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D’oh Canada: Why the Great White North Sucks at Marketing


Canada is one of the world’s great tourist destinations but it has a branding problem.  In fact it sort of sucks at promoting itself and that’s a real shame since the country is large, diverse and has so much to offer travelers.  The country is not just pine trees, cold and snow. It’s got great urban escapes, wonderful culture and a vibrant music and arts scene. But if you’ve never been, you’d probably never know.

On the Toronto episode of his enormously popular travel show The Layover, Anthony Bourdain summed things up very err eloquently, “Whoever is in charge of promoting Canada abroad completely have their heads up their asses. It’s all like bears and swatting salmon and Mounties.” Sad but true, Canada’s marketing efforts have been lazy, hackneyed and frankly well behind that of their competition.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce along with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) recently collaborated on an industry report that calls for Canada’s marketing efforts to be “substantially increased”. This report with the clever title, Restoring Canadian Tourism, also notes the country’s unnecessarily high taxes and fees for flying into or out of Canadian airports. Officials called on Ottawa “to conduct a wide-ranging examination of the travel sector with special attention to the very high public costs borne by aviation customers.”

Clearly the Great White North is floundering. In 2002 Canada was the seventh most visited country with 20.1 million international visitors. By 2012 they had sunk to 16th with just 16.3 million visits. In the busiest year ever for international travel, Canada actually attracted less visitors then they did a decade earlier.

Tourism is an important industry for Canada generating $85 billion dollars annually while employing more than 600,000 people across the country, so you’d think the government would be doing something about it’s declining fortunes. But you’d be wrong. Canada’s Prime Minister has actually slashed the Canadian Tourism Commission’s budget by a whopping 20% to just $58 million dollars.  To put that in perspective, Ireland’s global tourism marketing budget for 2011 was $211 million dollars, Australia’s was $147 million dollars and tiny New Zealand invested $89 million dollars on global tourism marketing. No wonder Canada is languishing.

Money makes a difference when it comes to promoting a region. Oh and being smart about it. Canada’s southern neighbor the United States last year launched a major international tourism campaign and immediately saw its Chinese visits grow by 47% and its Brazilian tourism numbers jump by 36%. But they had good, innovative creative and a big budget. So far Canada has had neither.

All this is a shame because Canada is a wonderful place to visit for business or leisure. It’s sexy, sophisticated and very sultry but the government stooges who are charged with promoting this great land are still obsessed with using images of mountains and streams and fish. But that probably doesn’t even matter because the short-sighted Prime Minister has seen fit to cut their budget to the point that they can’t market the country anyway.

So you’ll just have to take our word on it and visit Canada because it a great destination. We promise you’ll love it.


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