- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

TORONTO - Gone are the days of mountains, Mounties and moose.xxxxxxxx At least that’s the view of national tourism officials, who say Canada can no longer rely on these hardy old stereotypes to lure visitors to this vast and varied nation.

Out West, more than 2,000 miles from Toronto, where the new campaign is being brainstormed, there are rumblings of protest.

In Fort MacLeod, the Alberta town that calls itself the “spiritual home” of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, tourism chief Gordon MacIvor said he was shocked by the idea. Mounties and moose are Canadian icons known the world over, he said.

“Good luck if they think they can do better,” Mr. MacIvor told the Associated Press.

Beside its natural grandeur, which provides breathtaking backdrops for whale watching, canoeing, hiking and mountain climbing, Canada has varied cultural offerings in an array of cities, where immigrants have created a melting pot of color and flavor.

There is the old English style of Vancouver, the French ambiance of Montreal and the lighthouses that dot the fishing villages of Nova Scotia.

Tourism officials intend to portray Canada as a place where visitors can have offbeat experiences — taking a cruise in northern Quebec to observe polar bears at play, enjoying a moonlit ride on dogsleds being pulled by huskies or building an igloo with Inuits in Nunavut.

And the symbols of moose and Mounties are inaccurate: The big antlered ruminants are rarely seen, and the Mounties shed their daily gray and blue to don their famous red tunics only for ceremonies and occasional tourism-related events.

“I think of the Mounties as a tourist attraction rather than a police force,” said Mark Greenfield, 32, a Londoner and railway worker on his second visit to Canada.

Mr. Greenfield said he had seen a Mountie only once — in a provincial park in southwestern British Columbia.

“He was riding a horse and looked as if he was there as a tourist attraction,” Mr. Greenfield said.

Beyond stereotypes

Travel experts say their goal is to inspire curiosity about Canada.

“Our mountains are beautiful, but it’s how you feel when you are looking at a mountain that is what we want to get out now,” said Yvonne van Dinther, vice president of DDB Canada, the marketing firm in charge of rebranding the nation.

The Canadian Tourism Commission, working with provincial tourism officials and other members of the industry, intends to begin the new “Keep Exploring” campaign next year. It will target baby boomers with higher incomes, mostly from the United States, Mexico and Europe.

With a relatively modest budget of $70.5 million, the team is still working on the project and isn’t sure how the campaign will play out. But they do know they want to make Canada’s vastness a more intimate experience for travelers.

“Canada’s image — about the mountains, Mounties and moose — is only one piece of Canada,” said Susan Iris, the commission’s vice president, adding that those limit the country’s appeal.

The commission hopes to increase Canada’s annual tourism revenue by $6 billion — nearly 23 percent more than current income — in the next five years.

Statistics for 2003, the most recent year available, say foreigners made 17.4 million overnight trips to Canada, down 12.7 percent from 2002. Travel experts blame lingering anxiety from the September 11, 2001, attacks against New York and the Pentagon, the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in Toronto in the summer of 2003 and lackluster tourism advertising.

“We want to inspire curiosity. We want to look at nontraditional ways to advertise,” Mrs. van Dinther said.

Pleasant surprise

Imagine, she said, a weary New Yorker walking to work and looking up at an electronic billboard in Times Square that reads, “Take a moment to sit in a park that you pass every day. Canada. Keep Exploring.”

Pete and Sharon Perro are the kind of people the new campaign will target.

The couple from Chicago lives only 439 miles from Canada’s biggest city, Toronto. Having done Florida, Italy and England, they visited their closest neighbor for the first time in June, spending a week touring Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City, capital of Canada’s French-speaking province.

“Canada has two things it can play off: the country, with the nature and the mountains, but there are also beautiful inner cities,” Mr. Perro said.

His wife was surprised to find a big city such as Toronto could be so different from home.

“It’s beautiful, it’s safe and clean, and easy to get around,” she said.

That surprise is what the tourism officials are after, particularly with Americans.

“For the U.S., because we are neighbors, to some extent a lot of people feel Canada is pretty much the same,” Mrs. van Dinther said. “So what we need to do is explain how different we are and what could make travel to Canada rewarding to them.”

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