”. We applaud great efforts in public sector marketing and we continually strive to work with our constituency to produce great marketing.

It is with this in mind that we have to speak out about the most recent activity to try to “Market Canada” using fake lakes and other “misguided marketing activities.

First some background on the situation regarding tourism in Canada.

As the Ottawa Citizen points out in their editorial “Sell Canada” the summer season is approaching, and millions of vacationers from around the world are about to pile into planes in search of that perfect holiday. Unfortunately, many of them will head to places other than Canada. David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada has collected some alarming data: Between 2002 and 2008, Canada dropped like a stone in the ranking of tourism destinations.

The numbers are based on a country’s ability to attract international visitors. In 2002, Canada was seventh in the world. By 2008, Canada was 14th, no longer just behind the likes of Italy, France and Spain but also far behind Ukraine, Turkey and Mexico. (I suspect at the rate we are going we will soon  be behind countries like Slovakia and Croatia.) Source

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful country than Canada with all it has to offer. Canada’s under performance is frustrating because we have a terrific product to sell: our cosmopolitan cities, our natural attractions, our reputation as a nation of peacekeepers and otherwise decent and wonderful people, a variety of products from coast to coast, our natural beauty, our lakes, mountains, surrounded by oceans, our amazing Parks, great cities like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver and oh yes Ottawa. Skiing in winter, we got some of the best ski resorts in the world. I could go on but you get the point. .

Goldstein feels that the problem is in large measure one of “benign neglect.” Canadian policy makers, and maybe Canadians themselves, might think that the Maple Leaf can sell itself. It can’t. Self-promotion might not come naturally to Canada, but aggressive marketing is essential in the competitive world of international tourism. Source

So what do we get from our federal government … a 20,000-square-foot pavilion, called “Experience Canada,” at the G8/G20 which has a Muskoka portion for journalists in Toronto who may not have a chance to see Ontario’s cottage country, the site of the G8 portion of the talks?

The chief organizer of G8/G20 ,  Sanjeev Chowdhury, Director-General of the summit’s management office, states that it will be a “captive audience” for marketing Canada  in defending  a $1.9-million media pavilion. Source .

Our prime Minister is quoted as saying “In fact, it’s a $2-million marketing project,” and “We must not miss this opportunity.” Source

With all due respect to Chowdhury and Harper, this is not intelligent marketing . Nor is it very strategic.

“A lot of people are coming there — a captive audience — to our media centre. This is a great opportunity for us to highlight the best of our country to these journalists,” Chowdhury told CTV’s Question Period.

He also defended the cost of the pavilion as minor compared to the overall price-tag of the summit. Based on security costs alone, it has exceeded $1 billion.

“I think that some of the elements … are very minor costs when you look at the overall expenditures that are being spent on hosting the summit,” states Chowdhury… source

What kind of image do  we give the media when Toronto does not look like a vibrant city this weekend but an armed camp or a police state in a Communist country? Is this the so called marketing image we want to give to those people looking at us this weekend?

And what about the marketing of Toronto? This weekend  would normally be a very busy time for the Toronto.  But theatre productions have shut down for the talks, the Blue Jays have moved a three-game series to Philadelphia, the University of Toronto has closed its downtown campus, and some financial institutions have asked employees to take vacations or work from home. Traffic will also see major disruptions as police monitor a thick security perimeter to keep world leaders safe. source

This is not smart marketing.

If the government has a billion dollar to spend and are really concerned how about tourism in Canada, how about looking at high-speed rail that would make it easier for visitors to see more of the country? Or better still, how about consulting with the Tourism industry e.g Tourism Industry Association of Canada and its provincial counterparts to see what we really need to do to market tourism in this country.

As the citizen editorial points out the lost economic opportunity for Canadians is severe. Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, generating huge numbers of jobs. Canada needs to compete in this area just as we do in other sectors of the globalized economy. The rise of a middle class in China and India — these are people with holidays to take and money to spend — means that the pool of international tourists is expanding rapidly. Canada would do well to catch their attention. Source

This is not done by building fake lakes and pavilions.

Postscript

G20 summit hits Toronto tourism hard

by Sean McLachlan (RSS feed) on Jun 26th 2010 at 9:00AM

If you’re in Toronto to sample the Canadian city’s great shopping, culture, and nightlife, you picked the wrong weekend.

The G20 summit has caused many of the downtown businesses to shut, reports travel site Martini Boys. The site gives an long list of major restaurants, theaters, and other attractions that will close their doors this weekend. Even the iconic CN Tower will be shut up tight and the Toronto Blue Jays have moved their next three home games to Philadelphia.

Fearing protests, G20 the police have set up a 4 km (2.5 mile) long barricade around the convention center, cutting off much of downtown and disrupting some 2,000 businesses. The U.S. State Department has posted a travel advisory suggesting people stay away. Many places are shutting down for the duration. Nobody is sure what the economic impact of all these closures will be, but the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says that restaurants alone will lose $23 million Canadian (US $22 million) this weekend.

The idea that this was an effective way to show off Toronto to foreign guests is bewilderingly stupid.

Canadian authorities created a city no citizen could recognize and no visitor could admire. Then, they allowed a pack of brutes to trash it.

John Cruickshank Publisher Toronto Star

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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One Comment

  1. Claire Mills 26-06-2010

    Bravo Jim! A huge missed opportunity to showcase the absolute beauty and appeal of Canada in the summer. They should have held it at Harrington Lake!

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