On Monday, the Province took the wraps off its $1.4 million marketing campaign for the 2010-2011 ski season, hoping to build on the success of last year when the province broke 5.8 million skier visits.
Pique spoke to Margaret MacDiarmid, the Minister of Tourism, Trade and Investment about the campaign. MacDiarmid has been in the role for three weeks since the last cabinet shuffle, but said she was excited to hit the ground running.
"We put forward a very focused effort last year (to get to 5.8 million skiers)... and this year we really wanted to build on the momentum of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games," she said. "We know over three billion people saw our province and ski hills (during the Games). They certainly saw Whistler. And what we want is to build on that. Our brand is hot right now, and now our target is to get as many people to visit us here as possible."
The campaign will feature local Olympic gold medallists Ashleigh McIvor and Maëlle Ricker, winners of the ski cross and snowboardcross events respectively. It will also focus almost exclusively on marketing through the Internet with search engine marketing, social media and online advertising. There will also be a public relations side to the campaign, actively promoting B.C. resorts in global markets.
The website at www.hellobc.com features a dedicated ski area, with profiles for all of B.C.'s 13 featured resorts - including links to websites, photos and other up-to-date information.
"The ad campaign is worldwide," said MacDiarmid, focusing on areas such as Europe, Asia and Australia. As well, there will be a contest open to all North Americans where the winner can bring seven friends to any of B.C.'s resorts for a five-day, all expenses paid holiday. If they're not away competing, McIvor and Ricker may be joining the winning group for a few days.
The destination market is a particular focus, she added.
"We love all of our visitors, but destination guests that come from further away tend to stay longer, which helps with employment and the economy," she said. "We have an almost $13 billion tourism industry... which employs 129,000 British Columbians. It's a big contributor to our economy."
MacDiarmid also admitted that it's been challenging to grow the industry, given issues like the recession, new passport requirements for U.S. travellers and other impediments to travel.
"There's no question, if you look across Canada, tourism is actually down and it's largely believed that it's because of the global economy.... but in B.C. our visits are up," she said. "International visits are up 2.2. per cent this year, which is measured from January to the end of August. As to what happens with this ski season we are going to have to wait and see."
While the province is tightening its own budget in other areas, MacDiarmid says the $1.4 million investment in the Ski B.C. "You Gotta Be Here This Winter" campaign is justified given the size of the industry and the number of people it employs.
"We're investing a relatively small amount that we feel will pay off big-time," she said. "It's important to market our province and we will always try to do it in the most economical way possible. We want to get out there with the message that we're here, here are our beautiful ski resorts and the really friendly British Columbians that want to welcome you to our province."
At a higher level, MacDiarmid says the province is working to make Vancouver International Airport more appealing for carriers and visitors, as well as improving transportation within the province. The province is also a signatory of the "OpenSkies" campaign to make air travel easier and better for customers.
"We haven't achieved that, but we're still working on it," she said. "There's no question that it would make a difference, without a doubt. We're also interested in making it as easy as possible to get over the border, and we're always talking with our U.S. partners. After 9/11 it's been more difficult for tourism but that's an area that we will continue to work on. We have less control over things like the strong Canadian dollar, but we're working hard at the things we can control."
In 2003, the province committed through the Tourism Action Plan to doubling the size of the tourism industry from $9 billion to $18 billion by 2015.
While the Hello B.C. website does have links to other tourism options and summer activities, McDiarmid says the ski industry is unique because it's well-established and the province is already recognized globally for its mountains.
"In summer it's difficult because there are so many options to choose from, which is why skiing gets our most targetted and most specific campaign," she said.