American tourism boards strike gold with cheap loonie

“Everybody thinks that because of the parity situation [with the dollar] that all things are looking good for some increased visitation,” said Susan Greer, spokesperson for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Canada is already our No. 2 market, right behind the U.K., so we’ll see if [Canada] takes over the No.1 spot.”

The bureau is placing ads on a number of search engines, including Google and MSN, as well as the online pages of Canadian newspapers, to draw people to the Canadian home page of its Web site – and ultimately spur interest in Orlando vacations. The Canadian site has offers and a travel planner specific to the Canadian market.

It started using Web-based campaigns over the past year in the U.S. and Canada, finding them to be increasingly successful (and allowing them to track click-through rates). The timing of this campaign, which kicked off on Oct. 22, coincides with Canadian vacationers planning their winter getaways, particularly for the January to March timeframe.

“What we’re hearing is that families that have not been [to the U.S.] in a while, if they had other plans for other places this year, they’re now thinking maybe it’s the time to come to the States,” said Greer.

Web retailers can use a variety of media to target customers such as search engine marketing, search engine optimization, catalogues, affiliate programs and comparison shopping engines, said Jeff Grau, senior analyst with research firm eMarketing. And e-mail promotions to house lists are a cost-effective way to maintain customer loyalty.

Web retailers keep records of purchase history and track visitors’ click paths. This information can also be supplemented with external demographic data and information the customer might supply to the Web retailer when signing up to receive an e-newsletter or some other service, he said. The Web retailer can then use this information to suggest purchases while the customer is on the retailer’s Web site, as well as send targeted e-mail promotions to the customer.

“Canadian consumers will find agreeable prices on U.S. retailers’ Web sites,” said Grau. “A number of them use Border Canada’s services to overcome the hurdles that discourage Canadians from shopping on U.S. Web sites.”

Also, to remain competitive, many Canadian online retailers are lowering prices to match U.S. Web retailers. “This is especially important during the upcoming holiday shopping season,” he said. The strong Canadian dollar also makes travel to the U.S. more affordable, he added.

The challenge for Canadian tourist agencies is enticing foreigners to vacation in Canada, despite the soaring loonie – or encourage Canadians to consider a vacation here rather than the U.S.

For the Canadian Tourism Commission, Web marketing is an important part of its strategy to reach these customers.

“We can’t increase our budget ad infinitum, so we have to start marketing smarter and more efficiently and certainly the Web has allowed us to do that,” said Will Harding, a spokesperson for the CTC. “We’ve doubled the size of our e-marketing division.”

The CTC has also wrapped all of its Web sites and campaigns under a single banner called, which is a top-level domain that guarantees a strong search engine placement. “Canada is the first country in the world to adopt that top-level domain,” he said.

The CTC’s goal is to market Canada as a tourist destination, to reach out and engage people, said Jenf Thraenhart, executive director of marketing strategy and customer relationship management with the CTC.

Its Web platform has three goals: to increase brand awareness, capture data to build relationships and drive relevant traffic to partners (such as hotels or tour operators) – which will ultimately result in an engagement platform.

“When you look at our brand, it’s all built around content, so content is very important,” he said. The CTC is not only looking at the content on its own Web site, but how to syndicate content out to other Web sites, aggregate existing content from different sites, and take advantage of emerging media and technologies.

“You start with a Web infrastructure, then you look at technologies like content management,” said Thraenhart. The CTC is looking to decentralize its content management system, so it can give its markets – say, the U.S. or Germany or France – control of managing their own content.

In terms of infrastructure, it tags all content, which makes it easier to run campaigns. “If someone needs an image or audio file or content piece, all that is tagged and can be attached to different initiatives,” he said. “So you need to build that infrastructure.”

What happens with most companies is they create content in a vacuum but never use it. They might decide to do a blog, for example, but in the end don’t understand why they’re doing it and how consumers actually use that information.

“It’s not about technology and the Internet – it’s really being able to leverage technology to connect with customers,” said Thraenhart. “A lot of [tourist sites] have actually lost their relevancy. You can go to Lonely Planet or other travel sites and they give you better information than the tourism site.”

The challenge for those sites, in any country, is to leverage their credibility and build a better engagement platform.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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