The giant of the Toronto skyline has enjoyed astonishing media exposure as part of CTC’s program.
Previous SEC case studies:
If you’re scared of heights, take a deep breath before reading on. One of the tourism success stories in the past year has been the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower, Toronto, ON. With guests dangling over a thousand feet above the city, it’s an experience to thrill the senses and fray the nerves of the best.
EdgeWalk has proved hugely popular and is a valued member of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC). With more than 160 businesses under its wing to date, the Collection is showcasing Canada in CTC’s key international markets.
Taking the CTC News series of SEC case studies to new heights, Jack Robinson, Chief Operating Officer of CN Tower, tells the tale of EdgeWalk’s origins and gives his take on the challenges facing the Canadian tourism industry.
What was the original inspiration for EdgeWalk?
It all started with the Tower’s business development team. We asked, “What can we do that’s different, exciting and attractive to all our markets?” We knew there was a high walk in New Zealand and another in China. Both of those are around 600 feet up, so how could we do the same at 1,200 feet? We pulled together a team of architects, engineers and marketers and came up with the concept of the EdgeWalk.
We went through all the necessary safety measures. From start to finish, it took over a year and a half of planning and building before we finally launched in August 2011. Although it was an abbreviated season, the results were double our expectations. We opened again on May 1 this year, and we’re on track for our targets. In fact, weather permitting, we’ll remain open until early November.
The project was a labour of love. It’s turned out to be a real bucket-list item for many visitors, although some had to really dig deep to get up and out there. We were thrilled to be on CTC’s inaugural list for the Signature Experiences Collection® because it took us to 11 different international markets. International markets are our business bread and butter. I’m positive that membership contributed to our success not just with EdgeWalk but also with the Tower. The international tourism market is definitely up and helping to drive our business.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your enterprise today?
Sustained growth is the big one, because of who we are and where we draw our visitors from. I continue to be nervous about the Canadian travel deficit and what’s happening to American visitors. Brand USA has a huge war chest; if they start really marketing heavily in Canada that will be a big concern. As long as the international market is buoyant, then we’ll be okay. But if not, and the Americans keep staying away… that will be a major issue
How are you promoting your membership?
We were pleased to hear that we were part of the inaugural SEC group. As a 36-year participant of Rendez-vous Canada, this seemed like an obvious opportunity to promote our participation to our international buyers.
Has your media exposure changed domestically or internationally as a result of being a SEC member?
The exposure for EdgeWalk and the Tower has been beyond our expectations. It has been better than at any time in the past 36 years. EdgeWalk gave international exposure and the SEC just followed behind. It’s like a one-two punch.
Have you considered exploring business relationships or cross-promotions with other SEC members?
Yes—but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of willing participants out there. We need a partner to be close by to us in Toronto or Niagara. Businesses in Niagara don’t really want to team up. The geography doesn’t really help here, either. But I’d be willing to partner with another SEC member.
What’s been your biggest lesson this year as a tourism operator?
To set yourself apart, you have to come up with good plans. Make them sound, try them and test them. You have to demonstrate their ROI [return on investment] and their appeal. If I want to continue to be innovative, I need a new idea every two years or so. Otherwise, the business can get tired, and a lot of Canadian tourism products are tired.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing Canada’s tourism industry?
If the visa restrictions were lifted, we’d have a lot more Mexican business, for example. We need a funding model for tourism that works. Tourism is a driver—and we all need to understand that. If it wasn’t for CTC’s efforts, our business would not be where it is today. And SEC really helps, too. We really appreciate the program.