Keep exploring: Social media and reputation management in Canada’s tourism strategy

Managing the reputation of an individual business is challenging enough in the age of social media—how does one manage the reputation of an entire country?

Keep exploring: Social media and reputation management in Canada’s tourism strategy

Managing the reputation of an individual business is challenging enough in the age of social media—how does one manage the reputation of an entire country?

To gain insight from a tourism perspective I checked in with Greg Klassen, senior vice president of marketing strategy and communications at the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), Canada’s national tourism marketing organization. In partnership with the Canadian tourism industry and provincial, regional and municipal destination marketing organizations, the CTC leads marketing initiatives around the world to inspire visitors to explore Canada.

In this condensed version of our Q+A session, Klassen discusses how Canada achieved ranking as the world’s #1 most powerful brand by FutureBrand, how social media has become an integral part of the CTC’s communications strategy, and how a brand firewall can protect brands from “sniper shots” to reputation.

Whether you market a one-person tour company, a destination, or a 1,000-room hotel, there are lessons to be drawn from Canada’s experience.

Tell us about your role at the Canadian Tourism Commission. How did you get to where you are today?
Greg Klassen: I am responsible for the development of Canada’s international tourism brand in 11 markets around the world. I’ve been at the CTC for close to 10 years and have had several roles, beginning with the first-ever Director for E-marketing role in Ottawa until the CTC moved to Vancouver in 2005.

I have always had an interest in international marketing. My MBA is from the top-ranked International MBA school in the US, Thunderbird School of Global Management. I also spent each year of my undergraduate learning French, German and Mandarin, though only French has stuck. For me, getting to sell Canada around the world is a dream. I’m very lucky.

Managing one’s personal reputation is daunting enough in the age of social media. How do you manage the online reputation of an entire country?
Klassen: We’re very fortunate in that Canada has one of the world’s greatest country brands. The challenge with that is there remains little perceived substance to that brand, meaning that people like Canada as a brand but they’re not entire sure why. The upside is, however, that when there are “sniper shots” to our country’s reputation largely through social media—oil sands and seal hunt to name two—we have this brand firewall that tends to protect our reputation.

How did CTC marketing activities contribute to Canada’s ranking as #1 in the world on FutureBrand’s 2010 Country Brand Index?
Klassen: There are a number of surveys out there that measure the reputation of a country. We tend to follow FutureBrand because it skews largely to the tourism industry. In 2005 when we launched our brand, Canada.keep exploring, we held the 12th position. I think we achieved the #1 position through steadfast focus on the core tenants of our brand, of course with a “little” help from the Vancouver Olympics. This position is a great support to our marketing, as we know through an Interbrand study that 58% of the decision to choose Canada is based on Canada’s “brand”.

Can you define the “core tenants” of Canada’s brand?
Klassen: Canada.keep exploring is an associative brand that aligns travel in Canada with the essence of exploration—a key value of Canada’s best prospective customers. This key insight was developed through the understanding that Canada’s best customers are travelers—those who seek knowledge and understanding of themselves through travel—rather than tourists—those seeking to get away from life for a short period of time. Canada’s international tourism brand is not about us … but about an idea that our key customer segments hold dear.

What kind of long-term benefits is the Canadian tourism industry enjoying from the 2010 Winter Olympics? Any negative effects?
Klassen: Our focus in the years leading up to the games was the development and articulation of Canada’s international tourism brand, Canada.keep exploring. We felt as though the Olympics would be a powerful media vehicle to take a well articulated new idea of Canada to the world and change forever perceptions of a country of moose, mountains and maple syrup.

Our key interest was the billions of people from around the world watching the games on their screens rather than those visiting Vancouver. We felt those important customers would be well looked after by local tourism organizations

We were also aware through research of other Olympic cities that these monumental events come and go. Our focus was on what we call “Harvesting the Afterglow of the Olympics.” We knew that our brand recognition would never be higher, but we also knew we would need to leverage this brand reputation and turn this emotional appeal for Canada into heads in Canadian beds.

We had some superb results in 2010 and into 2011 in our own marketing campaigns in spite of the economic challenges facing the world with very few negative effects, though we were prepared for them.

What lessons in reputation management can be drawn from the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver in June?
Klassen: Again, this is a story of brand and the protection of armour exceptional brands provide. The riots were devastating to Vancouver and we were all embarrassed about what the world would think of our spectacular city … Turns out that because of Vancouver and Canada’s otherwise stellar reputation, the rest of the world said “well that’s uncharacteristic” and then moved on. While the CTC and Tourism Vancouver worked quickly to manage any possible downfall largely through social media, it turns out that our brands did all the heavy lifting for us.

How has social media changed the way Canada is marketed?
Klassen: Social media is having a profound effect on how we market Canada. The CTC was a very early adopter of social media and the first tourism organization, and possibly the first marketer we know of, to use user developed video content in our creative broadcast spots. We’re now developing our go forward strategies solely around the role that social media plays along the customers’ path to purchase.

I think we’ll soon see that while we had been leveraging social media as a discrete channel with a kind of “off the corner of our desks” style of strategy, we’ll now incorporate it directly into our core communications strategy and figure out how to leverage the power of the “recently returned from Canada” influencer and their ability to advocate for Canada as a tourism destination.

How can travel and tourism businesses take advantage of opportunities presented by emerging markets like Brazil, China and India?
Klassen: I call Canada training wheels for new travelers. Canada holds all the exotic appeal of many American destinations, but we’re perceived to be safe, clean and wide open … often in juxtaposition to those visiting from Sao Paolo and Mumbai. While these new travelers seek adventure, they are also relatively new to the concept of travel, so are sometimes seeking food and services that they expect from home.

This means ensuring that we have the “right” Indian and Chinese food (memo to Canadians, the stuff we think is Indian and Chinese is, well, in some cases largely unrecognizable in China or India). As well, travelers from these countries are looking for icons … so we need to provide them with marketing that supports what they know about Canada while introducing them to the unique experiences Canada offers.

Check out the newly released Canada’s Federal Tourism Strategy: Welcoming the World at

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned consultant specializing in online marketing, social media strategy and reputation management. He is the author of three novels set in hotels, and his blog is a popular resource for hoteliers and travel marketers around the world. Visit

Copyright © 2011 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved.

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