Long-term Efforts Coming to Fruition in U.S. Market
A long and intense courtship of American travellers is paying off as more leisure tourists from the United States visit Alberta.
A perfect storm of economic factors — a favourable exchange rate, increases in U.S. employment and consumer confidence — has helped fuel the trend.
But more than that, the Alberta visitor economy is seeing the results of years of strategic marketing, brand awareness building and relationship development in all channels by Travel Alberta’s team of U.S. specialists.
“Travel Alberta has been investing in and building this relationship for many years,” says Karen Ward, Director of Consumer Marketing, North America. “There is no short cut. In this market, you need to play the long game.”
Getting to Know Us
The United States continues to be Alberta’s largest international market, with almost 800,000 U.S. visitors a year spending more than $730 million, according to Statistics Canada.
But although Canadians know a lot about the United States, Americans tend to know very little about Canada and what it offers to travellers.
That’s a challenge that necessitates years of relationship building, consistent and evocative messaging, and an “always-on” media strategy.
“There’s a lot more involved than just saying, ‘we’ve got great experiences’, because they know very little about Alberta,” says Ward. “It’s not like The Bachelorette — you need much more courting time to win people over.”
Travel Alberta has dedicated teams of specialists in both Canada and the United States connecting with American tour operators and travel agents, as well as the meetings and conventions sector.
Working with a leading U.S. public relations firm, Travel Alberta’s media team ensures key messages are shared with journalists across the country and great stories about Alberta are placed in top publications like the Wall Street Journal.
All marketing channels, including a robust social media presence on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, are leveraged to drive awareness of Alberta experiences and create a sense of urgency to visit today.
ATIS a Key Tool for Operators
The most effective way for Alberta tourism operators to reap the benefits of Travel Alberta’s efforts and get their products in front of U.S. consumers is to join the Alberta Tourism Information Service (ATIS), says Ward.
This free, easy-to-use digital marketing service ensures Alberta products and services are promoted to millions of potential travellers.
“ATIS is our best tool to allow people in the U.S. to get to know you,” says Ward. “This is what feeds our website content and how we showcase Alberta products.”
Building on Alberta’s Beauty
American travellers are attracted by the beauty and diversity of Alberta’s landscapes, but they also love that our cities are close to the wilderness, says Ward. “They like the wide open spaces, but they want cosmopolitan amenities, too.”
Like most international travellers today, they are also increasingly attracted by experiences, not just sight-seeing, says Bart Donnelly, Business Development Director, Canada, USA and Europe.
The appeal of adventure, culture and history, as well as culinary tourism, is growing. “They want to get to know the people in the places they visit and how they live,” he says.
Travel Alberta’s Business Development team in the U.S. attends scores of trade shows and marketplaces, and meets with tour operators, travel agents and meeting planners on a regular basis. “One of our objectives is to help those operators understand our products and experiences well enough to sell them effectively,” says Donnelly.
While the Canadian Rockies is often the initial draw – “our foot in the door,” according to Ward – it’s all the other experiences across the province that contribute to travel decision-making.
Fresh and relevant experiences are critical to compete for the attention of potential travellers. “With a greater variety of experiences in more places we can entice travellers to explore more of the province,” says Donnelly.
Leveraging Our Winter Assets
Another strategy in the U.S. market is to raise awareness of Alberta as a winter destination.
“It’s about getting people to realize that Alberta offers world-class skiing and much more,” Donnelly says. “We also have snowshoeing, skating, dog-sledding, ice festivals — we are presenting Alberta as a true winter wonderland.”
The Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events (MICE) team is also promoting winter business in urban and resort centres as it prospects for new opportunities that align with Alberta industries.
With in-market representatives based in Chicago and Washington, D.C., they focus their activities on tradeshows, marketing and promotion, as well as engagement with a host of industry associations.
The thing to remember about the U.S. market, concludes Ward, is that it is a different audience than Alberta or Canada. “Even though we’re neighbours, they don’t see things the same way as Canadians.”
As a result, meaningful connections don’t happen overnight, or even within one season, especially across such a large diverse market that’s being targeted by other destinations around the world.
“But we continue to lay the groundwork; we’ve invested in giving U.S. visitors a better understanding of our location and product offerings,” says Ward. “By working together with our partners, we are seeing results. When we all travel on the same journey, we get there sooner.”