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WE ARE FAMILY: Brand USA brings an optimistic message to Canada

The travel trade in this country got a taste of Brand USA’s sophisticated new “Global Marketplace” technology late last week with a special “Focus on Canada” event designed to communicate the latest news from south of the border and foster connections with America’s closest neighbour as both look forward to the restoration of cross-border travel.

“We know when we’re able to welcome our friends and neighbours back, travel agents across Canada are going to play a critical role in helping facilitate that return,” said Brand USA president and CEO, Christopher Thompson in an introductory message. “As our facilitators of travel, once we are on top of the pandemic, which is the first and most important thing, we want you to be as prepared and as informed, and as inspired as we can possibly make you, so that you can share that with all your clients when the time is right.”

The marketplace is a custom-built, always-on, virtual platform that provides access to a diverse range of US destinations, attractions, and points of interest for the international travel industry. In this case, the Canadian audience was able to tune into several information sessions and partner videos and network with suppliers via a reimagined version of a traditional trade show. Information included insights and trends on Canadian’s post-pandemic travel mindset and Brand USA’s intention to “pivot” its messaging in Canada from simple engagement and inspiration to action.

“We really want to think about bookings,” stated Brand USA Sr. Director of Consumer Marketing, Nick Mattera. “We want to move consumers down the funnel… (and) to bring in tour operators, airlines and OTA partners to ensure that we can bring business back to the USA.”

The campaign, which will include co-op advertising options for partners, will be predicted on “three core communication tasks,” noted Matera:

• With safety being the prime consideration for consumers choosing a destination to travel to, ensuring that consumers know that “we are ready to welcome them” – and not just from a destination perspective, but including airlines, hotels, etc.

• Making sure that “consumers haven’t forgotten about us… We know that during this time there will be massive amounts of competition for the same audience and all of our competitors will be looking to reach the international travellers and inspire them to come to their destination. We need to have a high impact story to show international consumers that there are still massive amounts of possibilities that exist in the US.”

• Once the US has shown that it is ready and has inspired consumers with high-impact creative, “We want to drive them to bookings… and really showcase meaningful reasons to book.”

One vehicle to do that is GoUSA TV, Brand USA’s flagship connected TV channel, which, it was announced, will debut later this month in southern Ontario on GO Transit’s new GO Wi-Fi Plus free entertainment portal. The channel offers inspiring travel content showcasing the USA’s must-see places, great outdoors, foodie hot spots, and amazing road trips and will be seen by up to 75 million Go travellers.

Brand USA Sr. VP of integrated marketing Trancy Lanza noted that Canada is already the number one audience for GoUSA TV and the number of Canadians watching digital video has increased during the pandemic.

Other insights from the event included:

Travellers

Jennifer Hendry, senior research associate of the Conference Board of Canada, shared how important the transborder traveller is to both the Canadian and US economies, and how the pandemic has really highlighted this fact.

While acknowledging this crisis is having a much more prolonged impact than any previous shocks, she noted the resiliency of the tourism industry but cautioned that gaining insight into when travel will return continues to be a challenge. “We’re seeing the planning cycle increasing considerably,” she said. “Obviously travellers need to wait and see what their options are, but they are researching possibilities and are ready to go at the drop of a hat.”

Offering industry partners some optimism, Hendry shared that the organization’s latest research shows that nine in 10 Canadians say they miss travelling and that “we need to keep in mind that tourism is one of the most resilient sectors, and Canadians are a very savvy market that will take to the skies again.”

Hendry also stated that as markets look ahead to recovery, it’s expected that in Canada young singles, and newly coupled millennials will be the group of Canadian travellers that have the most likelihood to travel immediately when restrictions are lifted and borders are opened. She advised viewers that overall communication about virus management will be a reassurance and stressed the importance of “being open and honest,” stating, “that will help attract Canadian travellers in the future.”

Trends

Speaking to Canadian search trends, Carol Johnson, senior client principal partner at Tripadvisor, said there is reason for optimism, pointing to the fact that while down, travel sites remain among the most highly visited sites on the world wide web. In September, travel sites globally captured nearly two billion monthly visits and 14 billion page views, an indication that travellers are continuing to research for future trips. “It’s hopefully comforting,” she said, “to see the US as the number one foreign country viewed by (Tripadvisor) users in Canada, with New York City, Las Vegas, and Central Florida (Orlando) the top three destinations for Canadian travellers,” according to Tripadvisor search data.

She also reported that more than two-thirds (65%) of Canadian consumers surveyed said the ability to avoid crowded places while travelling is more important in their choice of destination than it was pre-pandemic. And, more than half (52%) say they are more likely to take an outdoor nature trip than they were before COVID-19 hit.

“Tripadvisor traffic and search data in Canadian sentiment all point in the same direction: up,” said Johnson. “Depending on the speed with which vaccine inoculations progress, and the destinations themselves, a sustained recovery for the global travel sector is closer than ever.”

However, she cautioned that, “instead of a V-shaped recovery, imagine a more jagged line of progress where sometimes two steps forward will be met with one step back.”

Engagement

“With the borders still closed, Canadians continue to explore travel as dreamers looking to be inspired,” offered Expedia’s Raina Williams, senior regional manager, Canada Expedia Group Media Solutions. She pointed to proprietary data showing that “84% of Canadians said they travelled for rejuvenation, and we believe that need to rejuvenate is likely to continue and carry into the next 12 months.”

Expedia’s survey data also indicates that Canadians are more likely to travel in the latter half of the year, with 60% saying they would be open to travelling from July to September. Her advice to travel partners: “Even if you’re not ready to welcome visitors, keeping travellers inspired and driving awareness is key to keeping top of mind for when they are ready,” she said.

We are family

Brand USA CEO Thompson noted that 21 million Canadians visited the US in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, making this country the US’s largest source market. “So, of course it makes all the sense in the world that our first event in the new year, where we see the glimmer of light getting brighter, would be a focus on Canada.”

And, he added, “We share a border, and it’s the largest border we share, but it’s so much more than that. We in the US look at our neighbours to the north and I think we look at family.”

Brand USA is planning another Focus on Canada event specifically for the retail travel trade in the future.

First published at Travel Industry Today

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