Metro Vancouver and Whistler tourism officials cherished their region’s 17-day starring role last month in the global Olympic extravaganza.
Stunning visuals viewed by a worldwide television audience of more than three billion people had to entice more than a few international travellers to consider visiting B.C. in the future.
But the Olympics are over, the Paralympics end this weekend and Canadian tourism marketers are scrambling now to harvest the Olympic “afterglow” before it disappears.
They know that warm fuzzy global feeling for Canada generated by the Olympics won’t last long unless they work hard to make it last.
“I would wager that right now, Canada is the coolest national brand in the world and Vancouver is its signature,” said Tourism Vancouver president Rick Antonson. “But if we don’t follow up [with more global marketing], that feeling could be gone in six months.”
Tourism Vancouver will pluck hundreds of thousands of dollars from its reserves to pay for post-Games multimedia marketing campaigns in key North American markets over the next few months.
It’s a tactic being adopted by many Canadian tourism marketing organizations anxious to capitalize on the Games exposure.
Tourism Whistler will spend a similar amount to boost its 2010 summer and winter marketing campaigns, with a particular focus on attracting new business from the United States, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.
“We see those as opportunity markets to really leverage the Games,” said Tourism Whistler president Barrett Fisher.
The Canadian Tourism Commission, which received an extra $26 million in federal funding in 2007 for Olympicrelated marketing, still has about half that money left and will spend it over the next two years.
“We’re going to expand tactically driven sales and marketing campaigns to keep Canada front and centre in our core markets,” said commission vice-president Susan Iris.
She noted the commission’s consumer websites had a 120-per-cent increase in traffic during the Olympics and overseas tour operators reported a doubling and tripling in the number of inquiries about trips to Canada last month.
Iris feels strategic post-Games tourism marketing could increase the number of visits to Canada this year but expects the real boost will come over a longer time frame.
“It was never an immediate impact strategy,” she said. “It was always long term to ensure Canada is in the public eye for years to come.”
Tourism Vancouver expects the total number of overnight visits to the region will increase by four to six per cent this year — driven largely by the massive Olympic increase last month. Antonson feels the prospects for stronger tourism traffic are “decent to good” for the rest of 2010 but agrees it will take longer to see the real impact of the Games on B.C. tourism.
A weak global economy reduced the total number of international travellers to B.C. by more than seven per cent last year and there’s no quick turnaround in sight for that slowing trend.
“Any destination would have loved to have the Olympics this year to help pull them out of this downturn,” Antonson said. “So in a family of sick people, we are the least ill and we will absolutely have a better 2010 than we would have without the Olympics.”
He said many Canadians have rediscovered the joy of travelling within Canada and he believes Olympics-generated exposure should ensure B.C. remains a top draw with them.
Antonson said he was particularly impressed with the provincial “You Gotta Be Here” campaign that used celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Ryan Reynolds and Steve Nash to promote B.C. to a broad North American audience.
“We have never before seen that extensive of an invitation for North Americans to visit here but it will take time to see just how effective it will be,” he said.
Antonson said international meeting planners who visited Vancouver this week were impressed by the way the city handled Olympic-sized crowds and thinks they will be major advocates in directing future convention business here.
The Vancouver Convention Centre expects conventions booked for 2011 will have an economic impact of $663 million while business booked for 2012 is forecast to contribute $717 million to the city economy.
Port Metro Vancouver cruise trade development manager Greg Wirtz said the Vancouver-Alaska cruise market will benefit from the region’s new higher profile but growth in the market will have to wait until 2011.
Cruise lines, upset with higher taxes and regulation in Alaska, have redeployed many ships to other parts of the world and the total number of passengers going through Vancouver this year is expected to fall from 900,000 to about 600,000.
Fisher said preliminary research shows the awareness of Whistler has risen “exponentially” in key markets following the Olympics. She said resort officials are already working on five or six key business leads generated by hosting meeting planners and tour operators during the Games.
Fisher also said Whistler wants to leverage the cachet of having hosted the Games by attracting high-profile reality television shows and other media programs to the resort. An episode of the popular reality show The Bachelorette was shot in Whistler last year.
“We want to cash in on the awareness of Whistler now as a kind of sexy, attractive destination,” she said.
Fisher said Whistler expects to experience a surge in business soon from typical customers who delayed their trips to the resort this year because of the Olympics and feels good snow conditions now will encourage them to visit.
She also believes the resort will have a stronger summer season this year than it had in 2009, although a growing trend for last-minute bookings makes that a hard forecast.
About 98 per cent of available accommodation was booked in Whistler during the Olympics, when the resort hosted about 50,000 people. Officials estimate 81 per cent of the accommodation will be booked this weekend when Whistler hosts the Paralympic closing ceremony.