Cathy Kirkpatrick Senior Advisor, Tourism and Place Branding


campaigns - culture

Our Year in Tourism Marketing

Many think of travel experiences within the context of large operators – cruise lines, all-inclusive vacations, airlines, hotel chains – but the truth is, it’s the more intimate experiences we tend to treasure most. No, you might not be going to a destination specifically for the ice cream shop with the best cookie-dough milkshake, but it’s these businesses – and these business owners – that often find their way into your travel memories, inspiring the stories you share. And it’s these same businesses that have been hit so hard by the pandemic.

Evolving the message to locals

There’s really no “off mode” for destination marketing. Places don’t stop existing. Instead, they pivot and evolve over seasons and time. Tourism marketing has always required an element of nimbleness to adapt to changing market conditions, but the last year has tested destination marketers like never before.  

We didn’t see the value in waiting for things to turn around; we knew we had to be proactive and creative in our efforts to continue to promote destinations. It was no longer enough to just speak to out-of-town prospects; we had to encourage locals to support their region’s businesses – the same businesses that create those memorable experiences.

Promoting local flavour

Destination marketers asked themselves, “How can we motivate people to support our local tourism economy without traveling and, in some cases, without even leaving their homes?” Our client Tourism Kingston developed the “Together at Home” online entertainment series that brought musicians, artists, chefs, and other makers together for engaging livestream events. The series illuminated Kingston’s local talent while strengthening the bond between residents and the creative community.

Thousands of users tuned in, engaged with social posts, and shared the initiative on their social channels. The program reached more than 3.7 million users, with 95,000 page views of online content and more than 22,000 direct-to-partner business referrals.

For South Eastern Ontario, we helped develop a holiday-themed gift guide that featured products from local retailers and makers. The client compiled a handpicked collection of unique and locally made gifts from more than 60 of its shops and artisans around the area. This ultimate gift guide was a great way to support the local love movement that spread across the country while providing direct promotional support to small businesses.

Earning our impressions

During the pandemic, Alphabet® determined the need for a sustained, strategic earned media approach to help build future business for our tourism clients. Traditional advertising – like TV spots, radio ads, and billboards – can be less relevant for brand-building and creating awareness for a place. It’s the stories of a region and its people, and the ability to create an environment to share those stories, that really connects with today’s travellers. 

Collaborating with Beattie Tartan – Canada’s leading PR agency specializing in travel and tourism – we worked to develop specific content and paid media strategies. Our collaboration on storytelling, with a focus on local operators and experiences, resulted in more than 250 million impressions. More than 1,200 businesses have been featured. With a proactive outreach to journalists and influencers, we focused on the long play through strategic awareness-building. We also conducted weekly meetings to ensure our messaging was always timely, relevant, and aligned to current health and travel restrictions. 

Always-On Marketing

Destination marketing should be ongoing to build familiarity with a place, its people, and its experiences. Even during the pandemic, we took this exact approach – always being mindful of how travelers are influenced and motivated by a destination’s unique businesses and experiences.

Alphabet® has spent decades in the tourism sector, developing brands and campaigns for destinations across Canada. You can see some of our tourism work here, and don’t hesitate to reach out to see how we can help move your destination forward.