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Steve Bartlett
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Tourism/politics Province gets mileage from travel writers' program, minister says

The government shelled out nearly $200,000 last year to bring in travel journalists to do stories about the province.

According to the Department of Tourism, $199,205 was spent to cover the cost of getting 119 journalists and their support crews here to produce articles for media outlets across the country and around the world. The money foots the bill for expenses like the reporters' airfare, car rentals, accommodations and meals. The practice of covering such things for travel media has apparently been going on at least since the '80s.

The government shelled out nearly $200,000 last year to bring in travel journalists to do stories about the province.

According to the Department of Tourism, $199,205 was spent to cover the cost of getting 119 journalists and their support crews here to produce articles for media outlets across the country and around the world. The money foots the bill for expenses like the reporters' airfare, car rentals, accommodations and meals. The practice of covering such things for travel media has apparently been going on at least since the '80s.

The department says, in 2009, the resulting media coverage, in publications such as National Geographic, Bear Hunting Magazine and Muzzle Blasts Magazine, generated an ad value of more than $13.7 million, a figure that has minister Terry French deeming the money well spent.

"You can't buy that ... that's amazing return on your money when you're looking at $68 or $70 (worth of promotion) for every dollar we spend," he said, noting the program is just one of the ways his department promotes the province.

The number of stories is tracked through a partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission, which uses a service called Media Miser.

The monitoring agency's report for 2009 shows 1,177 articles about the province appeared in Canadian media outlets, reaching an audience of 296,423,769 and representing $7.9 million in ad value.

Such figures weren't available from the U.S. or overseas, the department noted, but the articles that have been collected indicate the ad value last year was about $3.8 million in the U.S. and $2 million overseas.

French says it's trickier to track the number of stories published outside the country or online, or by journalists who sell a story to multiple publications, sometimes over a multi-year period.

He says the number of articles produced is higher than what's counted.

"This is really not a science, so as much as we can track - especially when it comes to the Web - we do, but in reality, we're missing quite a bit."

The minister explains they arrive at the dollar value by determining how much it would have cost to buy an ad the same size as the story.

"If we get a two-page story in Macleans, we know how much that would cost to buy," he said.

French says they try to spend the money strategically, around events like the Cupids 400 celebrations, the Junos or even the Olympics.

"We've actually had writers come here from countries and do small pieces on Newfoundland and Labrador with the hope that when they are covering the Olympics in Vancouver, in some place (like) Korea for example, who's to say that Newfoundland won't get a clip in one of the stories, a personal interest story or something."

A number of things about the province get covered by the visiting journalists, the minister says, including activities like hunting and fishing, attractions like whale watching, and events like Cain's Quest in Labrador.

French says the money for the program comes from his department's $13-million promotions budget.

The $200,000 spent last year, he adds, met the demand from the travel media.

The figure varies from year to year depending on what's requested, he says, admitting his department would be willing to spend more.

"We're all governed by budgets. Don't get me wrong, but naturally, yes, when you're getting that kind of bang for your buck ... to be totally frank about it, you think about, my God, here we are bringing writers in from all over the world to write about us, how really effective is it? But when you see the numbers, it really speaks for itself."

Kelvin Parsons, the tourism critic for the opposition Liberals, says that on the surface it looks like a fairly good program that is generating free advertising for the province and, hopefully, attracting new tourists.

However, Parsons said he would like to see more openness and accountability around the initiative.

"It's not a well-publicized program and there may be opportunities to determine whether it can be expanded or targeted to any specific audiences," he said.

It would also be beneficial, the Liberal member added, to determine whether these free advertising opportunities are resulting in tourists coming to the province.

"Overall," Parsons said, "we need to look at creative ways to attract tourists to this province, and this appears to be a unique way of getting our message out to new audiences."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Tourism, National Geographic, Muzzle Blasts Magazine Canadian Tourism Commission Media Miser

Geographic location: U.S., Newfoundland and Labrador, Vancouver Korea

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Recent comments

  • Razor
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Government incentives? What kind? Why do some people think that it is always the reponsibility of government to sort everything out. If there is a shortage of vehicles in the summer, then it is the rental companies who are at a loss. This is not government's problem.

  • Eva
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    This program is a sensible investment. The word is finally out on what a truly interesting destination NL can be for a wide variety of travellers. However, a serious problem that MUST be solved in order for more tourism industry growth is the PERENNIAL lack of car rentals in June, July and August. Could the government not offer incentives to rental agencies to increase their fleet during the busy summer season?

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Lack of rental cars is a sure sign of a failure of capitalism in St. John's. Most businesses are too lazy to get off their butts.

  • don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    It is now clear why journalists haven't exposed the facts about the celebrations in Cupids. They've been paid to write stories in line with Government approved promotion of such tourism nonsense. So much for independent journalism. If these so called journalists had done even the most basic historical research before writing their stories they would have discovered that, despite the what the Government is promoting, John Guy did not establish his colony and plantation in Cupids in 1610. Publishing fraudulent claims, lies and myths as fact is the most major mistake any journalist can make, but being paid by the Government to publish fraudulent claims, lies and myths as fact is something else entirely!

  • Blair
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Time to but the conspiracy theorist to bed...he gets so cranky when it's past his bedtime.

    Government paid to bring a journalist into the province, I somehow doubt anyone with Government took the time to sit down with them and tell them what to print.

    This is one more story that displays all the good this Government is doing for Newfoundland and Labrador!

  • Angelica
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Money well spent. Glad you enjoyed your stay Bill!

  • bill
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Five years ago my wife and I were commisoned by a European magazine to do a feature about tourism in NL.

    During our research we discovered that the tourist industry had grown from a mere $35 million in 1975 to over $400 million by 2005. That figure provided by the Hotel/Restaurant Assoc of NL.

    I had traveled NL widely for 15 years with various CBC TV programs and went back to see the changes in rural NL after 25 years.

    We had wonderful accomodation, great food, fish every day and well trained staff everywhere we visited.

    Tourism NL is to be congratulated for promoting NL so well. What a huge change from 25 years ago.

    Bill

  • Razor
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Government incentives? What kind? Why do some people think that it is always the reponsibility of government to sort everything out. If there is a shortage of vehicles in the summer, then it is the rental companies who are at a loss. This is not government's problem.

  • Eva
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    This program is a sensible investment. The word is finally out on what a truly interesting destination NL can be for a wide variety of travellers. However, a serious problem that MUST be solved in order for more tourism industry growth is the PERENNIAL lack of car rentals in June, July and August. Could the government not offer incentives to rental agencies to increase their fleet during the busy summer season?

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Lack of rental cars is a sure sign of a failure of capitalism in St. John's. Most businesses are too lazy to get off their butts.

  • don
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    It is now clear why journalists haven't exposed the facts about the celebrations in Cupids. They've been paid to write stories in line with Government approved promotion of such tourism nonsense. So much for independent journalism. If these so called journalists had done even the most basic historical research before writing their stories they would have discovered that, despite the what the Government is promoting, John Guy did not establish his colony and plantation in Cupids in 1610. Publishing fraudulent claims, lies and myths as fact is the most major mistake any journalist can make, but being paid by the Government to publish fraudulent claims, lies and myths as fact is something else entirely!

  • Blair
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Time to but the conspiracy theorist to bed...he gets so cranky when it's past his bedtime.

    Government paid to bring a journalist into the province, I somehow doubt anyone with Government took the time to sit down with them and tell them what to print.

    This is one more story that displays all the good this Government is doing for Newfoundland and Labrador!

  • Angelica
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Money well spent. Glad you enjoyed your stay Bill!

  • bill
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Five years ago my wife and I were commisoned by a European magazine to do a feature about tourism in NL.

    During our research we discovered that the tourist industry had grown from a mere $35 million in 1975 to over $400 million by 2005. That figure provided by the Hotel/Restaurant Assoc of NL.

    I had traveled NL widely for 15 years with various CBC TV programs and went back to see the changes in rural NL after 25 years.

    We had wonderful accomodation, great food, fish every day and well trained staff everywhere we visited.

    Tourism NL is to be congratulated for promoting NL so well. What a huge change from 25 years ago.

    Bill