Brand USA Puts The Focus On Canada

It should come as no surprise that for its first (virtual) international event of the new year, Brand USA decided to Focus On Canada.

In welcoming the Canadian travel trade to yesterday’s event, Brand USA’s president & CEO, Chris Thompson made it clear that ‘we’re family’ and the relationship between the two countries was much more than sharing a border, pointing out that the two countries share their cultures, their economies, social bonds and much, much more.

Brand USA’s boss continued, noting that this is what’s missed right now and as soon as people are able to travel again, “we’ll be opening our arms and welcoming everyone back.”

But more than the great affinity that the US has for Canada, Thompson observed, that Canada is the largest visitor source market for the United States; and in 2019, it welcomed 21 million Canadian visitors.

“So, it makes sense that our first event in the new year – in this new year of hope – where we see the glimmer of light getting brighter would be in Canada.

And while he told his virtual audience that he usually prides himself on being an optimist, “2020 really tested that.”

However, Thompson continued that ‘each new year brings new hope and I would say that hope is for a better tomorrow.”

Thompson continued that near the end of last year, “we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel and with the arrival of the new vaccines, I think we see that light getting a little bit brighter.”

Brand USA’s president said that: “I’ve been saying all along that these unprecedented circumstances that we find ourselves in have nothing to do with travel demand. It has everything to do with the pandemic and our inability for our friends and visitors outside our borders to travel to the United States.”

He continued: “And I truly believe that [there] is pent-up demand. And in the scenario when we are going to be able to welcome our friends and visitors back, travel agents are going to play a critical role in helping facilitate that return.”

Thompson also told his audience that when Brand USA created its global platform in 2020 it wanted the first event on in the new year to be a Focus on Canada.

Industry members attending the event were provided with the latest research on consumer travel intentions; projected cross-border travel trends; and the opportunity to network with partner organizations.

On-the-Go Entertainment

In his welcome to those attending yesterday’s (Feb 4) event, Thompson also revealed that GoUSA TV — Brand USA’s flagship connected TV channel featuring inspiring travel content showcasing the USA’s must-see places, great outdoors, foodie hot spots, and amazing road trips — will debut later this year on GO Transit’s new GO Wi-Fi Plus free entertainment portal.

Said Thompson: “Today, I am excited to announce our GoUSA TV Channel will air across GO Transit in Ontario, with huge exposure to the more than 75 million people who travel on that system,” he said. “Our job at Brand USA is to be our nation’s storytellers. To bring enjoyable, entertaining content and make it available to international travellers 24/7, 365, and this exciting, new partnership helps us further that promise.”

The affinity of Canadians for digital video and GoUSA TV was supported by Tracy Lanza, Brand USA senior vice president of integrated marketing. She shared research indicating the pandemic has accelerated video consumption worldwide, with nearly two-thirds of the Canadian population having watched digital video in 2020. “Canada is the number one audience for GoUSA TV,” she said, “and has been from almost the very beginning. And, we are absolutely thrilled to reach even more viewers connecting travellers to a wide range of USA travel experiences.”

Conference Board Reveals Latest Research

Partners who tuned-in to the virtual event also heard from a number of Canadian travel experts who shared their unique insights into Canadian traveller’s mindset as the industry looks towards recovery.

Brand USA called-on Jennifer Hendry, senior research associate of the Conference Board of Canada to share its latest research findings, and to provide an overview of the Canadian traveller.

Hendry began by stating how important the transborder traveller is to both the Canadian and U.S. economies, and how the pandemic has really highlighted this fact.

While acknowledging this crisis is having a much more prolonged impact than any previous shocks, she noted the resiliency of the tourism industry but cautioned that gaining insight into when travel will return continues to be a challenge.

Said Hendry: “We’re seeing the planning cycle increasing considerably. Obviously travellers need to wait and see what their options are, but they are researching possibilities and are ready to go at the drop of a hat.”

But Hendry also offered industry partners some optimism, sharing her organization’s latest research that found that nine in ten Canadians say they miss travelling and that “it’s no doubt the road to recovery will be a challenging one.” Hendry told the virtual audience that: “We need to keep in mind that tourism is one of the most resilient sectors, and Canadians are a very savvy market that will take to the skies again.”

She also pointed out that as markets look ahead to recovery, it’s expected that in Canada young singles, and newly coupled millennials will be the group of Canadian travellers that have the most likelihood to travel right off the bat when restrictions are lifted, and borders are opened.

And Hendry advised industry partners tuning-in that overall communication about virus management will be a reassurance and stressed the importance of “being open and honest” stating “that will help attract Canadian travellers in the future.”

Trends via Tripadvisor

Speaking to Canadian search trends, Carol Johnson, senior client principal partner, Tripadvisor, shared there is reason for optimism, pointing to the fact that while down, travel sites remain among the most highly-visited sites on the worldwide web.

In September, travel sites globally captured nearly two billion monthly visits and 14 billion page views, an indication that travellers are continuing to do their research for future trips.

Said Johnson: “It’s hopefully comforting to see the U.S. as the number one foreign country viewed by (Tripadvisor) users in Canada, with New York City, Las Vegas, and Central Florida (Orlando) the top three destinations for Canadian travellers,” according to Tripadvisor search data.

More than two-thirds (65%) of Canadian consumers surveyed said the ability to avoid crowded places while traveling is more important in their choice of destination than it was pre-pandemic. And, more than half (52%) say they are more likely to take an outdoor nature trip than they were before COVID-19 hit.

Johnson pointed out that: “Tripadvisor traffic and search data in Canadian sentiment all point in the same direction: up. Depending on the speed with which vaccine inoculations progress, and the destinations themselves, a sustained recovery for the global travel sector is closer than ever.”

However, she cautioned that, “instead of a V-shaped recovery, imagine a more jagged line of progress where sometimes two steps forward will be met with one step back,” speaking to the travel market’s continued volatility.

Travel Engagement with Expedia

“With the borders still closed, Canadians continue to explore travel as dreamers looking to be inspired,” offered Expedia’s Raina Williams, senior regional manager, Canada Expedia Group Media Solutions.

She pointed to proprietary data showing that “84% of Canadians said they travelled for rejuvenation, and we believe that need to rejuvenate is likely to continue and carry into the next 12 months.”

Expedia’s survey data also indicates that Canadians are more likely to travel in the latter half of the year, with 60% saying they would be open to traveling from July to September. Her advice to travel partners, “even if you’re not ready to welcome visitors, keeping travellers inspired and driving awareness is key to keeping top of mind for when they are ready,” she said.

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