Flood response – a case study in changing the conversation

By Stewart McDonough

You discover the quality of your mettle when it’s put under stress. Here’s what we’ve learned now that the June floods are a few months behind us. Calgary’s mettle is made of strong stuff.

In the days following the flood, more than 100 tourism operators were closed, including hotels in the downtown core where approximately $7 to 10 million of revenue was lost. New booking sales from Expedia dropped 30 per cent in the week after the flood. For the first time after 28 months of year-over-year occupancy growth, Calgary’s occupancy in June fell below 2012. 

So with all the negative short-term effects, how is it that in July hotel occupancy in Calgary rebounded over 2012 (remarkable considering July 2012 marked the Stampede Centennial) and Expedia sales are back exceeding previous years. What follows are the three stages we worked through and some of the results we’ve seen from the “Calgary – Our Doors are Open” recovery campaign

Calgary - Our Doors are Open

Stage 1: Crisis

1. Check yourself: We looked first to our staff and our building. Though our email server was down, we learned that while some of our team was evacuated, everyone was safe. Our building, on the other hand, was surrounded by rivers of water and the basement was a lake.

2. Coordinate and learn: Staff from Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta created an initial response team. Case studies were collected and experiences shared from regional and international disasters. 

3. Build a base and process: We were fortunate to be able to move in with Travel Alberta and set up a recovery “war room” in close proximity to our provincial partners. Processes for communication between teams and organizations was established immediately.

Stage 2: Recovery

4. Communicate: Tourism Calgary contacted more than 2,000 tourism businesses and operators to assess how they were doing and how we could help. We paused all advertising and worked to communicate to travellers what was open in Calgary and what provincial and municipal resources were available.  

5. Expand the circle: A growing number of partners were incorporated into recovery planning including the City of Calgary, the Calgary Stampede, the Calgary Hotel Association and tourism organizations from surrounding communities.

6. Plan to recover: Tourism Calgary worked closely with its marketing agency, Venture Communications, to develop the most effective recovery campaign aligned with provincial partners and launch it when appropriate. 

Stage 3: Back to business

7. Change the conversation: Tourism Calgary launched the “Calgary – Our Doors are Open” campaign the day the local state of emergency was lifted. The campaign addressed the flood, but in a positive manner using Mayor Naheed Nenshi as the primary spokesperson.

8. Monitor, measure, report: The campaign reached six million people with an average frequency of four views per individual:

  • 85% of travellers surveyed said the campaign reassured them Calgary had recovered from the flood.
  • 17% of travellers located in Toronto indicated an increased likelihood to visit in the next six months due to the campaign.
  • 90% of respondents stated the video and radio ads told them Calgary recovered well from the flood.
  • The campaign video and its versions have been viewed more than 300,000 times and was the second most popular video in July on YouTube Canada.
  • Website traffic to visitcalgary.com fell by 50% in the week following the flood, but increased by close to 50% for July and August year-over-year.

9. Move on: Once measured, the campaign effectiveness results confirmed that regional and national audiences were reassured that Calgary was open for business. And while many tourism operators will have longer roads to recovery, attracting travellers to their businesses will best be accomplished by focusing on the positive attributes of their offering rather than on a flood recovery message.

Working throughout the June flood obviously created a number of challenges, like 100,000 Calgarians we were relocated outside of our comfort zones. Every challenge, however, was met head on and solved with resolve, teamwork and help from our partners. We learned the strength of our team and we reaffirmed that our greatest successes never come in isolation, but rather are always the result of collaboration and shared objectives.