12/19/2013 06:03 EST | Updated 02/18/2014 05:59 EST

How the Tourism Commission Gets the Word Out About Canada

If you're like me, then there are times you've probably asked this question: "how do international travellers view Canada? And what motivates them to visit?"

It's one thing if you live in New York or Montana -- we're neighbours. But for someone living in Brazil, South Korea, the United Kingdom or Australia, a trip to Canada for leisure is a major investment. Why choose Vancouver over Las Vegas? Why choose Ottawa over Washington? Why pick Calgary as a travel destination over Buenos Aires? And this isn't just about foreigners -- how do you convince a Canadian living in Red Deer that a trip to Halifax will be as enjoyable as a trip to San Diego?

These are questions that the Canadian government must ask as well if our country is to be a competitive draw for travellers. And understanding this question is one of the roles that the Canadian Tourism Commission (CT C) confronts each day. The CTC is Canada's national tourism marketing organization, a crown corporation that leads the Canadian tourism industry in selling Canada as a premier four-season destination.

CTC CEO Michele McKenzie stepping down

And the timing and importance of these questions are extremely important, especially today as the CTC faces personnel changes, an unforgiving marketplace and political pressures.

On October 1, 2013 CTC President and CEO Michele McKenzie announced she would be stepping down. McKenzie will be missed -- her accomplishments with the CTC include transforming Canada's international tourism brand and leveraging the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Her departure also comes at an important time, as some critics have accused the federal government of failure to properly promote Canada's tourism industry at a time when the competition is ramping up their tourism and hospitality spending. In a recent Huffington Post article entitled "Tories Have Pushed Canadian Tourism Off the Map", author Glenn Thibeault, an MP and Official Opposition Critic for Small Business explained that while many Canadians might not realize it, Canada's travel and tourism industry is an important driver of economic growth in our country and consistently delivers positive GDP and wage growth. He added that in 2012 Canada's travel and tourism industry generated $84.4 billion in economic activity, resulting in $9.6 billion in federal government revenue.

Thibeault wrote that Canada has cut its tourism marketing budget by 20 per cent, forcing the Canada Tourism Commission to abandon advertising initiatives in lucrative markets like the United States. Meanwhile, all of Canada's major competitors are increasing investments in foreign tourism marketing to lure the growing volume of international tourists to their countries through unified branding exercises.

No help from the top?

None of this, of course, makes the mission of the CTC any easier. Their vision is to inspire the world to explore Canada. This isn't always the easiest task because depending who you are or where you live, there may be stereotypes or perceptions to overcome.

Are we really a bunch of hockey-playing lumberjacks wearing beavertail hats while roasting a moose over a campfire in front of a cabin while listening to Justin Bieber CDs? Is Canada really just a less fun and colder version of the United States -- America lite, if you will?

Don't laugh too hard ... even George W. Bush, while running for president of the United States, was tricked by CBC personality Rick Mercer into admitting he believed our prime minister was a tasty plate of poutine.

But humour aside, getting a feel for how the world sees Canada -- and receiving an accurate message out about all the wonderful things Canada has to offer -- is critical to driving tourism to our country. Is Canada a fun place to visit? Is the country worth visiting in winter, and what is there to do during winter? Is Canada a good place to go for a honeymoon? Are there eco-travel opportunities here? Answering questions like these and telling the story of Canada is what the CTC does to bring international visitors into our airports, train stations, hotels, restaurants, attractions, and business events.

Story by Rod Charles, writer.

To read the rest of the story on, including 5 Ways the CTC Brings Visitors to Canada click here.