We Get The Tourists We Ask For

There’s no doubt that tourism is important to the Prince Edward Island economy. Indeed without the dollars that tourism brings to PEI many of my friends would be out of work, either because they rely on tourists to buy their services or their products, or because they live off the secondary markets that tourism generates, from advertising to road construction. Indeed, when PEI purchases advertising in the pages of Yankee, that revenue gets used, in part, to pay my salary.

But there’s another side to tourism, the part where we invite 1.6 million people to share our home with us. Dollars aside, who these people are, where they come from, how they think, and what they do when they’re here has a profound effect on the way we live, the extent to which we contort ourselves to accommodate them, and the vision we have of what Prince Edward Island is.

While it seems vaguely eugenics-like to talk about demographically “programming” the nature of these visitors — shouldn’t everyone be welcome on our Island? — in fact the Island’s marketing efforts are very finely targeted. Here, for example, are the media targets for 2007, right out of the Tourism PEI Marketing Launch 2007:

Tourism PEI Marketing Plan slide

This demographic targeting then informs the places that tourism marketing dollars are spent:

Tourism PEI Marketing Plan slide detail

Now of course marketing and advertising are inexact sciences, with results that are hard to gauge. But they must have some effect. And, indeed, if you walked down the streets of Charlottetown this week, you were quite likely to bump into 40+ couples who looked a lot like the target demo of Toronto Life, Reader’s Digest and Cottage Life.

Now I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations (although that’s what marketing is all about, isn’t it?), but if I was planning a great party, and wanted to invite a million cool people to it, I don’t think the first place I’d turn would be Reader’s Digest subscribers.

Such folks may be affluent active travelers ready and eager for a bit of Gentle Island rejuvenation, but, as a group, they’re not particularly the kind of folks I want skulking around my neighbourhood all summer long.

That’s completely a matter of my taste, of course: what I define as “cool,” who I find interesting, and what I find annoying.

But imagine how our summer visitors might be different if our marketing dollars went, instead, to a mix that looked something like this:

Montage of other possible marketing vehicles

I’m not necessarily proposing this mix as a new demographic (if indeed you can pull a common thread out of that montage). But I do think it’s important to recognize that where we spend our marketing dollars has a direct impact on the kind of place we live. If we market to boring old farts, we’ll get infrastructure that meets the needs of boring old farts. If we market to revitalizing feminists, we’ll get infrastructure that meets the needs of revitalizing feminists.

These are not academic questions: the kind of visitors we attract determines the kinds of restaurants we have to eat in, the kind of art in the art galleries and the kind of music in the theatres. If we have visitors who drive we need more roads; if we have visitors who cycle we need more trails. Do we need more stores selling scented candles, or more stores selling guitar picks? Pad Thai or bigger burgers? Campfires or fireworks? Nickelback or Dylan or Lightfoot or the Bolshoi? Better beaches, or better lawn bowling facilities? More potatoes or cleaner rivers?

And because we can’t help but have our workaday lives overlap with the lives of our visitors, the politics, persuasions, and passions of our visitors influence who we are, what we think, and how we feel about ourselves.

I’m not suggesting that we throw out the old Homemakers readers and replace them with anti-globalization hitchhikers and radical feminists (but you gotta admit that it would be more fun to run into a reader of Bitch Magazine in the line at Tim Hortons that it would be to bump into Yet Another Cottage Life Reader).

I’m simply suggesting that it would be nice to have some opportunity to consider the effects that our marketing efforts are having on the kind of place PEI will grow into: creepy and Orwellian or not, our marketing dollars and the way we spend them give us an unparalleled opportunity to determine who visits us.

We’re doing it already — discriminating economically by using dollars and lodging nights as the metrics we use to judge our success. Is it possible to change our thinking so that we factor more nebulous, but ultimately profoundly more important, qualities into our spending decisions?


Marian's picture
Marian on August 27, 2007 - 12:04 Permalink

You’re out of control here Peter. Catering to different demographics (or no demographics?!!!) is like calling for a revolution. You had better back off. Someone is likely contacting the NSA right now. As you must surely know, interesting and fulfilling are proven dead-ends when it comes to money making. Nobody likes variety and they sure as heck don’t want real life. You’d be better off paving everything and selling starches fried in trans-fats to a select group of wealthy retirees.

Nancy Supler's picture
Nancy Supler on August 27, 2007 - 12:15 Permalink

What about geezers who like technology? Would they be ok ?

from Nancy, who was 70 on Ava’s birthday

John's picture
John on August 27, 2007 - 13:09 Permalink

New ideas for PEI’s new license plates:

It’ll never work” or “You’ll see….”

Seriously Peter, this is really astute.

Ken's picture
Ken on August 27, 2007 - 16:20 Permalink

You complained of loud music in your neighbourhood, then turn around and say the province is boring and lame in it’s target market — could you handle a younger, edgier PEI? It might keep you up at night listening to the new demographic howling at the moon. As it is now, they are all in bed by 11pm. The way you like.

I take your point about the tourists we invite rubbing off on our culture, and dream of the day our province advertises in Mad Magazine.

Alan's picture
Alan on August 27, 2007 - 16:56 Permalink

There may be also a pre-condition to the selection of an advertising focus — who can afford to get to PEI. Unless you fly — and who flies to a place where you are supposed to hang out on a beach — the cost and time of getting to and from PEI is not insignificant. Don’t you have to pick from the people who have the time and money?

So, if you are determined to have the neato, I think you need to think about Europeans in black turtlenecks with their longer holidays and preparedness for the limitations of flight-based travel. But, as you do with Ontarians and New Yorkers who have to pass many competative regions to get to PEI, you have to tell Deter Sprocket why PEI is better than Italy as a destination.

Dale's picture
Dale on August 27, 2007 - 17:27 Permalink

I think Peter is on to something here though…it seems we target the same group, time and time again but each year the Tourism Industry Associations are reporting a decline in Tourism numbers. Perhaps it’s time to rethink not only who we would like to visit our province, but who would make the “best” visitor.

My advice…target the Motorcycle Touring groups. They have disposable income, they are tourists by nature, they tend to spend two or three days minimum touring the local, and they are in need of accommodations and services more than most travelers. Add to that the wonderful reviews that PEI is receiving (Canadian Biker Magazine, Motorcycle Cruiser) as a safe, beautiful place to ride and you have a new target market!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on August 27, 2007 - 18:02 Permalink

I’m less interested in having visitors shaped towards my particular inclination than I am having the notion of admitting that we’re screening already, and that we could be more honest (and imaginative) about it.

Chuck McKinnon's picture
Chuck McKinnon on August 27, 2007 - 18:59 Permalink

I wasn’t planning to comment on this thread, but I have to back Dale up on the potential appeal of PEI to motorcyclists.

Though I lived on the Island until I was three years old, I really fell in love with PEI during the summer of 1985, when Dad and I put some 1500km on his bike in six weeks, riding all over the Island. I was fourteen.

Dad worked nights, so we’d get up at 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning, have breakfast, pick a couple of locations from the map and set off on a day trip. These were leisurely journeys; we sometimes got distracted from our intended destinations by finding something interesting along the way. Returning in the evening, we’d have dinner at one of the restaurants owned by my father’s employer, Dad would get ready for work and I’d settle in with a book, or watch a little TV, or head out for a private ramble around Charlottetown. It was the greatest summer of my life: few schedules, few pressures and almost total freedom.

During those rides, the beauty of the Island (which you experience very differently on a bike than in a car), the general friendliness of its residents (I’ll admit it helped that I wasn’t really considered to be from away) and the difference in the pace of life from Calgary (only half its current size) won me over completely. For at least the next five years, all I could think of was returning to the Island to live. Now in my mid-30s, family ties out West (including my wife’s) may be among the things that preclude that from every happening, but I’ve been back as a tourist several times since and can’t fathom deciding never to return. I’m hooked.

I’ve ridden all over Western Canada, and a little bit in France, and despite my love for the grandeur of a Rocky Mountain ride I still believe there is a singular experience awaiting the rider who spends a week or three on Prince Edward Island.

Dale's picture
Dale on August 27, 2007 - 19:15 Permalink

Chuck, it is great to hear your feelings on PEI.

I was born and raised on PEI and I believe I am a true Islander through and through. I can’t imagine living anywhere else and having the same quality of life. But after 30+ years of living here, I feel as though I have “discovered” it for the first time this summer while touring some 10,000+ km on a motorcycle. You are right about it being a very different experience on a bike. I have seen more of PEI and experienced more of it’s uniqueness this summer than at any other time in my life. The smells and sounds, the changes in temperature from hill to valley, the beauty of the sun setting behind a rolling hill on the horizon, the kindness and quaintness of the many people we took time to stop and chat with. The slower pace, the overall point of “touring” on a motorcycle made seeing the Island a whole new experience for me…almost a Tourist’s eye-view.

PEI is a truly incredible place. Perhaps it is less about who we market to, and more about how we market.

ruth's picture
ruth on February 3, 2008 - 11:56 Permalink

Catching up on your site as I do some boring, time consuming mail maintenance. You could always move to San Francisco. I haven’t seen a “Visit San Francisco” ad in Slashdot, but your magazine logo montage is a pretty good snapshot of our tourist demographic.

The over-40 Reader’s Digest readers need a place to vacation also. You did chose to live there … And as you make clear, PEI does have redeeming merits.