13 APR 2010: While most viewers who sat transfixed in front of the TV last February watched the winter Olympic games, it turns out the Canadian Tourism Commission was watching them. “Our strategy was not to focus on spectators but the 3 billion viewers who watched The Games,” said Michele McKenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

McKenzie shared insights on the Olympics at a new exciting speaker series for ad execs and media planners hosted by the Institute of Communication Agencies and Ad Women of Toronto, a new group worth checking out for those in sales and marketing.

So how do you get those clients?

Start with a five year plan.

McKenzie is no stranger to Canadian tourism. She’s lived from coast to coast, worked in top jobs like Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, and in 2004 when she accepted the top position to steer Canada’s tourism office, one of her first tasks was to create a Winter Olympics media plan.

Here’s the crib sheet:

The IOC declares Vancouver as the host for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2003.

“We knew the world would be watching the Games.” “We wanted to get the media ready to tell our stories.”

Create a Pre-, During- and Post- Olympic Strategy.

⋅ Pre- was up to January 2010

⋅ During- affected only media coverage during the Games (February to March)

⋅ Post- is now through 2012.

In 2005 ‘Canada: Keep Exploring’ launched.

McKenzie noted the feedback from foreign destinations got CTC to rethink itself and the brand.

“We heard that while Canada is beautiful, the isolated images were really talking to ourselves. These landscape shots screamed questions like “Do we even have electricity? Or “Is there a big bear behind that tree?” So this is how Canada: Keep Exploring began.

“Let it be about the experience.” A huge brand campaign unfolds using social media. “600 social media stories were on YouTube.” It was time to get out of traditional travel media.

In 2009 the world began to take notice.


Lonely Planet christened Canada as one of the top 10 countries in their 2009 Lonely Planet Best in Travel guide.

The Games: The torch relay stories were great soap operas.

12,000 people ran the torch relay, the longest torch run in history. You might have seen foreign celebrities running the relay. That was no mistake. When Indian celebrity Akshay Kumar, the Brad Pitt of Bollywood, ran with the torch, the web site hit 70 million impressions from that run alone.

The Warm Welcome.

Airport security puts on a human face. “We proceeded to give a new sense of welcome when arriving to the airport. This welcome is now one of the legacy programs.”

The War Room.

Every day for two hours McKenzie and her team met, scanning all media coverage, monitoring key words and everything else related to media. “I don’t think the CTC will ever be able to work the way it did before. We have to be nimble.”

During the Olympics, Canadians embraced The Winter Games.

Nobody would have dreamed on how Canadians would embrace the Games and be proud. “This energy was powerful on its own. Everybody was into it.

“The men’s hockey gold was beautifully scripted.”

Post Stage

“This is the hardest part. How do we translate this interest into sales?” McKenzie notes there’s a bigger need for more retail strategy than used in the past.

Another suggestion she offered was to repurpose the footage from these events into other big events such as this year’s G8 Summit in Huntsville or the G20 Summit in Toronto or even the 2015 Pan American Games to be held in Toronto.

Millions of people are interested in Canada. Now it’s time to turn this interest and attention into sales.

It’s well known among Olympic host destinations that the post two years is a challenge to see an increase in bookings. However McKenzie remains optimistic. “Early indicators are pretty strong,” she suggests.

The big money question of the day: Can the Canadian brand sustain itself?

Only time will tell.

For more on Ad Women of Toronto: www.adwomentoronto.ca
For more on the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA): www.icacanada.ca
For CTC: www.canada.travel

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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