It was a splashy event at New York City’s chic 21 Club. As RCMP officers dressed in their crimson tunics mingled at the celebrity hangout last Wednesday with writers from some of the world’s top travel magazines, including Travel & Leisure, the host, Thomas Hockin, Canada’s minister of state for tourism, launched a $13.2million advertising blitz. In one highly polished 30-second television promotion designed to lure U.S. travellers north, a gorgeous model races to catch a Toronto streetcar; in another, set in Quebec City, a different beautiful woman flirts with her boyfriend. And in a third ad, a pinafore-clad image of Anne of Green Gables skips down a rural lane in Atlantic Canada —a reminder of what Cape Cod was like before the fast-food outlets arrived. When it was over, many in the audience were impressed. Said Maureen Moloney, an advertising executive with The New Yorker. “I think the ads are great. They make me want to go to Canada.” Canadian officials can only hope that more Americans come to the same conclusion. Travel
and tourism generated $24 billion in 1988, roughly four per cent of the gross domestic product. But the industry, which is a key employer in many economically depressed parts of Canada, is facing some tough times. According to Statistics Canada, non-U.S. tourism increased last year by 7.6 per cent over 1988 to three million people—but there was a drop of 4.4 per cent in the number of U.S. visitors to Canada to 12.2 million in the same period.
Given a sharp 10.7-per-cent rise in Canadian tourism abroad to 18.3 million, Canada’s travel account deficit jumped by 27.8 per cent, reaching $3.5 billion for 1989. But, despite the dramatic decline in U.S. visitors, the federal government cut its tourism promotion budget to $25 million in 1990 from $35 million in 1988.
Still, Hockin said he was optimistic that the latest ad campaign will offset the cutbacks by sharpening Canada’s image on crowded U.S. television stations. The four ads, produced by Toronto-based Camp Associates Advertising Ltd., will be broadcast from late March to May
in 26 major U.S. markets.
But the ads face formidable competition. According to the Washington-based U.S. Travel Data Center, the combined tourism promotion budget of all 50 U.S. states is now more than $408 million, compared with the $34 million that Ottawa and the 10 provinces spent on U.S. advertising last year.
Indeed, the State of New York alone will spend $14.4 million advertising its attractions in the United States this year, and various groups within the travel industry are spending more than ever before to attract customers. For their part, cruise lines spent $167 million on advertising in 1988.
Because of the increasing fight for tourist dollars, Barry Joslin, chairman of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, which represents 60,000 firms, says that with the number of tourists declining, the Canadian government has picked the wrong time to cut back drastically on its travel promotion budget. Added Joslin: “The government has to realize that the advertising dollars are not a support program. Tourism
brings new dollars into the economy.”
But Hockin says that he does not see the budget cuts as a problem. “We may end up with more exposure as a result, not less,” he said, because the provinces will be forced to pick up the shortfall. For its part, Ontario, which spent $6.1 million promoting tourism in the United States in 1989, intends to target such special-interest groups as sports fishermen and small-convention organizers in 1990, says Barbara Hladysh, manager of advertising and promotions for the Ontario ministry of tourism and recreation.
Industry spokesmen say that there are no simple solutions for improving the travel deficit because Americans do not see Canada as an exotic destination—and when they do come, they often complain that they could experience the same attractions far more economically at home. For instance, gasoline prices in Canada average 65 per cent higher than in the United States.
Partly as a result of the higher costs, fewer Americans are travelling to Canada. And David Redekop, director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Tourism Research Institute, an industry association, says that there will be no increase, or perhaps even a small decrease, in the number of U.S. tourists travelling north to Canada this year. Said Redekop: “We have to be smarter and more targeted with our approach or we’ll keep losing market share.” Clearly, there are high hopes pinned on four 30-second ads.
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