Speeches and Presentations

Michele McKenzie, Remarks to the International Tourism Congress of the National Board of Private Tourism Enterprises (CNET), Mexico City, September 8, 2011

Speaking Points

Michele McKenzie
President & CEO

Canadian Tourism Commission

Remarks to the International Tourism Congress of the

National Board of Private Tourism Enterprises (CNET)

Mexico City

September 8, 2011



Thank you and good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s such a pleasure to be in Mexico again.

The huge growth of global travel marks tourism as an astonishing economic and social phenomenon of the past century.

25 million international arrivals worldwide in 1950. 935 million arrivals in 2010.  An estimated 1.6 billion international arrivals by the year 2020.   

This has become a high-stakes game—one in which countries are competing to win. inning countries are the ones offering exotic experiences, a strong tourism brand, great infrastructure and effective collaboration between government and tourism partners.

The reward is greater revenues for those destinations that have it all together.  Travellers spent one trillion dollars on tourism globally in 2010. That’s hard to imagine!

Try three billion dollars a day.  Or—two million dollars every minute.


I’ve been asked to speak today about the Canadian Tourism Commission and share something about what we do, the development of Canada’s tourism brand, and some of our successes and challenges as we compete for a share of the travel dollars up for grabs.

As a Crown Corporation of the federal government, we are Canada’s national tourism marketing agency. We lead the Canadian tourism industry in promoting our country internationally as a premier, four-season destination—inspiring travellers to the extraordinary tourism experiences Canada offers.
Last year, the CTC made a decision to invest only in those global markets and consumer segments where Canada’s tourism brand leads and which offer the highest potential for return on investment. Mexico is one of these 11 markets.

In these markets, we have now defined our particular role as building a strong brand and creating awareness of compelling Canadian travel experiences. The tourism industry and destinations will then take over their own roles to close the sale.

However, our regional hub structure means we can also adjust our marketing programs to reflect changing conditions and to capitalize on new marketing opportunities as they arise. In other words, we enjoy the efficiencies of a global marketing platform but apply it in each market based on local insights and needs.



We work in collaboration with the Canadian private sector, international travel trade, meeting and convention professionals, and the governments of Canada, the provinces and the territories to position Canada as a place where travellers can create their own amazing personal experiences.

Partnerships between the public sector and private industry are at the heart of what we do. Through contributions from partners that match our own funding, we are able to achieve the maximum return on investment for our tourism marketing initiatives. In 2010, partnership contributions totalled close to $139 million dollars.

Generating new tourism business means developing a strong brand presence internationally. We lead this effort through partnered global marketing and sales programs supported by large tourism-focused businesses, such as Canadian hotel chains, resort operators, rail companies and airlines.

Our larger partners have an established international presence and the ability to invest in more expensive marketing campaigns. They help to build Canada's international profile with offers and packages targeting consumers. This allows us to make use of federal funding to promote Canada's tourism brand to the world, while helping drive business to benefit the entire tourism industry.

Similarly, although networks vary across the country, destination and provincial marketing organizations that partner with us not only expand their own marketing efforts, they increase the reach and exposure of their local small- or medium-size tourism businesses.



Beginning in 2005, we set out to refresh Canada’s tourism brand, Canada. Keep Exploring, because simply having a positive image as a country does not translate into a compelling reason to visit. We wanted visitors to see Canada less as geography and more as a destination; less about nature and more about experience.

Communicating a tourism experience is different from marketing a tourism product. When marketers promote a product, they talk about what they have to offer. But when they communicate an experience, they talk about what consumers will feel. Our revitalized brand promised that when travellers visited Canada, they would savour authentic experiences on an intensely personal journey of exploration.

Having changed the brand we needed to change perception. The world already knew us as a stable, safe country of sweeping landscapes. Our challenge was to show the global marketplace both the sophisticated urban edge and hard-core wilderness adventures Canada has to offer—from sampling culinary magic in world-class restaurants to stalking polar bears with a camera.

2010 Winter Games

And sometimes you’re handed a once-in-a-generation opportunity. For us, it was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The Olympic Games changed how the world sees Canada, and I can tell you the Games certainly changed the CTC.  

From the beginning, we realized that the marketing opportunity for tourism was not about the event. There were other folks in place to worry about tickets sales and destination issues.

We knew that our job was to market Canada—to use the Olympic platform to advance Canada’s tourism brand.

In the hearts and minds of travellers around the world, we wanted to move Canada from “a place I want to go before I die” to “a place I want to go NOW.”

We also knew that this would be the first truly digital Games—that viewers would access event content in more ways than ever before.

Using a media-focused Olympic strategy, Canada became the first country that sought to integrate great content about our tourism experiences into the coverage of the Games by international broadcasters.  

Our goal was to get three billion viewers—glued to all types of screens—thinking about a vacation in Canada.

International broadcasters were open to new and innovative partnerships. It was 2008/2009. Their revenues were down and their production budgets strained.

They were not in a position to shoot new material. And we didn’t want them to rely on outdated material from their archives.  

We provided fresh content with new shots of Canada’s tourism experiences—from coast to coast to coast. They loved it—and they asked for more.

A few years ago, we would never have released unedited video. We’re marketers, and that would have felt like giving up control.

But in this case, we did our homework. We learned what the broadcasters wanted, and we learned how to provide it, in the format they could best use.  

Broadcasters packaged it up as they wished. As a result, the media told our story—and they told it better than we could have. It was a turning point in how we work with media.

These same broadcasters came to know us well. Now, when they are looking for new content to cover other major events in Canada—like the recent Royal Visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example—they know we can help them.

In the end, our media relations campaign around the 2010 Winter Games resulted in global coverage for travel to Canada and $1 billion in “advertising value equivalency.” International audiences were reached 12 billion times by Olympic coverage with Canadian tourism messages that were influenced by the CTC and our partners.


As marketers, the day the Games ended was the day our hard work really began. It’s easy to get the world’s attention when you’re hosting the Olympics.

What’s hard is to sustain that momentum after the Games end. We shifted to a tactical mode, where converting that interest and closing the sale became our focus. We wanted to ensure that increased tourism was the long-term result of this new awareness.

At CTC, we measure success by whether or not our marketing actions directly influenced their travel decision—not by how many people travel to Canada from abroad. Our marketing campaigns since the Games are drawing visitors from our international markets in greater numbers than ever before.



These results point to the growing strength of our tourism brand, “Canada. Keep Exploring” and its global influence. In 2006, Canada was 12th in the widely respected FutureBrand Index, a measurement of a country’s brand power. But last November, this New York-based global brand consultancy ranked Canada the Number One country brand in the world, bumping the US from top spot.

We all know that to compete globally, your tourism brand has to be strong, because you never know what’s around the corner. An economic meltdown, a pandemic or a tsunami are just a few things that can radically change who goes where to spend those billions of dollars.


Social Media

If you’re a marketing company, social media has to be part of your DNA. Early on, around 2008, we saw the potential of social media for a new kind of marketing that would foster intrigue around Canada as a destination.
We didn’t want to make the mistake of repurposing existing content for social media channels—this was a new opportunity to get our message out and we had to look at it from a fresh point of view—that of travellers talking to other travellers.

Recognizing the powerful influence of word-of-mouth, we used social media to create consumer campaigns based on user-generated content. We ran 15-second TV spots sourced from authentic Canadian tourism experiences found on YouTube, and worked with the tourism industry to seed them online and in the blogosphere.

Social media is now the cornerstone of how we market. There’s so much happening in this space, so fast. Keeping up isn’t enough anymore. You have to get ahead of the curve if you’re going to compete successfully.



At CTC, we believe that research is the jewel in the crown. To amplify the power of our marketing budget—to use every dollar to maximum effect—we invested in research to create the Explorer Quotient®, a customer segmentation tool that is changing the way Canadian travel experiences are developed, marketed and sold.

This tool gives us a deeper understanding of travellers’ personal beliefs, social values and world views, including what travel experiences they buy, what brands they like, what social media they use—even the kinds of photos they take on vacation.

Using this tool, we can target the travellers most likely to visit Canada with unique precision, and market to them using their own language, matching their needs and desires with relevant Canadian experiences that we know will appeal to them.  

How well does it work? Well, people now buy our data, including companies like Proctor & Gamble. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association gave Explorer Quotient tool its “Best in Class” award, a top marketing honour.

While we don’t have the big budgets of some other national tourism organizations, our commitment to research and innovative marketing gets us some of the best Return on Investment anywhere in government or the private sector. For every $1 we spend on marketing campaigns, we get $82 in new dollars coming into the tourism sector.



In spite of these great opportunities, there are of course challenges.

Visas are a growing area of interest for all of us in the tourism industry, as they are required from emerging markets like Mexico, India, Brazil and China.  

More and more, countries are viewing the visa process through a competitive lens.

The broad issue of visa waivers is top of the list of priorities for the new US Corporation for Travel Promotion—the American version of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Meanwhile, Australia, one of the great destinations and competitors, recently introduced an online visa process to make its visa process more competitive. No fuss. The visa is linked to the passport number.

As we know, Canada’s visa requirement for Mexicans in July 2009 put us at a competitive disadvantage, resulting in drastic decreases in the number of Mexicans travelling to Canada.

But things are starting to turn around—the result of collaborative efforts on the part of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico with CTC’s team to work through the complexity of the visa application process.

Most recently, in July the Canadian government announced new 10-year multiple-entry visas for travellers from countries that provide 10-year passports for their citizens, including Mexico. These visas will make it much simpler for Mexican travellers to head to Canada, as they are already doing in greater numbers, and just as easy to visit again.

Another challenge is air access. Of the 11 countries around the world in which CTC conducts marketing campaigns, Canada has liberalized air agreements with eight, most recently Brazil.

Fortunately, air capacity is no longer a barrier to Canada for the Mexican traveller, which is why CTC is now focused on developing marketing programs with airlines to boost demand. As part of our fall campaign, we will be highlighting Air Canada’s flights from Mexico City to Vancouver and Toronto, and CTC will participate in a co-branded consumer campaign with Aero México, promoting their direct flight to Montréal.


At the CTC we like to focus on the future. It’s how we can continue proving our worth to Canadian taxpayers.

Now that Canada’s brand has reached the top, we want to keep it there.
Part of the reason is that we want to build Canada’s tourism sector to $100 billion a year business by 2015. Tourism—expected to grow well ahead of global GDP—is an industry of the future.  

But there’s another reason we pay so much attention to Canada’s brand. It’s in our national interest. Our strong brand image is a positive force that Canadian businesses can use in marketing their products and services abroad.

So how do we stay at or near the top as a country brand? At the CTC we’ve got some new ideas. We’re planning on investing even more in social media, to make the CTC a centre of excellence in the field.

We’re refining our research to identify the countries and markets that will tell us where our brand will yield the highest export revenues.

We will continue to find ways to leverage the global exposure that Canada received during the Olympic Games.

But the truth is we can’t spell it all out in advance. We’ll be sticking to our long-term strategy. But at the CTC we don’t cast anything in stone. We’re always focused on innovation—on the lookout for something new and unexpected to give Canada the edge.

I hope this has answered some of the questions you have about what we do and how we do it. I’d be delighted to answer any others you may have.