It’s a soldier’s life for visitors to this National Historic Site in Nova Scotia that is seeking more ways to attract international visitors.
Previous SEC case studies:
Atten-shun! Quiet at the back of the ranks there! The ways of the redcoats still live on at the Halifax Citadel, NS. This National Historic Site of Canada gets a healthy supply of visitors interested in delving into Canada’s past, especially through its “Soldier for a Day” program.
This taste of a soldier’s life is one of the 160-plus members of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC). In the latest sortie from the series of CTC News SEC case studies, Krista Lingley, Parks Canada Promotions Officer for mainland Nova Scotia, explains the origins of the Halifax Citadel and the challenges of marketing it abroad.
How long has the Halifax Citadel been a tourism attraction?
We first started entertaining visitors back in the early 1900s. The fort has been here since the city was founded in 1749. This is now the fourth actual fort on the site. In 1951, the fort was declared a National Historic Site. Our main focus this year has been the commemoration of the War of 1812.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your enterprise today?
We’ve been seeing a plateauing, or even a decline, in visitors. There are fewer people coming to Parks Canada sites across Canada, as well as fewer visitors to Nova Scotia. We rely heavily on partners, including the provincial tourism agency and destination marketing organizations, to help promote the province as a must-see destination.
Tell us more about “Soldier for a Day,” the experience you have that is featured in the Collection.
Visitors get the chance to step back in time to 1869 to find out what life was like as a British redcoat. They start in the orderly room, one of our new period rooms, sign their enlistment papers and receive the Queen’s shilling, the famous soldiers’ pay. They are then decked out in the authentic uniform of the 78th Highlanders regiment, from a cotton shirt, wool socks and boots to a sporran and red wool Highland “doublet.” People were slim back in the old days!
Once turned out, they then head for the parade square for their first lessons in parade drills. They do this, whatever the weather is in Halifax, be it foggy and cold to hot and steamy. We have students who work as interpreters to help people along and of course yell at them—it’s all part of the authentic experience! They then get a chance to fire an authentic Snider-Enfield rifle. That’s pretty cool. You have to be 16 and over to do that, so our younger visitors learn to play the army field drum instead.
Visitors also get a full, in-depth guided tour of the Halifax Citadel. If special events are happening at the same time, we might enlist them to do a bit more, such as firing a cannon or taking part in more drills.
How are you promoting your SEC membership?
It’s promoted in our new promotional video and we have it listed on our website. We’ve also promoted it within our regional tourism industry using online tactics. Our budget for promotion is limited, so we work closely with Nova Scotia Tourism and other DMO [destination marketing organization] partners. It’s been named a Nova Scotia Experience and is also being promoted in those marketing campaigns. We also target tour and receptive operators who are interested in the program. “Soldier for a Day” was originally a six-hour product created for the cruise excursion market, but we created a new version that is three hours to help capture more of the FIT [fully independent traveller] market. It’s mostly men who come along, sometimes spouses and families.
Early days yet as the program’s only a year old, but what’s changed for your business as a result of being a member?
Being recognized is an important honour for us. It’s really reinforced the value of working with partners. We’d like to develop more of these types of experiential programs.
Are you getting visitors from any new international markets or greater numbers from existing ones?
More Americans are booking this year. Our international visitation is growing. We haven’t done much promotion there.
One year in, what do you think of the SEC program so far? (You can be honest; we don’t bite.)
We’re really enthusiastic about it. It provides an opportunity for people in key markets to see specific standout Canadian experiences. However, I was hoping for a bit more marketing support from CTC. I sat in a training session with Lesley [Anderson, CTC manager, Brand Experiences] but we don’t have huge resources to do these things. We’re looking for some help. We participated in a photo shoot last September so we hoped those images would jointly help us promote the program.
Have you considered exploring business relationships or cross-promotions with other SEC members?
We haven’t, but it would be an interesting idea for complementary experiences.
What’s been your biggest lesson this year as a tourism operator?
As a marketer, working with partners is the key to creating efficiencies. Also, ensure that you deliver your message to your target market at the right time. You need to do that as early as possible before the season gets busy.
What are some of the challenges facing Canada’s tourism industry?
There is still a lack of awareness as to what visitors from international markets can see and do in this country. There is so much more beyond moose, Mounties and mountains. I’d like to see more opportunities for industry to be included in national campaigns. Our competitors out there in the world have much bigger budgets than we do, so collectively we need the CTC to take the lead to help us all stand out.
If you were to point to a big opportunity for Canada’s tourism industry, what might that look like?
Build on the strength of Canada’s brand. People around the world see our country as a pristine, enjoyable place to live. So we need to translate that into immediacy, a desire to visit now. The results from the Explorer Quotient® helps you segment your target market and develop the programs that will be of most interest to those targets. What is needed, however, is the critical mass to reach the target markets when they are in trip-planning mode. You need a healthy marketing budget to break through the clutter. It’s definitely a challenge for Canada.