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Hopes to Alter Image With New Ad Campaign : Canada Seeks to Woo U.S. Tourists

January 29, 1986|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

OTTAWA — When most Americans think about Canada--and they usually don't--the image is of ice, snow and toothless hockey players, not a place to go for excitement, mystery or high living. The Great Dull North. Canadians themselves often have the same idea about their country, and their feelings were not particularly hurt when a recent government-commissioned study found that Americans see Canada as the three-M country--for moose, mountains and Mounties.

In fact, many Canadians prefer to vacation in the United States rather than in their own country; Canadians traveling for pleasure south of the border outnumber Americans going north by 3.8 million a year. But the survey also indicated that Canada is losing money--lots of it--because of American indifference to the charms of its northern neighbor, and at that point the federal government decided it was time for a change of image. So, to get Americans thinking about and coming to Canada, a $15-million advertising campaign will start soon to awaken the affluent U.S. traveler to what the promotion types are calling "Canada--The World Next Door."

The word is awaken . The government survey, which involved 50-minute interviews with 9,000 Americans last year, showed that only one in 50 U.S. residents had ever even considered taking a vacation in Canada. And, of the nearly 131 million Americans who took pleasure trips in 1985, a mere 4% came to Canada.

"Actually, the biggest problem we have is not that Canada is too cold or too expensive for Americans," said Robert Parkins, a spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism "Our problem is that they don't think of Canada at all." When the image of Canada does seep into the American consciousness, he went on, "our survey shows they think of the country as all moose, mountains and Mounties."

Attracting more American tourists is of no small importance to this country, which has a $37-billion federal deficit. In per-capita terms, this is twice the U.S. budget deficit. According to government statistics, Canada lost more than $2.1 billion last year because Canadians traveling abroad outnumbered foreigners traveling to Canada.

Television-Oriented Ad Campaign

To change all this, Tourism Minister Jack Murta has given the multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to a Toronto firm, Camp Associates, with a mandate to persuade Americans that "we are cheaper, safer, have real cities and exciting night life." The slick, mainly television-oriented campaign will not ignore the traditional attractions of Canada's outdoors and the historic nature of French Canada. The theme will be that Canada is a country of three worlds--the Old World (largely Montreal and Quebec City), the New World (the other major cities) and the Wild World (the wilderness).

Nonetheless, the idea being pushed hardest is that the sophisticated tourist looking for a big-city good time can find it in Canada--and at a lower price and more safely than in Europe, Asia or even at home in the United States. So the 30- and 60-second spots that will be flooding the top 36 U.S. television markets starting March 3 will be flashy, rock-video-type ads featuring the sophisticated and lively aspects of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, with their upscale restaurants, nightclubs, theaters and discos.

"We want to show that Canadians do disco," Parkins said, "and that there is a lot to do here after dark. We just don't sit and watch the snow fall."

That was the problem with previous approaches to tourism, according to Murta. "Americans didn't think about us," he said, "and if they did, it was in terms of hunting and fishing. And our surveys found that most Americans figure they can fish and hunt as well in the United States, so why come here."

Montreal, with its French language, 17th-Century "Old City" and excellent restaurants, does have Old World-type charm. Vancouver's blue-water harbor, its snow-capped mountains and liberated social standards give it a relaxed, party-like atmosphere. And Toronto's glittering appearance--theaters, restaurants and shining skyline--allows it to boast about its place among North America's great cities.

According to Murta, Canada and its cities are different enough to make tourists know they are in another culture but not so different as to make them anxious or self-conscious. "What we are is comfortably different," he said.

Yet many travel agents in Canada doubt that just saying so is enough. What may turn the trick is the emphasis the Camp Associates ads will put on price and safety. "We're going to point out that you can do anything in Canada that you can do anywhere, and you can do it cheaper and do it in a lot more safety," Murta said.

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