A Niagara Falls Tourism ad encouraging people to book a getaway to the Honeymoon Capital has been removed after a federal department that helped fund the spot requested adjustments be made to reflect the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At no point was FedDev Ontario involved in the video or approval of the video,” said a FedDev Ontario spokesperson in an email to the Niagara Falls Review Tuesday afternoon.
“We asked Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, with whom we have the contribution agreement, to reach out to Niagara Falls Tourism to request adjustments to reflect the public health situation and guidelines. We have also asked that they remove the federal identity program logo. The video has now been removed to make the necessary adjustments.”
Despite Canada tackling a second wave of COVID-19 and restrictions reintroduced in certain pandemic hotspots such as Toronto, Peel region and Ottawa, Niagara Falls Tourism launched a fall campaign where several online and television ads show real-life families enjoying a variety of attractions in Niagara Falls.
In a 50-second spot, a man and his grandmother are shown playing games, exploring nature and taking a boat ride.
“Hey, Grandma, these last few months, I’ve been thinking. You know, quarantine has kept us apart, but I can’t just blame COVID. Because last time we were really together — just the two of us — was, I don’t even know,” says the male narrator.
“But I’m gonna change that. And we don’t need to wait for some moment. Let’s go to Niagara Falls this weekend. What we do is up to you. I just want to be together. And this time, no, it’s not your birthday or a holiday or some special occasion. Because grandma, you are my occasion.”
The commercial appeared online and on television.
Niagara Falls Tourism president Janice Thomson said Sunday was the final day for this round of TV advertising.
She said the agency is one of more than 60 destination marketing organizations across Ontario funded by FedDev Ontario through Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.
“We had an industry call last Thursday. We were all asked to tamper our advertising based on the current situation in our market,” she said.
“We did. At that time, we said, OK, well our TV (ad) we knew was running out on Sunday — that was already scheduled not to run past Sunday. Friday, when we heard the message from the premier about (restrictions for) Peel and Toronto and Ottawa, then we made a further change when we targeted our social media.”
Thomson said an online link was left “live” which the agency “fixed” Tuesday morning.
“We had to fix that, so that would be why the link (has been) taken down — we just took it down from YouTube.”
Thomson said the agency planned online advertising, focused on markets such as London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Stratford and Windsor — areas that remain in Stage 3, like Niagara. But it is now taking a “pause.”
“We’re putting those on hold for this week. We’re not losing our campaign. We’re going to bring it back when the time is right.”
She pointed to a call with about 1,000 people, including industry officials, Tuesday afternoon with Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries.
“She was talking about … how they’re just trying to encourage everyone to stay as local as you can — hyper-local tourism is encouraged, but when they say hyper-local, they really mean close to home. We had our two- to four-hour window, but we’re going to just pause for a week.”
Thomson said part of the funding for the ad campaign came from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, which recently announced recovery funding for the destination.
FedDev Ontario delivers programs and services to support innovation and economic growth in southern Ontario.
“Recognizing the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on tourism, the Government of Canada continues to support the recovery and growth of this important industry and it does so while complying with the highest standard of public health measures,” said a FedDev Ontario spokesperson.
“Protecting Canadians from COVID-19 has been and continues to be the Government of Canada’s No. 1 priority. We continue to urge Canadians to follow public health guidelines in all their activities.”
Thomson said while the grandson-grandmother spot was the “major” ad during the campaign, there have also been six- and 15-second ads, along with billboards.
“There’s a father and son that are on the zipline. You’ll see another grandfather and grandson — a young grandson playing golf at mini-putt. You’ll see three young women celebrating a wedding — celebrating a bridal-shower event. There’s also a mother-and-daughter combo and a family at the waterpark. These people are not actors. They were all engaged by our ad agency and they’re all true families, so they’re in their own bubbles. You’ll see lots of images of them on billboards and on Instagram and on YouTube.”
Some people questioned the timing of the ad campaign, as health officials are calling for Canadians to stay home, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic as cases of the virus continue to rise across the country.
Thomson acknowledged seeing that question raised by some people but added tourism officials feel “we have a shared responsibility with everyone, No. 1, to keep the destination safe.”
“We believe … that our operators have made enormous investments and enormous efforts to keep their staff and their visitors safe,” she said.
Thomson said tourism operators continue enforcing face-covering requirements where they are required, providing hand sanitization, and controlling lineups and access to their businesses.
“They’re also training their staff to monitor the lineups, monitor compliance that people are wearing masks. In certain instances, they’ve introduced (plexiglass) dividers throughout their operations. They’ve introduced expensive cleaning protocols at the attractions and at the hotels.”
Ground markings, signage and billboards educating visitors, including the importance of practising appropriate physical distancing, continue to be maintained, she said.
“There’s that high level of awareness that the public health and safety is the No. 1 consideration. I think we’ve proven as an area … that we can do it and … we’re preserving jobs.”