Two years, $2 billion focus for Travel Alberta

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The well-oiled machine that goes out to the world and promotes Alberta as an epic destination to visit has a clearly defined goal it is working toward – bringing visitor spending in the province from its current level of $8 billion to $10 billion by 2020.

Travel Alberta has been hard at work toward that goal for several years already and, as CEO Royce Chwin said at the marketing organization’s recent industry conference in Banff, the best way to do that is through engaging storytelling and making sure those stories reach the right audiences – travellers.

International travel in 2017 has been on the rise, with Chwin stating the latest statistics show a six per cent increase overall for the first six months of the year and Canada has seen just over a four per cent increase in the same timeframe, which is good news for the growing industry.

“Tourism continues to be a big business globally; in fact, it’s incredible growth is eclipsing other sectors around the world,” Chwin said, noting Canada could reach 20 million international visitors this year. “Canada is a mature tourism market competing globally with more exotic destinations.”

“People are out and exploring the world and that is the strongest first half performance in over seven years.”

Travel Alberta is a board-governed Crown corporation that has one shareholder – the provincial government – and falls under the jurisdiction of Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda.

Miranda praised Travel Alberta’s latest release of its multimedia campaign Remember to Breathe, with a series of videos about being ready to visit the province that were unveiled in September.

“This campaign, I think, speaks for itself,” said the minister. “We are ready, in fact, we have been ready for a long time and now we get to go out and continue the amazing work that has been started here and supporting an industry we know can create the kinds of jobs we need in this province. The kinds of jobs that pay mortgages and put food on the table, but also that get to showcase the beauty and the pride that we feel for the places that we live in.”

He said the government continues to remove barriers to create tourism investment in the province to help reach that goal of $10 billion in tourism spending by 2020, and exceed it.

A key driver to that success in 2017 has been the 150th anniversary of confederation, an event Travel Alberta hoped to leverage when it came to connecting to visitors, according to Chwin.

Canada 150 celebrations, international exchange rates, increased air service, and the fact there are more humans on the planet than there ever has been before, said Chwin, have all translated into opportunities for travellers to visit Alberta as a result.

While there has been increased visitation this year, places visited are the popular ones like the Rocky Mountains and major metropolitan centres like Calgary and Edmonton – which in 2015 represented 16 per cent, 25 per cent and 22 per cent of all room nights in the province respectively.

Chwin said economic impacts from increased tourism in Alberta are not being felt everywhere, and areas of the province that have depended heavily on resource based sectors like oil and gas have seen limited growth as a result.

He said part of the strategy to grow tourism in Alberta is to see more visitation to those areas, not just the popular destinations like Banff and Jasper.

That means creating more experiences and partnerships in the tourism sector, as well as what Travel Alberta does best – cooperative marketing campaigns targeted at the right audience and, according to Chwin, that audience is millennials.

As a demographic that has exceptional spending power, he said millennials represent the future of travel and they value experiences over material goods.

The future traveller exists in a transformed consumer landscape, noted Chwin, and they are actively engaged on multiple social media platforms. The average millennial, for example, has six social media accounts and checks their phone an average of 150 times a day.

By improving Travel Alberta’s ability to reach its target audience of future travellers, Chwin said the destination marketing organization goal is to see that translate into cash registers ringing throughout the province.

“The path to purchase is no longer linear,” he said. “Millennials are influencing change in many areas of the consumer world.”

“We know Alberta is a desirable destination and we need to consistently differentiate ourselves.

“Many of our competitors are going after exactly the same traveller as we are,” he said. “How do we compete? With a solid strategy and a team Alberta approach.”

The strategic approach does not just apply to bringing visitors into Alberta, or encouraging Albertans to visit their own province, but includes product development, a key aspect of strengthening the province’s competitive position.

Product development is another term for experiences – and they can be the result of cooperative marketing partnerships or industry-led initiatives.

Chwin said Travel Alberta has worked with industry partners to develop 120 new experiences this year, and created a program called Shift that helps develop products in clusters across the province. The next Shift event is sold out and set to be held in Banff this spring.

With the visitor identified – the millennial, and the experiences available – the key to driving tourism growth, according to Chwin, is the storytelling.

Vice-president of finance and corporate relations for Travel Alberta Kara Claypool told the conference that means the organization is transforming itself internally from being a destination marketing-focused corporate structure to being an “always-on content publisher.

“By building these organizational capacities inside our team, we can support our tourism partners and leverage our collective efforts to better connect your experiences, your events and your stories with the traveller.”

Vice-president of consumer marketing Tannis Gaffney said the term – always-on content publisher – is going to heard a lot when it comes to the future work of storytelling about Alberta experiences.

“Think of us as a newsroom,” Gaffney said. “So, on a daily basis we are looking for stories, articles and videos to publish with the traveller at the heart of our strategy,” Gaffney said.

Vice-president of business development Karen Soyka said competition for travellers in the marketplace is fierce, so fresh experiences for travellers is key to getting them to stay longer and explore more areas.

“To be competitive, we need the right experiences, the right services, the right content to connect with travellers and if we do this right we will inspire the world and continue to grow visitation and expenditures in Alberta,” Soyka said.

For the 2016-17 fiscal year, Travel Alberta received $49.45 million in annual marketing funding from the government.

While the Auditor General provides financial oversight for the corporation, the 2016-17 report is not yet publicly available. The year before, however, shows Travel Alberta received $54.45 million in funding from the government and expenses were $40.2 million for global marketing, $10.4 million in regional industry marketing and $5.9 million on corporate operations.

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