COVID-19

COVID-19 has brought ‘quite a shift’ for B.C.’s marketing organization

B.C.’s top global marketer talks about the changes Destination BC has brought in 

An example of one of the organization’s campaigns this year.

With an annual budget of over $51 million, Destination British Columbia is one of the largest marketing agencies in Canada. 

Traditionally, the crown corporation has dedicated much of its considerable resources to show the world where to eat, ski and travel in B.C.  

But what’s the agency to do now that international tourism is effectively banned due to COVID-19 travel restrictions?

According to Maya Lange, vice-president of global Marketing with Destination BC, the organization’s focus is now on keeping with provincial directives by encouraging travel within  B.C., while keeping up relationships abroad. 

“It’s been quite a significant shift for us, moving from international marketing to solely domestic and in particular, B.C. marketing,” said Lange, who was named Canada’s 2018 marketer of the year by the Canadian Marketing Association. 

“So essentially, we took our international budgets and used them to beef up local communities, sector associations and our own marketing activities to the BC market.”

They have retained contractors abroad who are maintaining important relationships with travel agents and tour operators.

“We know, obviously, that the borders will open again, and we want to make sure that we’re ahead of the game [for when that happens],” she explained. 

In recent years, Destination BC has cultivated a strong relationship with Chinese travellers. Lange said China is now B.C.’s second largest international market next to the U.S. in terms of visitation.

In the early days of the pandemic, when restrictions were strictest, the agency unveiled a campaign called “Explore BC, Later,” which showed beautiful visuals of backcountry areas and essentially asked the province to lie low for the good of public health. 

In Phase 2 of B.C.’s restart plan, in May, Destination BC began marketing to the local market, as a way to encourage British Columbians to travel within the province and support local businesses and tourism operators. 

In June, the organization launched a multi-million campaign aimed at giving British Columbians ideas for where to travel. 

“We are giving British Columbians trip planning ideas and resources to help them rediscover their province this summer,” she explained. 

The organization developed six “experience collections,” which essentially divide the province into six areas, and provides suggestions and itineraries for the areas. 

You can view them here. 

“I think we British Columbians don’t know our province as well as we maybe could,” said Lange. “We often tend to go to the same places that we’ve gone before, and so this year, we encouraged British Columbians to go to those places,but to perhaps also look at another trip or a different place [to visit], and to consider taking multiple trips this summer.”

Despite the efforts, the province’s tourism industry remains in dire straits, with Tourism Kamloops CEO Beverley DeSantis, recently telling SPIN visitation to the Kamloops region is down 75 per cent in terms of visitation. 

Lange said that while Tofino, the Okanagan and Whistler have done fairly well over the summer season, many areas around the province have faced an extremely challenging time, as they are very reliant on international travel. 

“It has been an extremely difficult situation for those businesses to try to pivot and solely focus on the B.C. market. I think that’s been very difficult,” said Lange. 

With ski season just around the corner, Lange said Destination BC is working closely with B.C.’s destination ski resorts on marketing initiatives. 

She said it’s important to recognize that as an outdoor activity, it represents a relatively safe way to enjoy the great outdoors. 

“Skiing is an activity that allows you to be outside outdoors and away from others. That’s obviously a huge opportunity that we see and we’ll there will be a considerable campaign that will be up in market launching in November,” she said, adding the organization will launch a new campaign promoting the industry in the fall.

Joel Barde is a reporter hired by SPIN with funding from the Local Journalism Initiative, a federal program created to support “original civic journalism that covers the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada.”

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