Tuesday, November 16, 2010

 

TOURIST TRAP OR SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST?

Brand identification is all important in today's instant gratifying social media fueled marketing business. Take television for example; it isn't quite by accident that all TV stations and networks identify themselves permanently with their corporate logo emblazoned in a corner of the screen's image. The cable provider I subscribe to here in central Florida delivers almost 1000 channels. When "clicking" through the channels if a viewer can't identify the channel immediately...it's there...and it's gone. Lest I digress: Apparently "clicking through the channels" at breakneck speed is a "male" thing.

A recent weekend wire service story which received little notice in Canada caught my eye. The New York based "FutureBrand" index moved Canada to the number one position; top o' the list (as it were), in its global survey of countries with the most favorable brand. Heck, this may be the very first time we've topped the list since Shirley Temple and Randolph Scott starred in "Susannah Of The Mounties" in 1939.

The Country Brand Index surveys about 3500 international business and leisure travellers to about 100 countries each year. Canada has been climbing in the survey ranking from 12th place in 2006, to second in 2008 and 2009. The Canadian Tourism Commission takes full credit for the positive showing claiming that's been part of a long-term strategy which was anchored on the success of last winter's Olympic Games in British Columbia.

I suspect the successful "branding effort" can't come soon enough. In reality Canada's tourism business, which ultimately depends on the travel choices and preferences of the vast United States market, has suffered massive decline since Homeland Security imposed its passport rules for returning American citizens in June 2008, at just about the same time the U.S. economy sank into a deep recession from which it hasn't recovered. Less than a quarter of Americans, about 85-million, have a passport. While that is still an impressive number; the stark reality is that cross-border USA visits into Canada have remained flat at 10-million in each of the 3 successive years since the Homeland Security rules came into effect. In contrast, Canada's 35-million residents account for more than 26-million visits to the United States each year, including 4-million to Florida and/or California (blame the rigours of Canada's climate) and close to 6-million to the border states of New York, Michigan and Washington.

The reverse has seen a dramatic decline in visits to Canada's most popular tourist destination Niagara Falls, and other major tourist destinations north of the 49th parallel, including cities like Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Large border community casinos built to attract Americans to Canada's "tax-free" gambling conquests are actually losing money! The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's (OLG) casinos at Niagara Falls (2) and in Windsor lost money in 2009.

If Canada's effort to reach top status in this global ranking required the Gargantuan effort of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to succeed, it is a step in the right direction. But, we will need a whole more to stay near (or at) the top; and our North American partner the United-States may need to kick-in a whole lot more into its share than their restrictive security measures on land, sea and in the air currently are willing to allow.

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