Olympians go to bat for tourism 

McIvor, Ricker part of Locals Know campaign

One of the promises of hosting the 2010 Olympic Games was a wider awareness of tourism in Canada and B.C., using the unprecedented global exposure to revive an industry that has been on the decline in recent years. One report from the Conference Board of Canada found that U.S. visitation to Canada had declined 52 per cent since 2001.

The drop in visitation to B.C. is not as severe, but between 2001 and 2008 the number of overnight U.S. visitors dropped by roughly 18 per cent. Overall, including Asia and Europe, visitation dropped 11.2 per cent during the same period.

While it's too early to determine what impact the Games may have when it comes to reversing that trend, the Canadian Tourism Commission is lauding a poll by Lonely Planet where 73 per cent of respondents said that Canada "has it all," including wilderness escapes, cosmopolitan cities, hospitality and friendliness.

To help keep the Olympic moment going the CTC and partners at Westjet have recruited 30 Olympians and celebrities to share their favourite Canadian vacation spots at www.localsknow.ca/gold-medal-getaways. The showcase of destinations includes a Gold Medal Getaway Contest that runs through June 20, where the winner can earn 16 one-way flights between Westjet destinations in Canada - a value of approximately $12,800.

The list of athletes appearing in the ads includes snowboardcross gold medallist Maëlle Ricker, ski cross gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor, mogul skiing gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau, skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery, hockey gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser, speed skater Clara Hughes and figure skater Joannie Rochette.

Ricker picked Pacific Rim National Park as her favourite getaway, while McIvor went for nearby Tofino for the surfing opportunities.

Of course the contest is only the tip of the iceberg. Both Tourism Whistler and Tourism B.C. - now a branch of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts - have announced campaigns to capitalize on the global awareness of the Games. In addition to the Gold Medal Getaways promotion, the CTC also committed to a $26 million campaign surrounding the 2010 Games that is currently underway.

McIvor also appeared in San Francisco last month at the Ministry of Tourism's B.C. Experience showcase. Whistler's Ziptrek Ecotours was operating at 600-foot zipline in Embarcadero Square from April 8 to 18 as part of the tourism promotion.

While the Locals Know campaign is global in reach it is targeting Canadians specifically.

"The campaign focuses on the unexpected - encouraging Canadians to seek out new and exotic experiences they didn't know existed," said CTC president and CEO Michele McKenzie. "Canada's Games have offered us the opportunity to identify with our country in a deeper and more meaningful way. Who better to inspire Canadians to get out there and explore than our iconic 2010 Olympic heroes?"

The timing of the message is also important as the Canadian dollar hovers around parity with the U.S. dollar, which may encourage more Canadians to vacation in the U.S.

The Gold Medal Getaways promotion is just one way that the CTC is looking to leverage the Games.

For example, the CTC is working with others in the tourism industry, travel trade and travel suppliers to encourage more bookings to Canada in 12 key markets. The emphasis on travel experience packages, price points and "tactical offers."

"For us it's about converting 'someday' travellers to book now," said CTC spokesperson Kelly Laver.

"We've developed strategically tailored marketing campaigns in our key markets and are working to leverage the excitement and the afterglow of the Olympic Games and turn travellers wanting to visit Canada "some day" to visit Canada soon.

"For example, Canada saw strong culinary coverage during the Games. As 'local flavours' is a strong motivating factor for South Koreans to travel long-haul, the CTC is partnering with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for a Canadian culinary pilot project to increase awareness of Canada as a premier travel destination offering award-winning local cuisine."

Laver says the CTC has several similar strategies and campaigns for each market.



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