July 21, 2017

Vermont sends a love note to Canadian tourists

Visitors enjoy The Pumphouse Water Park at Jay Peak. Located a short drive from the northern border, the Jay resort relies on tourists from Canada. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF FILE PHOTO

On July 1, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing launched a welcome campaign to its northern neighbors. The communications campaign is intended as a heartfelt reminder to Canadians that Vermont greatly values their friendship, tourism and trade.

The initiative launch coincided with Canada Day, and began with 15- and 30-second video spots that ran throughout Quebec in both English and French on social media, featuring Gov. Phil Scott inviting Canadians to visit.

“The feedback we have already received through both email and social media has been incredibly positive,” said Steven Cook, deputy commissioner at Tourism and Marketing. “On Canada Day, we ran a one-day media blitz, and in that one day we received over 300,000 views. That was the official start of the campaign, and we continue to receive a great amount of enthusiasm around this effort.”

Videos were also shared with the Office of the Consulate General of Canada in Boston on July 1.

“There are a few aspects to the campaign. There is the paid advertising that we launched on July 1, which we may expand into Toronto; there’s a structured press launch that is going to be taking place in Montreal; there are filmed Canada Day videos, as well as other media aspects that will run through this month and August. And there’s the letter from the governor that welcomes Canadians to the Green Mountain State in the official Vermont vacation guides,” said Wendy Knight, Tourism and Marketing’s commissioner.

The campaign is slated to run through July and August, which are the busiest months for Canadian travel into Vermont, said Philip Tortora, the department’s communications director. With continued positive feedback, the welcome letter from the governor may run within the Vermont vacation guides through fall for further outreach.

Tourism and Marketing will invest $45,000 in the campaign, Tortora said.

“We saw the anniversary as an opportune time to launch the campaign. We’re heading into our busy summer season, and in the last decade we’ve seen a little bit of a steady decline in personal vehicle travel into the U.S.,” Knight said. “This visitation decline is in due part of the strong U.S. dollar, but also because of some current federal policies. We wanted to send a really strong welcome message as a reminder and reassurance of our friendship.”

Since 2013, the value of the Canadian dollar — the “loonie” — has hit a low of about 80 U.S. cents, or a 20 percent decline in purchasing power in the U.S., reportedly the lowest it has been since 2009. This fall may be causing a low yet steady decline in tourism into the U.S., specifically into Vermont from the Montreal and Quebec City region of Quebec.

“Our data shows that in 2015 Vermont welcomed 2.4 million Canadian visitors; in 2016 — 2.3 million. Our data also shows that between January (and) March of 2016, in comparison to January (and) March of this year, there has been a 2.3 percent decline in personal vehicle passengers who crossed into Vermont from Quebec, equating to 9,000 visitors into Vermont,” Knight said.

Roughly 375,000 Canadians have visited Vermont from Canada during the first quarter of 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation statistics, Tortora said.

Knight credits the diminished purchasing power for Canadians as the most significant factor at play, but said rhetoric from President Donald Trump and his administration about increasing security at both northern and southern borders needed to be addressed.

“Part of our Canada Welcome campaign was in response to the concerns from the tourism/hospitality companies in Vermont that the perception of border challenges might dissuade Canadians from coming (to) Vermont,” she wrote in an email. “It is this perception that our campaign, in part, was designed to counter. The other reasons were the busy summer travel season, the comparative tourism and marketing budgets of New York State vis-à-vis Vermont, and the decade-long trending decline in Canadian visitors.”

Some tourists who enter the U.S. through Vermont border crossings from Quebec are traveling to other U.S. destinations. However, Canadians contributed roughly $120 million to the Vermont economy in 2015. This figure has declined from $144 million in 2013, according to StatCan (Statistics Canada), the country’s government data agency.

Organizers characterize the campaign as an initiative to maintain unity and a friendly reminder the border is not a division. In his video, Gov. Phil Scott says, “I’d like to extend an invitation to visit Vermont, where we welcome friends and neighbors to come and celebrate life together.”

“We look forward to receiving more positive feedback and we hope this ‘Welcome’ campaign conveys how much we appreciate the time Canadians spend in our state,” Knight said.

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