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Enhancing Winter & Shoulder Season Tourism in Canada
Welcome to Enhancing Winter & Shoulder Season Tourism in Canada — an Elevating Canadian Experiences webinar. This presentation teaches you about winter and shoulder season tourism in Canada, while also highlighting the opportunities and strategies to consider for your own business or region. The webinar identifies the common challenges faced by destinations and operators and provides actionable advice on how to overcome them.
Welcome to Enhancing Winter & Shoulder Season Tourism in Canada — an Elevating Canadian Experiences webinar.
The following presentation teaches you about winter and shoulder season tourism in Canada, while also highlighting the opportunities and strategies to consider for your own business or region. The webinar identifies the common challenges faced by destinations and operators and provides actionable advice on how to overcome them.
Each module is time stamped, with chapter selections available at the beginning of every section so you can explore the presentation however you see fit.
Throughout the webinar, worksheets and resources will appear along the sidebar. We encourage you to populate these worksheets as you go, whether digitally in a PDF reader or by downloading and printing. By the end of the webinar, these worksheets will become a working plan for the development of winter and shoulder season tourism in your destination.
Click on the worksheet that is currently available for your first set of discovery questions.
Module One: Introduction to Elevating Canadian Experiences
The Elevating Canadian Experiences program connects tourism providers to shared knowledge, with the goal of developing opportunities – including products, services and packages – that enhance winter and shoulder season tourism in Canada. It ECE program is also designed to motivate travellers to visit more rural and remote destinations.
The program supports tourism businesses, Destination Marketing Organizations, and various tourism stakeholders by identifying new opportunities that appeal to various market interests in the off season.
Before moving on, let’s define Canada’s tourism seasons. Our peak season is the summer – June, July, and August – with 85% of visitors travelling to Ontario, British Columbia, or Quebec, while 75% of those consumers visit Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal respectively.
The winter season in Canada extends from November to February, with our shoulder seasons considered to be the spring – March, April, and May – and the Fall – September and October.
With that in mind, it’s important to note only 1% of visitor activities in the Canada are winter-based. Which presents a significant opportunity to enhance our off-season tourism.
The program kicked off with extensive research to help us understand Canada’s current landscape and supply and demand factors around winter and shoulder season tourism. We surveyed tourists across the nation, as well in the United States and the United Kingdom, to identify visitor expectations related to off-season travel.
The supporting workshop materials for the ECE program, as well as the framework for the national toolkit, is the result of that research.
Armed with this information, a series of 48 workshops in 24 destinations across Canada engaged participants in a discussion around the challenges and opportunities of developing winter and shoulder season tourism in the country.
Following these workshops, the feedback and observations helped produce the standard national toolkit, which offers destinations across Canada ideas and support to enhance their off-season tourism.
Finally, a standard set of pilot strategies developed for Destination Marketing Organizations were executed in four select destinations: Yarmouth and Acadian Shore, NS, Charlevoix, QC, Windsor/Essex, ON, and Sunshine Coast, BC.
A link to the national toolkit is now available in your sidebar and is accessible through the Elevating Canadian Experiences content hub at any time.
Tourism During a Crisis
The Elevating Canadian Experiences program was launched prior to the global pandemic in 2020. Despite the disruption COVID-19 caused in the tourism industry, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada or TIAC, chose to go ahead with the program as the need to enhance winter and shoulder season tourism became more important than ever.
The impact COVID-19 had in 2020, and continues to have in 2021, has forced operators and destinations into developing innovative ideas and long-term solutions.
This includes forming partnerships with key operators, creating flexible offerings and bundling products and services to develop compelling packages for travellers. For example, Prince Edward Island’s Food Island Program leveraged an existing successful program for visitors to promote on island culinary experiences to locals, supporting many businesses and business owners in the process.
Module Two: Seasonality in Tourism
Before moving on in the presentation, please note there is a second worksheet now available in the sidebar. As you work through module two, you’re encouraged to fill out the discovery questions inside.
Specific challenges faced by tourism operators and destinations are dependent on location, products and services available, as well as unique experiences offered. However, there are three areas of impact for everyone to consider when planning to mitigate global challenges with seasonality:
- the financial impact of seasonality;
- the operational impact of seasonality; and
- the impact on visitors and communities.
Addressing these challenges not only benefits your destination and operators, but it also stimulates financial support from stakeholders and investors.
An example of a financial challenge with seasonality in tourism is an idle product, with a strong offering during the summer that also has opportunity in the winter or shoulder seasons, but is sitting unused.
Given upkeep and maintenance is still required during the off-season, if a product or service isn’t being utilized outside of the summer months, the total return on investment is diminished. So, it’s important to ask yourself:
- What are the different ways I can expand peak tourism season?
- And how do I increase the usability of my products and services to maximize their return?
From an operational perspective, limited access to resources and facilities, combined with a reduced labour force, is one of the main challenges with seasonality in tourism.
Typically, high labour attraction during the peak season is contrasted by unemployment in the winter and shoulder seasons, while the under utilization of resources and facilities restricts the expansion of products and services.
Meaning, if your popular attractions are closed, parks and trails aren’t maintained or your operators scale back their offerings, it becomes difficult to support the development of tourism into the off-season.
The travellers’ perception of your destination during the winter and shoulder seasons is also a common challenge. It’s important to consider:
- Is your destination thought to be enjoyable to visit during the off-season?
- What products and services are missing compared to the peak season?
- Are the main attractions open or accessible?
- And what assumptions do travellers have about your destination during the winter and shoulder seasons?
An extension of the operational challenges with seasonality is the fatigue and depletion of resources that follows the peak tourism season.
Operators and their staff are exhausted after a busy summer, which leads to a decrease in social carrying capacity – that’s to say, fewer assets are available to support tourism during the winter and shoulder seasons.
Overcrowding in communities, especially in urban areas, is also a factor to consider. Crowds and congestion at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and boat lines can lower the quality of experiences and damage brand perceptions. Concern about environmental impact is an additional challenge of seasonality in tourism.
Causes of Seasonality
There are several reasons for seasonality in tourism, with most causes falling into one of four categories:
- the weather;
- calendar effects and timing decisions;
- interest by stakeholders; and
- awareness of destination, brand and availability of experiences.
The weather causes seasonality in tourism in a few different ways. The winter season, for example, can be less conducive to travelling in terms of safety and accessibility, while poor weather reduces the quality of experiences available to visitors in the shoulder seasons.
To that point, research shows that some international consumers have the perception that off-season weather puts a halt to travel altogether. Of course, despite the perceived limitations about travelling during the winter and shoulder seasons, for some destinations and operators, the weather actually enhances the visitor experience.
This presents an opportunity to educate consumers about the advantages of winter and shoulder season travel, while also calling attention to the products, services and experiences that extended beyond the peak season.
Calendar effects and timing decisions also determine seasonality in tourism. Consider the school year, for instance, from September to mid-June parents no longer have as much free time to travel. And by then, most consumers are back to their regular work schedules, having used all their vacation time during the peak season.
However, it is important to consider the disruption COVID-19 had in 2020. More people are working from home than ever before and students are beginning to shift to remote learning. This indicates that reliable access to technology will be a critical consideration for travellers when choosing a place visit.
So, the question becomes: how do you position your region as a destination that allows consumers to work, learn and travel at the same time?
Seasonality in tourism can also be caused when stakeholders, business owners and destinations lack the interest to develop tourism in the winter and shoulder seasons.
This can occur following a busy or unusually demanding peak season; where an exhausted labour force and depleted resources become the main challenges for destinations and operators. In some cases, there is a long-held belief that demand is limited beyond the high season so staying open is not justified. Or, tourism businesses are a second source of income for operators so they choose to close after the high season for lifestyle reasons.
Use research to your advantage if you’re looking to expand. Take the time to understand the existing and potential demand for winter and shoulder season tourism and use that to determine how and where your destination or business can fulfill a need.
The fourth cause of seasonality in tourism is the awareness of your destination as it relates to traveller perception and the availability of experiences, brands, products and services.
Once again, it’s important to consider:
- Are consumers aware of the experiences you have to offer during the winter and shoulder seasons?
- Do travellers assume your popular attractions and facilities are closed during the off-season?
- And what do visitors believe is lacking when compared to the summer season?
Four Factors Impacting your Business
There are factors that make the decision to travel in the winter and shoulder season tourism a particularly complicated one for consumers.
This includes the insecurity of decision making. When travellers don’t know what to expect from a destination during the winter and shoulder seasons, uncertainty and the inability to make a decision are the result.
Due to this insecurity, the McDonald’s effect takes place where consumers fall back on what they know best and what they’re most comfortable with. In terms of tourism, this means sticking to their usual behaviour of travelling during the peak season, rather than trying something new and potentially being disappointed with the experience.
Bragging rights play a role as well, in that consumers will visit certain destinations simply due to their popularity. This can overshadow the operators and experiences from lesser-known destinations; even though they deliver similar offerings, travellers may not be aware of what’s available, or they perceive the opposite to be true given the uncertainty surrounding tourism in off-season.
Finally, FOMO, or the fear of missing out. When considering off-season travel, consumers often worry that some products and experiences are unique to the summer months. As such, FOMO drives travellers to focus on the peak season when choosing a destination, and not the winter and shoulder seasons.
Module Three: Canada’s Challenges with Seasonality
To understand the ins and outs of seasonality and how Canadians travel both provincially and nationally, research was gathered from public opinion surveys conducted by TIAC in March and April of 2020. The data from these surveys is now available for download in your sidebar.
There are two things to keep in mind: the research took place as COVID-19 was emerging as a serious threat to consumers and the wellbeing of tourism. Secondly, despite the risks and limitations in place during the pandemic, there is still pent up demand for travel in Canada and around the world.
Related to that, is the fact that consumer behaviour has dramatically changed. The buyer’s journey has changed – the way consumers purchase products is changing, the way they search for products is changing and how they interact in the social and digital space is changing.
Our research also uncovered several other factors impacting seasonality in tourism:
- Accommodation in major cities hits its peak in June, July and August.
- Only 1% of Canada’s tourism-based products, services and experiences are winter-based.
- Geographic and seasonal overcrowding can have a negative impact on the experiences of visitors to Canada.
- The majority of tourism in Canada is concentrated in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
- And Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are the most visited cities in Canada.
Canada’s Bell Curve
Canada’s seasonality in tourism follows a typical bell curve, which is true for many of the country’s destinations and operators. As shown, the monthly average of travellers to Canada gently rises and falls in the winter and shoulder seasons, while the number of arrivals peak in the summer months.
The reasons for this were discussed in the previous module, but there is also a perception that tourism in Canada begins the Victoria Day long weekend and ends on Labour Day, or Thanksgiving depending on the weather in the fall.
This perception is held by travellers, but it is also a belief ingrained into many of our destinations and operators. Which means, aside from the environmental factors affecting seasonality in tourism, there are also operational barriers within the industry itself.
So, the goal of the Elevating Canadian Experiences program is to disrupt this bell curve and fundamentally change the way we approach winter and shoulder season tourism. This starts by altering our perceptions within the industry and developing strategic offerings that stimulate off-season travel.
Shoulder Season Factors
A 50-question survey was sent to Canadian, British, and U.S. consumers asking them to define when they considered the winter and shoulder seasons were in Canada. The results showed the shoulder season to be March, April and May, so late winter and into the spring; as well as September and October in the fall.
The survey also tells us why travellers are motivated to visit Canada, with their main reasons being that popular destinations are less crowded and there’s potential for lower-priced offerings. The survey also indicated that the profile of off-season travellers was similar to those who visit during the summer months.
Opposite of the motivating factors are the perceived barriers consumers have related to off-season travel in Canada. This includes the potential for inclimate weather and the belief that many of our products, services, attractions and operators are closed during the shoulder season.
Another barrier our research shows is that parents are less likely to travel while their children are in school, which is typically from the beginning of September until the middle of June. That said, outside of the pandemic, there’s typically an influx in tourism during the winter and shoulder seasons due to extended holidays such as March Break or Christmas.
And the most common activities for those visiting Canada are sightseeing at popular attractions; unique culinary experiences such wine and craft brewery tours; and more importantly given the pandemic and social distancing measures, access to national parks and conservation areas, including the opportunity to encounter wildlife.
The main takeaway is consumers want a full itinerary-like experience that combines everything they want to see, taste and do.
A Peak Season Destination
Canadian, American and British consumers were surveyed on where they would like to travel to for their next primary vacation. They were also asked about when they would prefer to visit a number of different destinations. This included Canada, the U.S., Spain, Mexico and France, and whether consumers wanted to visit during the peak season, shoulder season and low season.
The results clearly show Canada as being a high season destination, with nearly half of those surveyed wanting to visit during the summer months. To a lesser extent, the shoulder season is seen as a possible alternative, but the winter season is viewed as the least desirable.
Two other key insights can also be taken from this data:
- there is an opportunity to extend the shoulder season offerings into the winter months; and
- the development of winter tourism requires more awareness of products, services and attractions that support low season travel.
Module Four: Winter and Shoulder Season Tourism
Why Choose Canada?
Canadians, Americans and Britons were also asked about their reasons for travelling to or within Canada during the shoulder season. Participants were given several options to choose from, including having unique experiences not available during the peak season or discount prices at popular attractions, and a consistent response across all three markets was the shoulder season being less busy with fewer crowds.
The results also showed that Canadians are motivated by cheaper accommodations, while less expensive flights was the top driver for British consumers. These factors were popular among Americans as well; however, U.S. travellers expressed a wider range of reasons to visit.
Finally, an interesting highlight is 16% of Americans consider Canada’s destinations as being more welcoming during the shoulder season, while only 5% of Canadians and 7% of Britons saw this as being a benefit.
For an in-depth look at the survey results, check out the resources featured in your sidebar.
According to Canadian, American and British consumers, there are three main barriers to shoulder season travel in Canada. The top two responses were poor weather and popular attractions being closed, while the distant third was the inability to travel due to work and school commitments.
Weather patterns are beyond our control, but the belief that many businesses and parks close after Labour Day or Thanksgiving is a perception we can change. The reality, of course, is that some attractions do close during the months following the high season. This is why it’s important to develop a business case that presents operators and destinations with ways to increase revenue and offset the cost of idle products in order to enhance off-season tourism.
Popular Canadian Destinations
Next, we surveyed Canadian consumers asking where they would most likely visit during the winter and shoulder seasons. This included tier one destinations – such as Banff, Victoria, Toronto and Halifax – as well as several less popular locations, or tier two destinations, that aligned with our research parameters.
The results showed that marquee destinations with the highest brand awareness in the peak season are also those most likely to be visited during the winter or shoulder season.
The research also indicated that despite lacking brand awareness, many of the lesser-known destinations were seen as an attractive alternative. This includes cities like Charlottetown in P.E.I., Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and St. John in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Popular Canadian Activities
When asked what activities interested Canadian, American, and British travellers the most during the winter and shoulder season, sightseeing or touring was the most popular response. This includes itinerary-based activities, with consumers visiting different landmarks and attractions throughout the duration of their trip. A good example would be a motorcycle and bus tour.
Sampling local cuisine was another popular choice, especially among Canadians and Americans. There are such amazing culinary experiences across the country, and the research shows it as being a common driver for tourism in the winter and shoulder seasons.
This is also true for those operating outside of the food and beverage industry, as it highlights the opportunity to package your products and services with local restaurants, breweries and wineries to develop compelling itineraries for consumers.
Visiting National and Provincial Parks as well as popular conservation areas were common activities chosen by American and British consumers. Canada is home to a variety of breathtaking outdoor spaces that entice international travellers to visit during the off-season.
As an extension to that, viewing wildlife and having unique interactions with nature is particularly popular among Britons during the shoulder season. As such, developing wilderness tours and other outdoor-based activities should be considered to expand tourism into the winter and shoulder seasons.
Before moving on to the next module, please take a minute to reflect on the following questions as they relate to your destination. Consider the different opportunities, challenges, and consumer groups and how they can be leveraged to enhance your winter and shoulder season tourism.
Module Five: Strategic Planning
This section covers the opportunities around development and enhancement of winter and shoulder season tourism, including a few ideas you can bring to stakeholders in your destinations.
The first step is to ask yourself seven key strategic questions:
- What is the goal of the destination?
- What are causes of seasonality related to the destination?
- Is there stakeholder interest to enhance off-season tourism in the destination?
- Are conditions ripe for tourism re-development or enhancement in the destination?
- Is there consumer demand for new offers the destination can develop?
- Will development of winter and shoulder season tourism impact the already established tourism environment?
- What are the long-term challenges for sustaining winter and shoulder season tourism in the destination?
Please note, a third worksheet is now available along the sidebar allowing you to complete these questions with detailed answers.
Determining the goal of your destination is one of the most important questions to answer. This could be educating residents about the value of increasing tourism in their city during the off-season; dispersing tourism into more rural locations and limiting overcrowded marquee destinations; or developing new offers to enhance the visitor experience during the winter and shoulder seasons.
It’s also important to consider whether or not you can establish your region as a year-round destination. And if you aren’t able to, the goal might be to find ways to add weeks or months to the peak season instead.
The causes of seasonality were previously discussed in the presentation, but not every destination is the same across Canada.
Each region features its own unique causes for seasonality in tourism, and identifying the specific challenges in your destination helps guide you toward solutions that address those issues.
Similar to community buy-in for the development of winter and shoulder season tourism, it’s important to determine if there is broad agreement across all stakeholders and businesses.
Ask yourself, is there a consensus among tourism organizers and operators, accommodation partners, as well as tour guides and other service providers to pursue the development of off-season tourism?
If there is a misalignment across tourism stakeholders, it becomes difficult to sustain off-season tourism in the long-term. This also presents challenges to developing packaged services or itinerary-based offerings that entice consumers to visit your destination during the winter or shoulder seasons.
If a broad agreement doesn’t exist, the goal becomes finding solutions that positively impact each key stakeholder.
Another important question to consider is whether or not the conditions are ripe for the redevelopment or expansion of tourism in your area. Depending on your objectives and the needs of your destination, additional resources might be required to support the development of winter and shoulder season tourism.
This includes infrastructure and labour needs, financial support and stakeholder interest, or creating new and compelling offerings.
In relation to favourable market conditions, it’s important to define the specific needs consumers have and how your destination can fulfill them. And if their current needs are already being met, it then becomes a question of how to stimulate demand with newly developed offers.
One way is to look at similar markets with comparable offerings as your destination and identifying the key drivers for off-season travel to those regions. If their tourism operators are delivering an experience you’re not, replicating that service in your destination is one way to create new offers and stimulate demand.
However, once you’ve determined the ways to enhance your destination, it’s crucial that you take an honest assessment of whether or not you can realistically execute on those new experiences given the resources you available.
Developing winter and shoulder season tourism can impact your market in a variety of different ways. Some of which require careful consideration to prevent unfavourable results. This includes environmental issues, the impact on the communities within your destinations and potential financial constraints.
It’s also important to assess how increasing off-season tourism will impact your peak season products, services and experiences and whether your summer offerings will have to change in any way if so.
Finally, what are the potential long-term challenges to sustaining winter and shoulder season tourism in your destination?
These could be staffing or transportation related challenges, unique economic circumstances and unexpected changes in the marketplace, or destination economic and political circumstances that could include regulations or policies that impede the development of winter and shoulder tourism activities.
Six Ideas to Boost Seasonal Tourism
The following six ideas are examples of how to can boost seasonal tourism. By no means is this a complete list with a one-size-fits-all solution for every destination; these ideas are meant to inspire your thinking around winter and shoulder season development as it relates to your specific region.
The first idea is to extend your peak season. And given we know Canadian consumers are motivated by less expensive attractions and accommodations during the off-season, one way to expand the high season is to reduce prices in the months before and after the summer.
Another method is to shift popular summer attractions and events into the shoulder season or create new ones; beginning festivals earlier in May or even April, for instance, or prolonging them until later in October. With unpredictable weather in the early spring and into the fall, it’s also important to consider events such as arts and cultural festivals that can be hosted indoors.
To maximize this approach, use those attractions and events as anchors and build a complete experience for consumers. This includes developing packaged products with local businesses, restaurants and accommodation providers, or creating itineraries that feature the best of what your destination has to offer.
The third idea is to revamp your destination by changing the image, facilities and markets to attract new audiences.
Often, the marketing materials used to promote winter and shoulder season tourism feature bright, sunny skies and picturesque landscapes. But the reality is the off-season is typically muddy and overcast or cold and slushy. Rather than painting a false picture of your destination, it’s important to align your image with the realities of the off-season.
An excellent example of this is Tofino in British Columbia. The region is famous for its unruly winter storms; instead of competing with the weather, tourism operators have embraced Mother Nature and encourage travellers to visit the city to witness the storms firsthand. Local accommodations partners, restaurants and service providers banded together to create unique ‘winter storm watching’ packages, and seasonal tourism in the region has benefited as a result.
Along the same lines as revamping your destination is rebranding it as unique or prestigious to appeal to travellers who want to experience something new and different. Try to create a sense of urgency around your winter and shoulder season offerings, and use FOMO to your advantage by positioning your region’s attractions as being exclusive or rare.
A good example is viewing icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the best time being the spring and into the early summer. Given this experience is only available during the shoulder season, it can be leveraged by tourism operators and marketed as a unique or prestigious offer.
Another idea to boost seasonal tourism is to develop a second peak season, especially if your destination has shown success with extending the main season into the fall or spring months. By packaging off-season experiences together – including accommodations, festivals, limited-time sights like fall colours and seasonal cuisine – you can start to build a strong shoulder season.
If your destination can’t support a second peak season in the fall or spring, are there ways to develop the robust winter season to compliment the summer months or vice-versa?
Finally, can you add non-conventional attractions that tourists rarely see or experience in other destinations across Canada?
Matching Consumer Needs
There are specific drivers to the development of winter and shoulder season tourism, and a sound strategy matches consumer needs to the destination’s products and services. There are five main factors to consider:
- Pricing & Packaging
- Diversifying Destination & Product
- Market Diversification
- Destination Facilitation
- Structural and Environmental
The first driver is pricing and packaging, with strategies such as discounted or packaged pricing during the off-season and creating itineraries around special occasions. The second strategy is to diversify your destination’s products and attractions to offer consumers multiple experiences during their visit. This also includes developing niche products, events and packages to round out your offerings.
In relation to market diversification, there is opportunity to enhance winter and shoulder season tourism by attracting new markets to your destination based on geographics or the specialized interests of different consumer segments.
Destination facilitation refers to the marketing campaigns you have in place to promote your destination during the off-season. Remember, aligning the realities of the winter and shoulder season with your positioning and offerings is vital in developing an authentic experience for travellers.
Lastly, structural and environmental enhancements are another driver of seasonal tourism. This includes building or upgrading conference centres and outdoor recreational venues or improving winter road maintenance and other public services to facilitate visitation.
Module Six: Case Studies and Key Takeaways
Case Studies: Lapland, Finland
To provide you with best practices, we identified two international destinations that have successfully enhanced their off-season tourism. During the research, one commonality among these destinations was the complete buy-in from local government and stakeholders, tourism operators and the residents of the communities. This speaks to the importance of taking an industry-wide approach to successfully develop winter and shoulder season experiences.
The first destination highlighted is Lapland, Finland. If you ask the average Canadian where Santa lives, the typical response is Canada’s North Pole – Canada Post has even created a mailing address for the location. However, most international consumers will tell you that Santa lives in northern Finland in Lapland.
Traditionally, Lapland was known as a summer destination for Finnish travellers seeking amazing outdoor experiences. But the region was abundant with assets and ripe for expansion into the winter and shoulder season, so tourism operators developed a long-term strategy to create a second peak season.
For a number of years, the local government, Indigenous groups, airlines, accommodations, tour operators and attractions worked together to promote Lapland as being the home of Santa Claus.
Unique winter experiences were created around the theme and packaged together as Itineraries to allow consumers to plan their trips more efficiently. Among others, this included activities such as visiting Santa’s Village, dog sledding through a winter wonderland, amazing cross-country skiing, apres ski events and the opportunity to see the beautiful Northern Lights.
Aside from the awesome experiences, one of the key elements to Lapland’s success was its partnership with Finnair. Given its geographical location, the airline considers itself the faster route from Europe to Asia, and since Finnair also pairs up with Japan Airlines, Lapland was able to attract the attention of Japanese tourists.
Once the Asian market was established, Russia, Germany and the U.K. quickly followed suit, which effectively created a strong second peak season in Lapland.
Case Studies: Iceland
Canadian travellers have often viewed Iceland is a popular destination given there are several direct flights available at very reasonable rates. Not only that, but due to the cheaper prices, Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is great way to enter Europe from Canada.
As such, Iceland’s summer season became so popular in Reykjavik that was overcrowded to the point of capacity. Accommodations were completely booked, vehicle rentals were sold out, restaurants were full and businesses were inundated with consumers. Without the ability to accept additional travellers to Reykjavik during the peak season, Iceland needed to disperse tourists into other areas of the country and grow out their winter and shoulder season to flatten that bell curve.
While this is an ongoing strategy, tourism operators in Iceland have taken a similar approach to Finnish Lapland and collaborated with accommodation providers, airline services and attractions to help level out inbound arrivals to the country’s destinations. Once again, it was an industry-wide approach to diversify Iceland’s tourism into the off-season, while compelling offerings and packages were developed to entice consumers to visit areas outside of Reykjavik.
Key Takeaways: Challenges
As previously discussed, based on our research and the feedback from past workshop participants, we’ve identified the most common challenges or causes for seasonality in tourism. This includes factors such as:
- Unpredictable or poor weather during the winter and shoulder season
- Availability of staff and labour for attractions and businesses
- Limited resources to new products and experiences
- Authentic marketing messages and brand awareness
- Accessibility, transportation and infrastructure
- Developing partnerships, networks and collaborative strategies
Another key challenge that was identified was the need for entrepreneurial support. In order to develop new products and experiences, it’s important to create an environment that meets the needs of entrepreneurs and fosters the growth of new business opportunities.
Key Takeaways: Opportunities & Actions
Based on our research, and along with the feedback from the ECE workshops, five main categories of opportunities and actions were identified to develop Canada’s winter and shoulder season tourism.
The first opportunity is to clearly define your strategy. First, start by outlining the goals and priorities of your destination, and then highlight its unique advantages, and establish collaborative partnerships to help you achieve those objectives. It’s also important to understand the visitation trends in your area in order to find ways to link traveller needs to your marketing messages and offerings.
Product and experience development speaks to the opportunity that comes from creating new attractions and services for your destination. This involves assessing your current offerings in the winter and shoulder season and matching them to different consumer groups – both domestically and internationally. Finally, identify the interests of these travellers and develop new products accordingly, while creating packaged itineraries to enhance the visitor experience.
The third opportunity, and arguably one of the most important, is customer service. Evaluate the service standards of your destination and ensure the quality of your offerings meet the expectations of consumers. Beyond that, it’s also important to develop a customer service strategy that allows tourism operators and businesses to proactivity address potential barriers and concerns.
There are many opportunities available and actions to take to market your destination as a winter and shoulder season hotspot. They include:
- offering seasonal pricing;
- developing seasonal content;
- creating authentic and compelling messaging; and
- tailoring the image of your destination or brand to reflect true off-season experiences.
Once your winter and shoulder season marketing plan is in place, it’s important to unify your communications strategy across all interested stakeholders, businesses and tourism operators. Doing so prevents a disconnect between what consumers expect from your destination and what they actually experience.
The final opportunity revolves around the leadership destinations, attractions and tourism operators have to develop their seasonal tourism. This means having a clear vision and action plan in place, while collaborating and sharing resources with a network of partners to create and promote new offerings. It’s also critical to provide relevant operator training and to support the evolving needs of the small-to-medium businesses and entrepreneurs in your area.
That concludes the Elevating Canadian Experiences winter and shoulder season webinar.
For an in-depth look at how to enhance seasonal tourism in Canada, don’t forget to download the National Toolkit, the survey resources and the case study examples. And before you sign off, be sure to save your worksheets and refer back to them when building out your strategy.
Thank you for your participation.