Preparing Banff visitors this year as to what to realistically expect given it is Canada’s 150th and national park access is free, and convince them to visit anyway, is going to be the focus of a $250,000 marketing campaign.
The campaign is being led by Banff Lake Louise Tourism, Banff’s destination marketing organization, and is an equal partnership with Parks Canada and the Town of Banff.
Banff town council found out at the end of February the marketing campaign, while not an approved 2017 capital project, has been a focus of administration’s time and seen $17,000 spent so far, according to senior communication specialist Janice Carson.
“Conversations were being held in late 2016 and unfortunately those conversations did not happen in time for our Town of Banff budget process, so I am coming today with a non traditional addition to our budget process. But this work, we feel, is very important and we want to make sure in 2017 we are prepared,” Carson said.
The marketing campaign, with a budget request totalling $83,000, was welcome news to most of council and Deputy Mayor Stavros Karlos, especially because the campaign would include a focus on public transit.
“Certainly it does come, in terms of future planning, late in the game,” Karlos said. “I am pleased all three partners are at the table on this; in my opinion we have the most success when we have Parks Canada and Banff Lake Louise Tourism on board as partners with transit.”
Councillor Chip Olver, who put forward the motion to approve the budget request, expressed confidence in the partnership and the chosen consultant, even though the process wasn’t the usual one followed for budget approvals.
“Everyone has been interested and concerned about what the impacts will be about free entry to the park and we want to see those concerns addressed and we want everyone’s visit here to be successful, including for the people living here,” Olver said. “We do need to be out there with an active plan in early April in order to communicate with people before they come.
“This is an unusual process for us and I do have some discomfort with going outside the usual process, but I feel more comfortable about it because of the assurances we received in today’s presentation.”
Coun. Ted Christensen was the only vote against the motion. Christensen said without seeing the strategy and tactics proposed for the marketing organization, he did not have enough confidence to support the vote.
Carson told council the three partners are focused on creating a joint brand for the 2017 visitor experience and that involves communicating with visitors during all phases of their trip to provide information necessary to establish appropriate expectations.
A lot of uncertainty exists within the Banff community, and Bow Valley in general, about the impact of visitation due to free national parks access for the sesquicentennial.
Carson said the visitor experience brand would provide useful information around things like parking volumes and environmental stewardship.
“As we move through a traditional request for proposal process, we want to identify the target audience and the best communication channels to reach them, as well as have help developing the information to be prepared,” Carson said. “We have gone through that RFP process … and selected a firm to work with (Destination Think) because time is of the essence and we are in the midst of developing that strategy, which is exciting work to be doing.”
She told council administration found funds within existing budgets to fund $17,000 spent so far that the municipality is on the hook for – one-third of the $50,000 budgeted for creating the strategy. The $83,000 budget council voted to approve would replace the budgets the $17,000 came from and provide the full amount of Banff’s portion to BLLT, which is managing the contract and implementation (the $200,000 of the budget).
“We are not just envisioning this concentrated in 2017,” Carson said, “we are seeing this collective approach to communications to visitors prior to them coming here during and after as an opportunity for us that we have not had yet.”
Coun. Brian Standish pointed out that all partners involved have known about the sesquicentennial and free park access for over a year and it is disappointing to think nobody came up with the idea to partner on this project sooner and with enough time to follow regular budget processes.
“We all have skin in the game now, so I think it will move forward successfully,” he said.
BLLT director of consumer marketing Woodrow Oldford said the consultant chosen for the strategy development is a boutique agency that has experience working with marketing destinations and issue management within destinations.
“They have worked with us on several strategies and are now working with Destination Canada on a few strategies as well,” Oldford said.
The consultant working on the strategy would have access to information from all three partners that Carson said has never been used or compiled together before. She said data from the Town, Parks and BLLT could help Destination Think better understand who is coming and what opportunities there are to reach them before they arrive in Banff.
“We do not want the message to get out that we are too busy, because Banff has great capacity and the national park is vast and there is so much to experience, so we do not want visitors inhibited by being stuck in a vehicle,” Carson said.
Key to those communications is going to be public transit and Roam opportunities. Parks Canada recently announced a new Roam partnership to establish a route to Minnewanka Lake and the campgrounds in that area.
Carson said the strategy has identified working with Roam and the Bow Valley Regional Transit Commission on sharing the same messages.
Oldford added that a metric for success being used in the strategy is transit ridership.
“Transit is a big part of the program and one where we know we will probably have the biggest impact,” he said.