A Celebration for all
Paris, Istanbul, Moscow, Montréal: tourists are certainly not lacking in destinations. Year after year, Tourism Montréal works tirelessly to tip the scales in our favour. For the city's 375th anniversary, the organization has ramped up its efforts, explains spokesperson Pierre Bellerose. This diehard fan of the city is well-positioned to woo foreigners: he's been working in Montréal's tourism industry for over 25 years and still remembers the 350th anniversary celebrations! He sat down with À nous Montréal to explain what benefits were expected, and especially, how Tourism Montréal intends to attract tourists to the metropolis in 2017.
From a tourism point of view, what does a city's anniversary represent?
The urban activity that comes with an important anniversary generates an increase in tourist traffic. There's also greater media interest in the city internationally, which has an impact on outreach. We saw it during Montréal's 350th and Québec's 400th, and it's what we're expecting for the 375th.
Yet 375 is an unusual number to celebrate . . . Is it still going to attract people?
Yes. What attracts people isn't numbers, it's programming, and the 375th is going to be really fun. Montrealers are proud, they love celebrating, and we want the rest of the world to know it. And if I wait for the 400th, I may not even be here anymore!
How are you going to convince the rest of the world to come celebrate with us?
We're doing a lot of advertising online and on social media. We're also inviting foreign journalists to visit Montréal. These are people that write for newspapers, blogs, travel guides. . . . When they talk about a city, it has a lot more weight than an ad. We're also targeting different audiences depending on the time of year. In wintertime, we especially focus on attracting people who can drive here or take the train. These tourists don't arrange their trip as far ahead; someone from Toronto who visits Montréal doesn't plan it four months ahead of time! Our campaigns are therefore designed accordingly. Soon, we'll focus on Asia, Europe, and South America.
What are the expected benefits?
Our growth estimates for 2017 were between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, but we achieved that in 2016! It's such a big increase that it would be rather exceptional to reach those numbers again for the year of the 375th. So we've adjusted our forecast to 5 per cent more than 2016.
Why do you think 2016 performed so well?
The direct air route between China and Montréal helped. The American market is doing fine. And we worked really hard to get tourists to think about Montréal, with our festivals and attractions. We're now reaping the fruits of what we've sown over the last few years.
A lot has been said about 2017, but are you also planting seeds for 2018?
Yes. The risk with big-ticket events like anniversaries or the Olympics is that tourists won't show up the following year. We've been aware of this since the beginning and our work has taken that into account. In our marketing, we still mention festivals and the Grand Prix even if they're not related to the 375th. But we also need something new for 2018, and the bequests are going to help. We saw it with the 350th, which gave us the Old Port, the Biodome, and Pointe-à-Callière; we still benefit from them today. It'll the same with the projects we have planned for the 375th. Even if they aren't all ready for 2017, we'll benefit from them for the next several decades.
Tourist Attractions Few Montrealers Know About
The Stewart Museum and the Montréal Holocaust Memorial Centre are two tourist destinations Montréalers would benefit from discovering, Pierre Bellerose believes. The former currently features the Curiosities exhibition, inspired by 16th-century cabinets of curiosities and presenting more than 370 eclectic and unusual objects in a display designed by artist Jérôme Fortin. As for the Montréal Holocaust Memorial Centre, it recounts the stories of Montréal Jews who survived Nazi persecution and death camps.
"It's a very moving exhibition," says Pierre Bellerose. "Few people are aware of it, but Montréal hosts the second-largest Jewish community in North America."
According to Tourism Montréal, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community represents between 5 and 7 per cent of visitors to Montréal, but accounts for about 10 per cent of tourist spending in the metropolis.
"Since the late 1990s, we've been creating advertising that targets this audience," explains Pierre Bellerose. "It's a buoyant market."