Success of Tourism Nanaimo’s 2016 Marketing Campaign Evident To Regional Stakeholders
NANAIMO, BC - Tourism Nanaimo’s mission for 2016 was ambitious: switch the perception of Nanaimo from that of a mandatory stop on the way to more well known destinations, into a premier tourist hub in its own rights. As 2017 begins, the results from last year’s tourism marketing campaign are coming in, and they’re showing that public investment into the local tourism industry has definitely paid off.
In their Tourism Bulletin report for November 2016, Chemistry Consulting noted that “this year’s November occupancy rate of 65% represents a notable increase in visitor activity in what is generally one of the slower tourism months of the year,” when occupancy rates have previously never exceeded 60%. Positive outcomes like this were seen by multiple tourism stakeholders throughout the summer and shoulder seasons, as proven by strong growth at the Nanaimo Airport and overall increases to both passengers and vehicle traffic on BC Ferries routes to Nanaimo.
Early in 2016, Tourism Nanaimo identified an opportunity to appeal to more short-haul travellers who are already considering a road trip to Vancouver Island as an alternative to travelling abroad. To make this happen, “we needed to change the way people think of Nanaimo as a destination,” says Kristina Crowson, a senior strategist with Array Web + Creative, the firm contracted to execute campaign marketing and design. “Nanaimo’s reputation with travellers is often that of a drive-through city - the place you have to go through on the way to Tofino. We gave people reason to think otherwise.”
Example of a print ad prepared for publications like Salt Magazine
To encourage more Island travellers to visit Nanaimo, Array’s team developed the “Meet You Here” campaign, utilizing multiple communications strategies across a variety of channels - from Facebook and Instagram to digital billboards to 360° videos. By taking advantage of modern marketing tactics and partnerships with companies like Cabela’s, Nanaimo’s brand was showcased to millions of potential travellers in key target regions like Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Seattle.
Example of a billboard ad featured in Vancouver
These efforts were supported by an interactive website complete with itineraries and print media focusing on the "Top 10 Things To Do in Nanaimo” - a list that offered something exciting for every kind of traveller to Vancouver Island. For example, the ‘Nanaimo Bar Trail’ invited visitors to enjoy various interpretations of the Harbour City’s namesake treat at local shops and restaurants, guided by a downloadable brochure map. In the summer of 2016, Medina Mayes, owner of A Wee Cupcakery in downtown Nanaimo, told Tourism Nanaimo that “[t]he trail is going great! I have so many people coming in my shop that are excited about it and purchasing. So far, it’s been my best year!”.
The now-legendary Ammonite Falls
In addition to culinary adventures, the “Nanaimo’s Top 10” list included a variety of cultural and recreation-based activities that many locals didn’t even know about until the marketing campaign was launched, like the Cedar Yellowpoint Artisan trail and the Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island. Tourism Nanaimo’s success in promoting outdoor adventures through emotionally engaging advertising not only turned many ‘lookers’ into ‘bookers’, but also provided valuable data on Nanaimo’s potential as a recreation hub.
Because the Array team continually tracked user interaction with online ads and the Explore Nanaimo website, they were able to identify what imagery and messaging received the most engagement and what kinds of experiences that Nanaimo’s tourists desire most. For instance, the most popular itineraries downloaded from the Explore Nanaimo website were those that featured low-barrier opportunities to enjoy Nanaimo’s natural wonders, such as hikes to Ammonite Falls or sunrise watching at Yellowpoint Lodge. Imagery related to these experiences was then used in banner ads on popular websites frequented by target travellers - such as TheWeatherNetwork.com and CalgaryHerald.com - which were seen over 5.6 million times and achieved click-through rates far above industry average.
The Malaspina Galleries - a hidden wonder
Leif Bogwald, owner of local tour company VI Expeditions, noted a significant increase in business as a result of the campaign. “My revenue doubled in 2016 over the prior year, and this campaign and Tourism Nanaimo in general was definitely part of the reason. Despite many not realizing it, we are a foodie destination.” says Bogwald. “There likely isn't anywhere else on Vancouver Island where you can stop by a craft distillery, a craft brewery, one of Vancouver original five wineries, and one of North America's largest fish canneries and smokehouses.“
“Seeing the website traffic and engagement from Calgary & Edmonton increase is amazing,“ states Chelsea Barr, a Destination Marketing Officer with Tourism Nanaimo. “We took a risk pursuing an “outside the box” partnership with Cabela’s and it paid off.” In fact, the Explore Nanaimo website saw an over 2700% increase in traffic from Alberta during the campaign and thousands of tourist map and itinerary downloads. “I was surprised and excited about the number of map downloads and itinerary views,” says Barr. “We put a ton of effort and creativity into them and knowing people used them to get inspired is so rewarding.”
While the future of Nanaimo’s publically-funded tourism marketing remains unknown, one thing is for sure - Nanaimo & Region has made huge gains in its reach and awareness as a tourism destination. The goal behind ‘Meet You Here’ was to warmly invite prospective visitors to imagine themselves experiencing what the Nanaimo region really has to offer. We can consider the mission accomplished - it’s now up to local stakeholders to seize the opportunity and leverage the good work that has been started.