Parks Canada is looking to drum up business.
As part of that effort to reinvigorate its flagging brand, the federal agency has hired Toronto marketing firm, Veritas, to help it co-ordinate its marketing activities.
The two-year, $395,000 consulting contract awarded to Veritas might sound like a lot of money, but it’s only 0.2 per cent of Parks Canada’s annual revenue, said Andrew Campbell, the director general of external relations for the agency.
Over the last few years, Parks Canada has been struggling to attract visitors to the 42 national parks and 167 national historic sites it operates.
Last year, with about 20 million visitors, for the first time in a more than a decade, attendance actually trended upwards, said Campbell.
However, over the long-term trend has been negative.
Annual attendance for Parks Canada sites is down by about 2.5 million visitors from where it was 15 years ago.
There are several reasons for this trend, said Campbell.
The strength of the Canadian dollar and the rising price of gas has played a part, but there are other factors at work, he said.
“In the 24/7 society that we are in today, people often don’t have common times to actually take vacations like they used to,” said Campbell.
Parks Canada wants a 10-per-cent increase in the number of visits to its parks and historic sites by 2015.
It’s really the only way the agency can increase revenues.
Parks Canada has been barred from raising user fees since 2008.
In Canada, tourism is big business, contributing about $3 billion to the national GDP.
In the Yukon, tourism is a pillar of the territorial economy, said Pierre Germain, the Yukon government’s director of tourism
“Tourism generates $200 million per year in revenue to Yukon business,” he said. “That’s about 4.6 to 7.2 per cent of the territory’s GDP, which puts tourism one of the highest proportions of GDP in any region in the country.”
While the tourism trend for Parks Canada has been negative, in the Yukon it’s been relatively positive, said Germain.
“Yukon has performed well against other jurisdictions in Canada,” he said. “We’ve actually held our own and actually gained market share against many other provinces and territories.”
The vast majority of the Yukon’s tourists – 80 per cent – come from the U.S.
Only 10 per cent of the visitors to the territory are from other parts of Canada.
One of the biggest hurdles Parks Canada faces is promoting itself domestically, said Campbell.
“Canadians are not overly aware of the wonders and the great places to go that might be right in their own backyard,” he said.
Despite the fact the agency spends almost $1 million a year on advertising, that lack of awareness persists, he said.
It’s most acute in the major urban centres so that’s where the agency plans to focus its marketing efforts.
While fewer people are visiting national parks, those who do tend to enjoy themselves, said Campbell.
“Those 20 million visitors we have every year have great experiences,” he said. “We have about 96 per cent satisfaction rating.”
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