The long-anemic Canadian dollar is today
wielding greater buying power south of the border than it has in
half a century, prompting U.S. destinations to accelerate efforts
to lure Canadians and their increasingly valuable currency.
Because Canada is
the largest single international source market for many U.S
destinations, these efforts to capitalize on the strength of the
"loonie," as Canada's dollar is popularly known, could portend
sizable payoffs. More than just seeking to capitalize on the
exchange rate to attract more Canadians, U.S. destinations also are
looking to convert greater Canadian buying power into longer stays
and increased spending, such as trading up to more expensive
lodging and dining.
"We're going to
fish when the fish are biting," declared Liz Bittner, executive
director of TravelSouthUSA, which promotes travel and tourism for
12 Southern states. Bittner made that remark from Canada, where
TravelSouthUSA earlier this month was a sponsor at the Toronto
Gourmet and Wine Expo, which attracts 35,000 visitors annually. The
marketing organization, which sent 25 participants to the expo,
hosted an exhibit featuring celebrity Southern chefs who served up
regional dishes such as bourbon-splashed sea scallops, hush puppies
and cheese grits.
"It's the first
time we've attended the show, and we're doing it in a big way,"
said Bittner, who noted that "almost 5 million Canadians come to
the Southern states every year. We anticipate more will be coming
and staying longer [because of the exchange rate]."
research has revealed a particular interest in Southern cuisine
among Canadians, leading to the development of the group's new
Canadian-accented campaign, "Discover the Flavours of the South."
The campaign is supported by a new Web site specifically targeted
at Canadians, TravelSouthFlavours.com.
The combination of
a strong loonie and the size of the Canadian market is prompting
some destination marketing organizations to shift portions of their
marketing budgets away from domestic and other international
targets to bulk up their Canada campaigns.
"I will be looking
at realigning some of our efforts, shifting some of our domestic
dollars to Canada," said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of
marketing and tourism at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors
Aedo said he
already had put in place a 10% increase in marketing expenditures
for Canada this fiscal year, and he said he expected the increase
to grow further via additional shifts in marketing dollars. Aedo
sees those shifts as offering the prospect of an especially strong
return on investment, given the size of the Canadian market.
TravelSouthUSA's Bittner, Aedo visited Canada earlier this month,
in his case to lead an outreach mission to the media, supported by
an increased budget and "dramatically greater participation" by
Miami-area representatives than in the past. Aedo said he believed
the loonie's strength should help prompt Canadian visitors to
increase their spending once they arrive.
spending patterns do indicate an opportunity for some U.S.
destinations to capture more dollars per Canadian visitor. Aedo
noted that even though Canada is No. 1 in the Miami area in terms
of international visitor numbers, it is eclipsed by Brazil when it
comes to total visitor spending. He sees the exchange rate, as well
as economic and accessibility factors, as contributing to the
potential for Canada to "pull ahead of Brazil in total
To that end, part
of Miami's message is to encourage Canadians to "more fully
experience Miami and its environs," which could mean longer stays,
more upscale accommodations and dining or taking greater advantage
of additional shopping and cultural attractions.
Indeed, through the
magic of the exchange rate, Canadians can keep their budgets
constant in loonies yet spend significantly more U.S. dollars. An
illustration of just how dramatically favorable the current
exchange rate is to Canadians can be seen by analyzing comparable
packages today vs. four or five years ago.
director of marketing and sales at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Canada, said a Disney package today compared with a similar one in
2002 represents a savings of 40% for Canadian visitors.
Disney has seen
strong growth from Canada, which for the last two years has been
the No. 1 international market for Disneyland and the No. 2
international market for Disney World, behind the U.K. She expects
"exceptional" growth from Canada in the coming year, noting that
Disney already is seeing strong advance bookings.
Disney has put
several new initiatives in place to sharpen its focus on the
Canadian market, including an increased marketing budget, a new
microsite and newspaper ads that ran in major markets in September,
the day after the loonie reached parity with the U.S.
The loonie's ascent
has continued since September, trading as high as $1.07 to the U.S.
dollar earlier this month.
Disney cited an
Angus Reid survey of more than 1,000 Canadians, conducted the same
day that the loonie reached parity, which revealed that 49% of
respondents were "more likely to now travel to the U.S." given the
arrival of parity.
A courting we will go
Efforts on the part
of U.S. destinations to tap a richer Canadian vein are wide-ranging
and in some cases involve opening new tourism offices in Canada.
NYC & Company, New York's marketing and tourism organization,
last week announced the opening of a tourism office in Toronto
represented by Vision Co.
Vegas is gearing up to attract international visitors broadly,
though Canada would appear to be garnering a greater share of the
city's efforts. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
next month will open two Canada offices, in Toronto and Montreal,
with Vox International as its representative. A third office, in
British Columbia, is on tap for early next year.
director of international sales at the LVCVA, said that the city
was benefitting from expanded airlift from Canada, in particular
from Air Canada and WestJet. Las Vegas wanted "to fill those seats,
so we decided to make a major move in Canada," said
Air service also is
key to plans for increasing Canadian visitors to other
destinations, though perhaps nowhere is the issue more critical
than in Hawaii. Nonstop air service between Canada and Hawaii has
dropped off significantly recently, attributed in large part to the
demise of Harmony Airways earlier this year.
appears to be there [to attract more Canadian visitors]," said Jay
Talwar, senior vice president of marketing at the Hawaii Visitors
and Convention Bureau.
Talwar noted that
outreach programs to wholesale partners and travel agents appeared
to be stimulating demand, but he also cautioned that "lift is still
something that needs to be there at a sufficient level to take
advantage of it."
Destinations in the
continental U.S., which typically rely on a mix of air and auto
access, appear positioned to reap a Canadian bonanza in the months
ahead, and spending on marketing is gearing up accordingly. Even
smaller destinations, such as Myrtle Beach, S.C., are thinking big.
Next month, the Greater Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce will
launch an eight-week TV ad campaign in Canada. Ads will run daily
on a variety of programs in Ontario and Quebec, said Brad Dean,
president of the organization.
"This is the first
time the chamber has ever aired TV advertising specifically
targeting Canadians, other than national programs like the Travel
Channel," Dean said. "We will also distribute nearly $3 million in
insertions from January through February in 35 key Canadian
That effort will be
supplemented by outdoor, radio and online advertising. The goal is
to roughly double Canada's visitor share, from 3% of Myrtle Beach's
total in recent years to between 5% and 6%.
contact reporter Lester Craft, send e-mail to [email protected].