Rebranding Québec City: So Europe. So Close.

Tourism in Canada

Travel and tourism is a tough industry. While there is an adundance of places for people to go, they are often faced with several constraints – nameley time and money. Convincing tourists to visit your desintation is extraordinaliry difficult. So how do you differentiate yourself?

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As the Canadian dollar continues to struggle, tourism is one of the few industries that stands to flourish, with more Americans flocking across the border to explore our great country. Now, when you think of Canadian tourism, what comes to mind? Ottawa has the Rideau Canal. Montreal is widely known in the States as a weekend party destination. Calgary has the Stampede, with Banff only an hour and a half away by car. (In fact, Travel Alberta has done a phenomenal job showcasing their natural beauty through social media. Seriously, follow their Instagram account and tell me you don’t want to go right now.) And then we have Toronto, Canada’s version of New York City. They’ve got everything you could ask for in a major city – except for a good hockey team.

Beyond the popular destinations, Canada (like all countries) has its hidden gems. There are some extraordinary places in this country that don’t get nearly enough credit, or visitors for that matter. This list includes, but is not limited to Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the Yukon, and Newfoundland. However, in my opinion, the destination that unjustly gets overlooked the most is Québec City.

Québec City

Quebec City (3)

I had the opportunity to visit Québec City several times during the four years I spent at Bishop’s University in the Eastern Townships. We frequently made the two hour bus ride to Quebec’s capital city to support our beloved Gaiters as they took on Laval’s basketball or football teams. We also made the trip every February for Québec City’s Winter Carnival, which in all honesty is Winterlude times 100 (sorry, Ottawa).

Québec City is an amazing place. It’s beautiful. It’s historic. It’s enchanting. Now, I’ve never been to Europe, but when explaining Québec City to those who have never been, I always say “It’s like Europe”. Or at least what I imagine Europe must be like. The architecture, food, culture and Joie de Vivre is so vibrant and apparent, you can’t help but get swept off your feet. It’s truly a special place.

Brand Image vs. Brand Identity

Quebec has a stigma to it. You talk to people about it, and they say “It’s too far”. “I don’t speak French”. “Didn’t they used to have a hockey team?”. Most citites suffer from similar stereotypes. Toronto is arrogant. Ottawa is boring. Neither are entirely true. But that’s the brand image of those places. That’s what people perceive them to be. There’s a clear and unfortunate disconnect between the brand identity and the brand image of these cities. Now, this is an issue that several companies face – not just cities in the realm of tourism. Take Subway for example. Their brand identity is that they offer fresh and healthy meals. Their brand image (in my eyes at least) is shitty sandwiches with ingredients that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Brand teams work tirelessly to help align their customer’s peception of their brand with their defined brand identity. And that’s exactly what Québec City has done.

Rebranding Quebec City

One of the biggest mistakes I see in marketing is companies that are passive or reactive. They take the “we’ve always done it this way” approach. That’s just asking to fail. You need to adapt. You need to have foresight. You need to be proactive. You need to understand your users’ needs and concerns.

Québec City’s tourism is by no means suffering. Go to Carnival and you’ll see how busy it is, and how beloved the city is by Quebecers. But that’s just it. Ask 100 people in Québec City during Carnival where they are from, and 99.9 of them will tell you: Québec.

Québec City knows that they had a branding probem. Sure, things are seemingly good. Carnival is a major Québec festival and attraction. I’m sure that local shops flourish, restaurants are packed, and hotels are sold out. But outside of Québec, no one wants to go to Québec. That’s an opportunity.

“So Europe. So Close.”

Tourism Québec recenlty launched a new campaign targeted at English, non-Québec travelers. The campaign, called “So Europe. So Close.”, is flawless.

Quebec City (1)

The website beautifully and seamlessly allows visitors to explore everything Quebec has to offer – from skiing to microbreweries to museums, and everything in between – simply by scrolling to stroll the city; a virtual tour of sorts. The associated video series is one of the best I’ve seen to date – creative, intruiguing, infomative and, unlike most online video advertising, not annoying. I could watch these all day.

The campaign tagline is clear and gets right to the point. First, “So Europe”. The descriptor that I myself have used countless times to characterize this incredible city, is so accurate. Wihtout actually saying it, they’ve basically told you that they are Canada’s Paris – an enchanting, magical, charming, romantic, historic, cultured destination, with so much to offer. “So Close.” You don’t need to cross the ocean or get on a plane (although you can, and it is a short flight) to explore the heritiage and culture that Europe has to offer. There is 400 years of French tradition and history mere hours away.

I think my favourite part about this campaign is that they’ve stayed true to themselves. They aren’t pretending to be something else or changing who they are, they’re just changing how they are perceived. There is a level of cultural pride in these campaigns that I admire. And even though I’ve been almost a dozen times already, I want to go back. As a marketer, and a traveler, I am officially impressed.

Bravo, Québec City.

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