The Changing Face of Tourism

Greater Victoria has long outgrown clichés of union-jack colonialism and an aging demography. Douglas talks to the strategists and creatives behind the region’s rebrand to find out why they made the change and how they did it.

As Destination Greater Victoria furthers its progress in regional sports tourism, the city and surrounding areas will be well-known as a destination for events like June’s Victoria Bike Race, part of the Robert Cameron Law Cycling series.

What does it mean to be a city? Should it be measured by its boundaries, gardens or history? What about its climate or its architecture? Or maybe a city is measured by what it is not — what metrics do
we use to decide? And if a city is so many of these things, then how does a tourism organization decide which of its features best exemplify what people can expect when they get here?

These were the questions facing Tourism Victoria this year during its January to June rebranding initiative to better champion what the provincial capital is like in the now. The initiative led to the organization’s rebirth this September as Destination Greater Victoria (DGV), including a new branding and marketing package that encapsulates the island culture that draws an estimated 3.6 million tourists and $1.9 billion tourism dollars across the Salish Sea every year.

“If we didn’t rebrand, our competition would pick up our share,” says Paul Hawes, DGV’s chief marketing and distribution officer. “A destination brand isn’t just a logo, it is intrinsic to telling that full, rich story about a destination — and without that, the customer will be swayed elsewhere.”

The Rebranding Journey

Rebranding can be a deep or shallow process, depending on how well existing marketing materials align with tourism goals. For Greater Victoria’s rebrand, modern destination tourism experts went subterranean, closely examining the region’s assets and identifying an equilibrium between Victoria’s infrastructure, natural environment and culture — a trifecta of tourism bait. Other destinations typically skew heavily in one direction — New York, for example, relies on its infrastructure and cultural density, and Hawaii on its natural beach vibe. Victoria’s distinction is its balancing act between urban and wild.   

DGV president and CEO Paul Nursey waited five years to rebrand the city, intentionally holding back until he had a handle on every aspect of the place.

Jam Cafe’s Pulled Pork Pancakes show off Victoria’s rich and colourful food scene – just one aspect of Victoria Nursey wanted to fully understand. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

“For me, this is often one of the first things a CEO does when they take a job, and I wanted to take my time and to do it right,” says Nursey. “I really wanted to understand Greater Victoria before I made any kind of branding moves because I think it would be pretty arrogant to do it right away.”

Instead, Nursey focused on modernizing the agency, bringing systems and funding models up to date and integrating its sub-brands, including sales and marketing for the Victoria Conference Centre; the visitor’s centre; membership services; travel trade; and a sports tourism initiative, into the organizational scope.

In late 2017, Nursey began to see signs that the city had outgrown its existing tourism identity, namely that its marketing tools weren’t measuring up to the international attention it was receiving.

“Not only was it time because our city was taking the stage globally and the tourism initiative was doing so well, and we were getting global recognition as the number two small city by Condé Naste Traveller —accolade after accolade, really — I thought that our current brand, look and identity was quaint, outdated. It was from 2005 and that’s what it was, so we started that process.”

The accolades Nursey is referring to include Victoria coming second in a 2017 Condé Naste Traveller magazine reader’s choice awards for best small city outside of the USA. That, plus steady maturation of its all-season tourism initiatives in conferences and sports tourism, meant it was time to reassess how it was positioned for both members and visitors.

A competitive request for proposal process last winter put Tourism Victoria in the sightlines of a progressive branding and marketing firm with expertise in destination travel. Vancouver-based strategic consultancy and integrated marketing agency Destination Think! secured the contract, despite being unable to lay out the proposal in person. When flights to the island were grounded due to snow, scuttling their ability to meet face to face, the agency’s executives pitched Nursey’s team via Skype and landed the contract.

The Art of Branding a Destination

“We are dealing with a pretty unique product here: a destination. It’s not something you invent, or create,” says former Victoria resident William Bakker, chief strategist and partner with Destination Think!  

Goldstream Park. Photograph by Jo-Ann Loro.

“The first step we take is to really understand the identity of the place. We have a process that we’ve created, called Place DNA, which involves working with the residents of a destination to understand what it’s about.
An identity isn’t a choice, it’s who you are.”

Through interviews with locals, surveys, sentiment analysis, site visits and workshops, Destination Think! collected enough data to get a sense of Victoria outside of (and in consideration of) the clichés that persist — think tea, gardens and hippies. Bakker, who spent 11 years with Destination BC, and a small team from Destination Think! spent days combing the region, looking at fashion and food, history and public art, and interviewing people from all walks of life. Cab drivers, students, families, business owners, and tourists were questioned about the city, from general impressions to improvement wish lists.

From there, the agency was able to get a sense of Victoria’s personality and attributes, eventually weaving those stories into the brand identification. Example of the language used in the personality section of the branding package for Greater Victoria include: relaxed, eclectic, charming, cultured and timeless.

And that personality had to be easily conveyable in every medium.

“We have to be relevant across all channels, whether it’s print, broadcast, out-of-home social media, digital, everything,” says Nursey. “Even in sales channels and trade shows we have to be sure we are putting our best foot forward.”

A Brand to Love

Hundreds of businesses were involved in the rebranding process, which included consultation with the City of Victoria, the District of Saanich, the South Island Prosperity Project, and First Nations groups. Destination Think! polled over 1,000 Tourism Victoria members over the course of two info-gathering sessions, and the team surveyed 1,500 locals, along with countless customer perception checks along the way.

The results spurred the name change from Tourism Victoria to Destination Greater Victoria, meant to better encompass the broader region while improving alignment with larger tourism organizations like Destination BC and Destination Canada. DGV scrapped its previous tagline, “Full of Life,” which was poached by Croatia’s tourism brand in recent years, deciding instead on “Oceans Apart from Ordinary.”However, when DGV found out a similar slogan was used for a beer marketing campaign in the seventies, it decided to hold off on any tagline decisions.

The new marketing material and guidelines are available to any business or organization that wants to leverage DGV’s considerable groundwork in the tourism arena.

“Expanding the brand of Victoria to Greater Victoria is a recognition of the opportunities that lie beyond municipal boundaries,” says Paul Hadfield, owner of Spinnakers Brewpub and president of Think Local First. “Much of what we enjoy and what attracts us to live here is contained within the landscape of southern Vancouver Island — from Port Renfrew to Sidney, from Oak Bay to the Malahat and beyond is what we have to offer, and a broader brand focus is much more inclusive of all of those activities and entities that animated our landscape.”

In total, the rebrand cost $150,000 and the resulting toolbox provides editorial tone, font, colours, photographic guidelines, tagline formation, a logo suite for consumer and corporate purposes, including a minimum logo size (25mm, to be exact), definitions of incorrect usage in official copy (hint: don’t try to squeeze the new name onto a too-small button; the loopy V in Victoria must not be crowded).

“It’s easy for us to fall in love with ourselves, but to see how we’re positioned on a global level is something very different,” says Kathi Springer, VP communications and corporate relations at Pace Group, which provides contract communications support for DGV.

“I think what they’re doing is really smart,” she adds. “You don’t have to look that far to see that some communities are really struggling because they didn’t have the foresight to articulate what is was that the place was about and plan for protecting it at the same time. It’s tourism all grown up in this region; it’s being intentional, and I like that.”

This article is from the October/November 2018 issue of Douglas