Brand New Day for Canadian Tourism
In lean times, Canadian cities enter the creative age.
It’s gut-check time for the tourism bureaus of Canada’s biggest cities. Confidence in the economy has everyone second-guessing travel decisions. The once bread and butter American tourists have proven daunted by border regulations, their own worsening economy and an unpredictable exchange rate. As luxury, theatre, good food and exceptional hotels become the mainstream, the unique territory a city can occupy to attract the global tourist is constantly shrinking. Canada’s tourism industry employed over 650,000 people and enticed $70.8 billion in spending in 2007, so there’s no arguing the societal importance. In these challenging times, the pressure is on Canadian cities to create alluring reputations that drive tourism business in a way that benefits all.
What’s more is these cities are also growing rapidly and relying more heavily on the resources of tourism associations. In Toronto, the TCVA is responsible for one of the largest geographic regions – from Scarborough to Oakville – of any tourism bureau in North America. The challenge in Montreal is to consistently uphold its longstanding international reputation as Canada’s arts capital – and as a multicultural crossroads where English Canada meets French. Vancouver is calmly and gracefully fielding all the pressures and problems of hosting an Olympic games, and is consistently ranked among the top places in the world to live. They are all well organized systems of community and business support that together communicate a common vision. But what is this vision? Don’t just market the city – build a great brand.
In growing cosmopolitan centers, transitioning from city marketing to city brand – if understood well and applied properly – is a powerful tool. For the second consecutive year, Sydney has been awarded the best “city brand” in the world in the 2007 Anholt City Brands Index. The index is said to demonstrate how people respond to city brands, in the same way they might shopping for cars or clothing. It ranked 60 world cities for their familiarity to consumers, how much of a contribution they believe each city has made to the world in the last 30 years, the attractiveness of geography and climate, the friendliness and safety of each city as well as available entertainment options and economic opportunities. It’s the first ever ranking and analysis of cities’ brand values. London was second on the list while Paris, New York and Rome rounded out the top five.
More interesting was how Canadian cities fared in the ranking. Vancouver, which can look forward to a lot more publicity as it gears up to host (along with Whistler) the 2010 Winter Olympics, was ranked eighth. Canada’s festival city, Montreal, was 10th, and the ephemeral Toronto, where the creative class makes up 36 per cent of the city’s workforce, ranked 11th among the most recognized tourism brands in the world.
Increasingly the brand – or reputation – of a city is having a dramatic impact on how successful that city is in attracting tourists, students, business and investment. These city “brands” are not to be confused with city marketing programs or promotions: good city brands give customers a warm gut feeling about a visit, the experience or the memory (ie: Paris feels romantic). A city’s reputation, like a company’s brand, lies outside of the control of those who market it. The best tourism bureaus can do is influence it, and Canada’s most influential cities have done so by creating a common vision lockstep with the world’s best: creative places make everybody feel good (and want to visit).
To support these creative cities, Canadian planners, developers and cultural leaders are realizing that a healthy cultural community is not one that just invests in galleries and museums. City builders and marketing organizations are developing projects that have a direct positive affect on the experience, such as cultural events, green spaces and beautification initiatives.
In Canada, the arts have long been a tool for revitalizing neighborhoods, sparking economic growth and creating a strong cultural presence. Canadian cities have for years unabashedly looked to their artistic and cultural assets to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods – to develop talent and to provide new directions for growth. It’s a perspective shared by major European capitals such as Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin, all of which enjoy a creative reputation and broad-reaching appeal. Centuries-old architecture and folklore doesn’t exist to the same extent in Canada, so the focus has become how these creative cities makes you feel. It’s an attractive sentiment that appeals to the hopeful side in everyone.
By branding Canadian cities as creative places, the marketing of tourism has turned its focus towards incubating the unique cultures within. But cities must consider that in searching for a cultural identity, one festival or one opening does not a creative revival spark. A truly creative city has an intentional strategy to support the cultural fabric and people working in these industries. Canada enjoys a reputation for young, dynamic and innovative cities – where cultures from around the globe meet to push the boundaries of our creativity. In our future economy, that’s good for tourism business.