2010 saw the Cayman Islands create a strategic relationship with WestJet Airlines, effectively contributing to an increase in visitation from Canada by an overall 35 per cent from the previous year. Fast forward a year later and the destination is still going strong with a fresh new approach to marketing the Cayman Islands to Canadians.
Just over two years ago, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism in Canada stripped down its marketing strategy and rebuilt it from the ground up. While visitation was strong from Canada, we knew that it was a market that had huge potential – winter weary discerning Canadians make a sun destination choice each year and we needed to be on their radar, more visible and more accessible.
Airlift of course was a top priority, and we worked to bring WestJest Airlines to the destination – a strategic move that would provide Canadians with more choice, particularly for those in the Western provinces, a virtually untapped market for Cayman.
What began as one, non-stop flight per week from Toronto to Grand Cayman, has now grown to three times per week during the winter months, and once per week during the summer.
Canadians responded to the destination immediately, with visitation increases in the double digits sustained throughout the year, including during our shoulder seasons and summer holidays, when Canadians traditionally spend their tourism dollars at home, in the US or in Europe.
But while airlift has certainly played a part in the sizeable growth from Canada, the modification in marketing philosophy more than two years ago is the underlying foundation for this success story.
Team Canada shifted its thinking towards marketing the Cayman Islands as a luxury brand, rather than as simply a destination. A move away from the more traditional sun, sea and sand destination marketing tactics typical of the tourism industry, has indeed paid huge dividends, with Canadians truly engaging with the brand on a whole new level.
The first step in executing the new strategy began when Canada defined the uniqueness of the Cayman Islands brand through a distinctive advertising campaign that highlighted the aspects of each island and painted a picture of the appeal each Cayman destination offered.
Words like “cosmopolitan” Grand Cayman, “adventurous” Cayman Brac and “tranquil” Little Cayman, enabled Canadians to identify with the Cayman Islands and choose which islands would provide the holiday experience that would match their needs.
The second step in the refined marketing plan was to better identify Canada’s discerning travellers. By tracking visitation and mining research data, we were able to zero in on the 175,000 households in Canada with incomes over and above $150,000.
Further research enabled us to determine where they live, what they do socially and what they purchase. The final move was to begin executing what Canada’s country manager, Paul Minich, refers to as an “events-based strategy”, interacting with the target market in social situations and engaging them where they eat, play and live.
Canadians are seeing the upmarket appeal of the Cayman Islands first hand via strong brand affinity partnerships. The Canadian team has spent the last year involved in numerous luxury events including a Rolls-Royce street party in Vancouver and a partnership with a global swimwear designer at Toronto’s LG Fashion Week.
The strong emphasis on culinary in the Canadian market has also continued with a dinner series partnership with Calgary’s top restaurants and tasting events designed to draw out discerning foodies.
Partnerships with luxury retailers such as David’s Shoes in Toronto and Knar Jewellery in Oakville – one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods – as well as brand executions at gala fundraisers, provide ample opportunity for the Cayman Islands brand to mix and mingle with the target market, who are relaxed and therefore typically open to conversation about travel and destination messaging.
Minich calls it “conversation marketing” and says that his team regularly have meaningful dialogues directly with the target market at these events and more often than not, there is a follow up conversation resulting in a booking, or definite interest to visit at a later date.
A recent event to promote Cayman Cookout proved especially effective in spreading the word about the cultured, cosmopolitan feel of Grand Cayman and the unique charm of the Sister Islands as a potential “after Cookout” escape. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism in Canada partnered with Paul Rogalski of Rouge Restaurant in Calgary for a “sneak peek” at what he plans to prepare when he attends Cayman Cookout on behalf of Canada.
The evening was well attended by Calgary’s elite and the food media, resulting in huge buzz for the destination over social networks like Twitter and Facebook both prior, during and after the event. A new Cayman Islands Canada Facebook page is also becoming a place to ‘continue the conversation’, with attendees checking in to tag themselves in event photos and share photos from their own Cayman experiences.
This brand-affinity partnership strategy has facilitated a stronger footing in the Western provinces. While a full 25 per cent of Cayman’s Canadian visitors come from the Western provinces, we’ve been unable to grow our brand awareness in that market, until now.
A WestJet partnership has enabled Cayman to better market itself to Western Canadians, many of whom are brand loyal to the airline. That, coupled with increased event partnerships in the region, is key to growing Canadian visitor arrivals.
The Canadian team has made great strides in forming effective partnerships in Calgary and has now set its sights on Vancouver for market development. What worked in Calgary is already beginning to take root in Vancouver, as an event is planned with David Hawksworth, one of Canada’s most noteworthy chefs, at Hawksworth Restaurant, located in the newly opened elegant Rosewood Hotel Georgia.
A refreshed approach on how we deal with the travel trade in Canada has also resulted in more retention of the brand as travel agents now receive one-on-one training, in addition to the previous online training modules.
The focus is on client profiling – specifically, how to identify a potential Cayman Islands client and how to close the sale. Learning about who might be considered a potential Cayman Islands traveller is resulting in agents applauding our efforts and coming to a better understanding of who would buy the Cayman Islands as a vacation experience.
For example, agents are trained to look for those who may be experiencing “all-inclusive fatigue” or those who may have a well developed palate and are looking for a destination that can offer great food and wine while still delivering a premium beach experience.
Training also highlights the fact that Cayman has a high repeat visitation factor and that investing in the client profile training pays off for the agent in the long run.
In marketing Cayman to Canadians, particularly over the last year, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in visitor arrivals but while we continue to market aggressively to an upscale clientele, we’re also acutely aware that a good portion of the 35 per cent increase in visitors is mid-market travellers, “sampling” the Cayman Islands for the first time based on a strong Canadian dollar and market expansion strategies from both Air Canada and WestJet.
The result is a whole new sector of Canadian travellers available to the Cayman Islands. By tapping into the lifestyle aspirations of this group of travellers, we hope to continue the upward movement in visitation from Canada, sharing all that Cayman offers – from amazing culinary experiences and modern amenities to the award winning Seven Mile Beach and new attractions like the USS Kittiwake.
As a niche destination, it’s critical that we remain innovative in our marketing strategies in order to compete with mass market destinations, many of which are going after the luxury sector. Game changing tactics and a shift in thinking about the way consumers view our brand have proven to deliver huge results in Canada. Looking forward, we’re even more prepared to break the ‘rules’ and challenge the premise of destination marketing in order to realise success in today’s complex and ultra-competitive marketplace.