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Tourism Whistler preps reimagined marketing campaign for COVID times

Province props up destination marketers with $10M grant
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Tourism in Whistler is prepping a new marketing campaign that will encourage visitors to "Adventure Differently" this summer. Photo by Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler

destination marketing organizations across B.C.—Tourism Whistler (TW) included—are getting COVID-19 relief in the form of a $10-million grant from the province.

In Whistler, the grant amounts to $1.4 million to help cover operational and staffing costs through October, said TW president and CEO Barrett Fisher.

"It was extremely welcome news, during this unprecedented financial crisis," Fisher said, adding that she wanted to acknowledge the province for the "extremely generous" support.

"Without a doubt, this is helping us rebuild Whistler's tourism economy for the benefit of our members and for the local community," she said.

While the provincial grant is meant to help tourism communities cope with the loss of municipal and regional district tax funds, Fisher said projected losses are still only forecasts at this time.

"I'm not in a position to confirm those numbers. What we do know is that we are anticipating losses in the millions of dollars," she said.

The grant will allow TW to start bringing back team members (60-per-cent of whom were laid off in March) who can "impact our immediate programs and our immediate markets, and help us to roll out some very thoughtful and measured recovery programs as we look to restart Whistler's tourism economy," she added.

To that end, TW has been hard at work imagining what Summer 2020 looks like in Whistler, surveying residents, guests and businesses to help inform a new COVID-era marketing campaign.

"The theme will be 'Adventure Differently,'" Fisher said.

Under that theme are a handful of interchangeable words that will describe exactly what "differently" means in this sense: openly, responsibly, patiently, mindfully, sensibly, simply and confidently.

The words were chosen to support important messaging related to COVID-19, Fisher explained.

"For example, when visitors come up to Whistler, it will be important that they explore responsibly. When they celebrate, it's important that they celebrate sensibly," she said.

"When they are walking in the village, there will be new protocols set up around social distancing, and it will be important that people participate mindfully."

The goal of the campaign is to give comfort and confidence to both locals and visitors as Whistler reopens—one of the key takeaways gleaned from TW's recent surveys.

"The general feedback from residents [was that] they understand that tourism is our bread and butter and that they want to welcome guests back, but they want to do so in a very measured and thoughtful way," Fisher said.

"Similarly, our guests are saying that they want to come to Whistler, but they also want to feel that they will be welcomed by the community, No. 1, and that the business community will provide appropriate protocols to protect their safety and health."

As far as what businesses are saying, they're "hungry to welcome visitation back," but want to do so responsibly, managing capacity appropriately and keeping their employees safe, she added.

To help guide visitors as they return, TW is also working on a "Doors Open Directory," which will include sector-by-sector, business-by-business info about reopening dates and safety protocols.

With the U.S. border closed to all but essential travel until June 21 (and likely beyond), B.C. staycations are expected to soar this summer—but the timeline for when provincial officials will allow people to travel outside their home regions is anybody's guess.

Destination British Columbia CEO Marsha Walden said she is not sure whether the government directive will go from the current order encouraging "hyper-local" directly to province-wide travel or whether Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will suggest an interim phase where people are asked to limit travel to within a specified radius from their homes.

"There might be an interim phase," Walden said. "We're planning for both scenarios."

Destination British Columbia typically partners with tourism-sector businesses, but Walden said partnerships are in the works with non-tourism-related organizations such as the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA), the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and TransLink.

The partnerships could result in advertising promoting travel to B.C. tourist destinations in liquor stores and buses and perks for BCAA members when they get to the destinations.

Walden said the provincial tourism marketer is also likely to pump marketing dollars into a mix of digital and traditional media.

"We all have an interest in restarting the tourism economy, so [the campaign is about] how can we work together to really amplify and encourage British Columbians to explore their own province this summer," she said.

-with files from Glen Korstrom/Business in Vancouver




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