Communication
September 16, 2014

Leveraging the Olympics: How a tourism brand was built

For the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), bidding for the 2010 Winter Games was not really about hosting, but more about securing the opportunity to be on the world stage. In a success story with significant lessons learned, their strategy ultimately turned a $26 million federal government investment into $853 million for Canada’s tourism sector. It also left the legacies of a world class tourism brand and improved models for industry collaboration.

Global tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world today. National, regional and local governments use major international events as platforms to showcase their advantages to prospective travellers.

Recognizing that 2010 presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity, the CTC created a bold tourism brand to stand out in the crowded marketplace. By leveraging the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games it reached 3.8 billion people with the message that visiting Canada promised a wealth of travel adventure opportunities.

Defining the job
Transforming the world’s impression about Canada’s traditional icons and natural features into an awareness among consumers about actual vacation experiences was a major challenge. It took considerable investment, time and effort to shift global perceptions.

Tourism leaders understood their task was to augment tourism growth by extending impacts beyond the host city and planning for legacy benefits following 2010. Finally, the CTC was determined that the strategy was going to be clearly laid out and that objective measures would be established to quantify the strategy’s impact.

Strategy design
There were four elements to ‘get right’ in building the 2010 Tourism Marketing Strategy.

The first priority was to direct efforts toward national markets and consumer segments with the greatest opportunity for return. There were nine key markets, including the United States and China. Explorer Quotient, the CTC’s proprietary consumer market research, had identified three traveller types as having the best strategic fit as potential travellers to Canada: Authentic Experiencers, Cultural Explorers and Free Spirits.

Second, the CTC selected images and stories that engendered a curiosity that would lead to travel book-ings from the target audiences. These Signature Travel Experiences underpinned the re-positioned 2010 tourism brand, Canada: Keep Exploring.

Third, there were partnerships with provincial and territorial tourism bodies and governments to assemble the collection of images and stories that constituted the brand. The CTC partnered with the Games organizing committee, VANOC, to use Games marks and events such as the Torch Relays to increase the visibility of leveraging initiatives. The crucial partnership was with international journalists and broadcasters who conveyed messages to the 99 percent of Olympic and Paralympic spectators who had not travelled to Canada. The goal was for media coverage to present a compelling vision of every Canadian region as a must-visit destination filled with rich travel experiences.

Finally, there was timing as the strategy unfolded in a step-by-step manner:
• Phase One – Brand Building: in the run-up to the Games, the tourism personality was created and partner relationships strengthened.
• Phase Two – Media Exposure: during the Games, the ‘refreshed’ brand was showcased.
• Phase Three – Closing the Sale: after the Games, interest among potential visitors to Canada was converted into concrete travel plans.

Implementing the strategy
Phase One – Getting ready: The CTC established a coordination mechanism to facilitate partner collaboration. The National Tourism Marketing Working Group involved all the provinces and territories in the national effort. Together they gathered 3,200 captivating still images, more than 900 b-roll clips and 600 stories. These were the ‘best of the best’ travel images and stories.

The point was to go beyond famous landmarks. After capturing the majestic beauty of Gros Morne National Park, film crews recorded local residents in a popular neighbourhood watering-hole. The scene intimately portrayed listeners enjoying a band featuring an ugly stick (a traditional Newfoundland musical instrument fashioned from household and tool shed items).

Phase Two – Capitalizing upon the sweet spot: The apex of global attention surrounding the Games was prime time to strengthen and exploit media relationships. Story ideas were shared with journalists and broadcasters in many ways:

• introducing visiting media to travel experiences in regions across the country,
• responding to media enquiries, including requests for live interviews,
• supplying journalists with access to images and stories,
• monitoring the pulse of daily media coverage to leverage and shape emerging story lines.

Ying Yang, the ‘Queen of Short Track’, was China’s first ever Olympic Winter Gold Medallist. As one of 15 celebrity international Torch Bearers, she enjoyed Celtic fiddling and dancing lessons in Nova Scotia, shopping in Montreal and oyster shucking in Prince Edward Island. Chinese media used high definition b-roll to report on her adventures to news hungry audiences back home.

The CTC was behind the decision by NBC to air a story on polar bear conservation from Churchill, Manitoba. The show was broadcast in primetime to an estimated 20 million U.S. viewers. After opening the segment with, “Churchill may not be on your list of vacation spots, but perhaps it should be” the phone never stopped ringing at the tour operator featured in the story.

One of the hottest tickets in February 2010 was for the Rocky Mountaineer. Travel Alberta scored the exclusive rights to charter the Sea-to-Sky train. Selected journalists received complimentary passes to travel aboard the six coaches branded as rolling showcases for the province ‘next door’ to the Olympic region. The amount of positive coverage worldwide exceeded the expectations of organizers.

Phase Three – Harvesting the afterglow: Following the Games, the partners launched efforts to take advantage of newly created positive awareness and connections. Travel industry members were encouraged to adopt tactical selling and ‘close the sale’ by offering highlighted travel experiences at attractive price points.

The CTC was quick to capitalize upon the enhanced brands of Vancouver and Whistler. It helped con-vince organizers of the renowned TED Talks to choose the 2010 hosts when they contemplated moving from their long-time California home.

Knowing how you did
The CTC put performance measures in place to provide accurate data on the direct impact of the strategy. It developed a logic model and scorecard to track and report on objectives such as enhancing brand impact, refreshing tourism brand positioning, leveraging partner funding, maximizing media return on investment, and enhancing corporate reputation.

The CTC engaged the world’s leading expert in brand valuation and management to value Canada’s tour-ism brand before and after the Games. The value increased from $123 billion in 2007 to $132 billion by 2010.

Country brand strength is a nation’s ultimate intangible asset. It influences its ability to stand out. Canada moved from 12th place in 2006 to number one in FutureBrand’s 2010 Country Brand Index.

Key lessons learned
1. Catalytic effect fuels leveraging: a marketing strategy anchored by heightened interest and extensive media coverage is more effective than stand-alone campaigns.

2. Brand consistency works: precise and repeated messaging aligned with the brand’s central core is paramount to achieve marketing effectiveness.

3. Strategy binds partners: a clear strategy with a common goal creates the incentive to put group priori-ties first and secures the ongoing, willing participation of disparate stakeholders.

4. Close the sale: marketing and tactical sales efforts in the ‘afterglow’ post-event period capitalize upon enhanced consumer awareness and intentions.

5. Attribution accuracy: performance measures have to be linked directly to the impacts of the Games and related leveraging activities. Unrelated variables, e.g., foreign currency fluctuations that influence travel patterns should be excluded from results analysis.

The CTC quickly found that there was no instruction manual, “How to Leverage the Games for Tourism Marketing” they could consult. Moving forward, in accomplishing their mission they kept three principles in mind: leveraging, partnerships and strategic thinking. These principles, and the innovations launched by the CTC and its partners, will benefit Canada’s tourism economy for years to come.

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