Getting a broader international reach is just one of the ambitions for this joyous Atlantic Canada fest of Celtic music and arts.
The Celtic Colours International Festival, NS, is an annual celebration of Celtic culture and hospitality. Visitors come from far and wide to Cape Breton Island and are entranced by the music, dance, visual arts, scenery and people.
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It’s an authentic Canadian experience, a mix of culture and connecting with Canadians themselves, and deserves its place in the Canadian Tourism Commission(CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection.® With 115 members (and counting in 2012), this new program will help Canada stay head and shoulders above the competition in the global tourism marketplace.
CTC News is running a series of case studies on the Collection, letting its members tell their own stories. Here, Mary Pat Mombourquette, Celtic Colours business director, explains what makes the festival tick and how proud she is of its new designation.
When did the Celtic Colours International Festival get started? What inspired you?
It all began in 1997 with Joella Foulds [artistic director and co-founder] and Max McDonald [co-founder]. They were inspired by the island and its music and wanted to present it to the world. So they looked at other festivals for ideas, got a business plan and business funding and out of that came Celtic Colours. We’re all very grateful to them. The festival is a real money driver on the island, a real economic boost. And there’s one stat that still blows me away: 13% of our audience have been to 10 or more of our festivals.
Have you worked with the CTC before?
No. We’re not sure whether Michele McKenzie [CTC President and CEO] has been to the festival in an official capacity, but I’m sure she’s aware of us.
When did you first hear of the Signature Experiences Collection®?
Two weeks before I applied! As soon as I heard about it, I knew we had to apply.
Were you familiar with any of the CTC’s free toolkits prior to joining the SEC? If so, which ones (e.g. Brand Toolkit, Experiences Toolkit, EQ Toolkit)?
No. I went to TIAC’s tourism summit last year, because we were a finalist in the awards under Cultural Tourism, but didn’t hear about these toolkits. But now you’ve mentioned them, I’ll certainly look them up on the website.
What motivated you to apply?
It was when Joella and Max were being honoured in Destination Cape Breton’s Hall of Fame. Michele McKenzie was there, too, and gave the keynote speech, which included a video on how to sell Canada. It was great: exciting, animated…just fabulous. You simply wanted to be there [Canada]. Then she spoke about the Signature Experiences Collection® and I thought “We have to be in there.” That video is just brilliant!
Was the application process straightforward?
To be honest, I did it at the same time as a whole sea of other funding applications, so it’s hard to remember. I do recall it was nowhere near as hard as most of those, though.
What kind of travellers does your business attract?
The majority we get are 55-plus years old with an income over $75,000. They’re usually educated and travelling without kids. In fact, we’ve not been hit by the recession, as it has not affected this group so much. Our numbers are up.
What immediate benefits do you see for Celtic Colours now that it is part of the Collection?
When we started, we used to attract people from Ireland, Scotland and other parts of the UK. Now we see people from China, Austria—people from all over the world. I don’t have the dollars to market to all these countries, but with CTC and the Collection we can branch out and have a bigger presence.
Are you promoting your membership?
We put out a press release announcing our inclusion, but other plans are still in development.
Does becoming a member of the SEC give Celtic Colours kudos within the Canadian travel industry?
I would think so, since there are rigorous criteria for being part of the Collection and only 115 members. We’re the only one from Cape Breton and all of us at Celtic Colours are really proud of our membership.
Are there specific international markets that you can see your business resonating in through the Signature Experiences Collection®?
There’s definitely a thirst out there for our experience. Travellers from as far afield as the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands come to participate. Currently, our audience beyond Canada and the US is just 3%, but that will now increase.