Great Canadian makeover

On the slopes, water or mountain bike trails, the Canadian Tourism Commission is now projecting a...

On the slopes, water or mountain bike trails, the Canadian Tourism Commission is now projecting a more active, youthful image. (Courtesy of the CTC)

VIVIAN SONG - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

Canada has undergone a makeover.

If we were a TV reality show, it would be more What Not to Wear and less Extreme Makeover.

Brand strategists have poopooed our frumpy, outdated look of "moose, mountains and Mounties" that's been used for 60 years, draping us instead in adjectives that hope to depict Canada as "youthful," "warm" and "witty."

There were no scalpels used in the transformation. Instead, stylists opted for subtle messages using models to mirror the prospective traveller and warm up images of pristine but lonely landscapes. Our tag line is simple: "Keep Exploring." As we enter the height of tourist season, many eyes will be watching to see if the new message has begun to resonate around the world.

DEFINING CANADA

Strategists at the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) define Canada and sell our country to the world.

Perhaps more than policymakers and homegrown celebrities, it's the CTC which perpetuates the global perception we now own.

According to Simon Anholt, a policy adviser for 15 governments, the UN and head of the industry-respected Anholt Nation Brand Index, Canada enjoys a likable position in the world. This year, we came in third after the U.K. and Germany on the list of the world's favourite countries.

But before we sit back smugly and pat ourselves on the back -- or in Canadian tradition smile humbly and say "Aw shucks" -- Anholt gives a decidedly different take on the outcome. A niceguys- finish-last kind of verdict.

"Canada doesn't have personality," Anholt said by phone from the U.K.

But after two years of consulting with industry partners, the CTC has come up with a set of definitions which is being exported to the world. We are "confident, youthful, informal, warm, witty, intriguing, open and authentic." The campaign launched mid- January in 10 core markets, including Australia, China, France, and the U.S.

Though the bulk of our international visitors is from the U. S., Greg Klasen of the CTC said their focus is on mid-to-long haul markets which generate more revenue than daytrippers.

"Our single biggest challenge is there's such heightened competition from around the world," said the vice-president of marketing. "There are so many new, authentic destinations whose governments realize there's a lot of foreign currency they can get by selling their country as a foreign destination."

Travellers have developed an appetite for the daring and exotic, he said, and planes are flying into countries that were previously inaccessible.

NEW DESTINATIONS

Countries like Laos and Vietnam are the new Thailand, which 15 years ago was seen as off the beaten track, but now has become mainstream.

But Canada is simply not "top of mind" for tourists, according to the CTC's 2006 annual report, and has "fallen off the radar."

Some of the core priorities set out in the CTC's branding strategy for 2007-2011 are to compel the world to visit Canada and increase export revenues from $17.5 billion in 2005 to $19.8 billion by 2011.

The CTC instructs industry partners overseas to use an "informal, personal and concise" tone of voice in their ads -- like a traveller telling a good friend about their experience to Canada. The tone is to be conversational, heartfelt and evoke the senses, hooking the reader in through experience rather than the hard sell. Our new visual identity being broadcast worldwide promises as reward, "Proof of life less ordinary."

"One of the most amazing assets of Canada is the landscape and the outdoors. People around the world feel it's stunning and beautiful but rather daunting and isolating," Klassen said. "We're trying to reposition the outdoors and recontextualize the outdoor experience."

The "before" pictures are of vast, open landscapes. The "after" pictures try to capture Kodak moments: shots of a couple enjoying an intimate dinner, smiling "candidly"; an attractive Asian woman enjoying a Zen-like moment, sitting beside a kayak, hugging her knees and soaking in the dusk.

Though Canada is cited as one of the top three "dream destinations" for France, Germany and the U.K., there's no sense of compulsion to translate the desire into a plane ticket, Klassen said.

Last year, the number of overnight trips from the U.K. to Canada fell 5.2% over the previous year. Half of the top 12 overseas markets recorded declines in the number of trips to Canada, Japan recording the largest drop at 8.7%. U.S. spending also fell 2.6% while international tourism revenue fell 2.3% last year from 2005.

The government needs to step up to the plate, said Randy Williams, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

TOURISM BUDGET

While the rest of the world is increasing their tourism budgets by an average of 11%, the Canadian government has cut the CTC's budget by 12% over the last three years, he pointed out. For example, recently Australia announced a $555-million investment over three years to bolster its tourism industry. By contrast, Canada allots $75 million a year.

In a move that caused an uproar, the government also scrapped the Visitor Rebate Program in April under which international visitors were reimbursed for the GST. The government conceded after industry-wide protests and reinstated the rebate for convention attendees and tour packages, but individual tourists remain shut out. The move gained attention across the border in papers like the Detroit Free Press and the Seattle Times.

According to the World Tourism Organization, Canada also dropped from seventh place in 2002 to 11th in 2004 as a top destination as measured by arrivals and receipts.

"We're headed in the wrong direction," Williams said.

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THE CANADIAN TOURISM COMMISSION'S 10 GLOBAL MARKETS

- Australia

- China

- France

- Germany

- Japan

- Mexico

- South Korea

- U.K.

- U.S. leisure and travle

- U.S. meetings, conventions and incentive travel

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THE CANADIAN TOURISM COMMISSIONS'S BRANDING STRATEGY

- Brand promise: Come to Canada and create extraordinary stories all your own

- Brand Statement: Canada is a catalyst for self-expression

- Brand pillars: Cultur, geography, people

- Brand personality: confident, youthful, informal, warm, witty, intriguing, open and authentic

-Reward: Proof of life less ordinary

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OVERALL RANKINGS OF COUNTRIES IN THE ANHOLT NATION BRAND INDEX, 2007

1. United Kingdom

2. Germany

3. Canada

4. France

5. Switzerland

6. Australia

7. Italy

8. Sweden

9. Japan

10. Netherlands

11. United States


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