This study examines the online marketing practices of provincial and territorial tourism authorities within Canada. Rather than examining ways in which the federal Canadian government promotes the country, this study examines the tourism website homepages of the provinces and territories. Attention is paid to homepage design, layout and information provided to potential visitors of an area within Canada. It should be noted this paper is a cursory review of provincial and territorial tourism homepages and is intended to be a starting point for continued investigation and research.
CANADIAN TOURISM AND THE ONLINE INITIATIVE IN BRIEF
In 2005 the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) launched a campaign to promote a new "brand Canada" strategy. (Hampton, 2005) This effort spearheaded by the CTC seeks to target tourists beyond the U.S. market to make Canada a preferred travel destination. In this new effort the CTC is looking to European travelers rather than American travelers due to declining tourism from U.S. visitors since September 11, 2001. (Gold Medal launches Canada brochure, 2006, Atlantic Tourism ROI comes up short, 2002, Statistics Canada, 2006). "According to the United Nations, Canada is the No. 2 place to live in the world, but it has dropped from seventh to 12th place as a travel destination." (Chiasson and Wentz, 2005, p.13)
The apparent falloff in the number of U.S. visitors to Canada may be attributed to several factors including: a weak U.S. dollar, reduced vacation time for many salaried employees, increased fuel costs, the 2003 SARS outbreak in Ontario and fears of anti-American sentiment in reaction to the Iraq War. Statistics Canada cited at 9.4% decline in the number of Americans traveling to Canada in the first quarter of 2006. The same report noted that the number of visitors from other countries was unchanged and that tourism employment had increased 1.5% from the previous year. (Statistics Canada, 2006)
Travel by American visitors to Canada was growing steadily prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks but declined in the aftermath. By the end of 1998 Canadian authorities were expecting record numbers of visitors coming in from the States compared to what had been seen in 1997. (Canada expects record U.S. visits, 1998) By 1999 the CTC was engaged in direct mail campaigns and trade advertising in the United States. The annual meetings of the (U.S.) Direct Marketing Association and the American Lung Association were held that year in Canada. Tourism was booming with no end in sight. (Daniels, 1999) After September 11, 2001 attempts were made to lure American travelers back to Canada by offering stunning travel deals and assurances the country was among the safest in the world. (Heinzl, 2002) But the 2003 outbreak of SARS in Toronto resulted in cross-border travel disruptions and warnings not to travel to Canada. Additionally tourism officials at CTC were aware that the U.S.-led war in Iraq would cause people to postpone travel plans. (Rendon, 2003) Further instances of other events such as the discovery of Mad Cow Disease or BSE in Alberta cattle, forest fires in British Columbia and a strong Canadian dollar served to increase the hesitant mood of jittery American tourists.
Recognizing there could be a negative impact to the industry the CTC launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in major U.S. markets including New York, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle that attempted to lure U.S. travelers across the border for summer holidays. (Rendon, 2003) In Britain the CTC launched a TV ad campaign to boost the flagging image of travel to the Great White North. (Hampton, 2003) Yet despite CTC's efforts to promote Canada to American and British tourists the year-end result was a 13.3% decline in foreign travel to Canada in 2003. (Krauss, 2004) Given the realities of the situation the CTC recognized that action had to be taken to restore some vigor into the tourism economy. …