A Q&A with Destination Toronto’s Chief Marketing Officer about the new tourism recovery campaign, Never Have I Ever, TO.

The EdgeWalk experience at the CN Tower in Toronto

Today marks the launch of a new tourism recovery campaign for Toronto—Never Have I Ever, TO. The campaign is in support of Toronto’s visitor economy that calls on locals and visitors to join in a citywide conversation and to explore Toronto in new ways. 

Terminal editor Matt McNama spoke with Destination Toronto’s EVP and Chief Marketing Officer Jon Mamela about the launch and what it means for Toronto’s tourism and hospitality community. 

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Matt McNama: Congratulations on the campaign launch—it’s been a long time coming. Can you talk about what the campaign is all about?

Jon Mamela: Thanks, the team has certainly been working tremendously hard on this campaign for a while now. We were ready to launch Never Have I Ever, TO last fall but the timing wasn’t right and we put it on pause. But now with Toronto entrenched into Step 3 and locals and visitors exploring more this summer, our market assessment guided us to determine it was the right time to press go. 

MM: Can you share some perspective on the creative idea and how it was developed? 

JM: It originated from the good old adage, “been there, done that.” Since our recovery strategy is starting hyper-locally with Torontonians, we knew this mindset was in place so we needed to address it head on. The reality is that we all have our own unique experience with their city that pre-pandemic was formed through day-to-day routines. And while routines make our days more efficient they also erode our sense of curiosity of where we live, work and play. But, with the pandemic upending our routines, it made us all pause, reflect on what’s most important, and encouraged us to reconnect with our local community.   

By pausing, we naturally notice more of the world around us and curiosity is piqued again for all that we can enjoy in Toronto.  To capitalize on this new curiosity for our city while addressing the perception of “been there, done that” we took it head on and put a challenge out to our audience. Everyone can have their own “Never Have I Ever” moments across our city.  

MM: What’s the objective of the campaign? 

JM: There are multiple objectives with our campaign. One objective is to reframe perceptions amongst both locals and visitors as to all of the ways one can enjoy Toronto. With our diverse neighbourhoods and all of the experiences that can be enjoyed across the city we are raising awareness that everyone can have their own “Never Have I Ever” moment in Toronto. It can be enjoyed in so many ways as nobody has done everything in the city, and if someone has I want to meet them! 

The next key objective is to capitalize on the conversation we aim to generate and support the recovery of some of the hardest hit businesses in our city over the past 18 months. This means driving locals and visitors to the doorsteps of attractions, hotels, restaurants, galleries, museums and local tour operators.  

Our businesses have been abiding by public health regulations and have maintained the health and safety of their guests as a top priority so it’s important for consumers to know that they can safely and smartly enjoy the city this summer and fall. And as more reopenings take place (like for meetings, indoor theatre and events) our content will  encompass those sectors too as we head into the fall and beyond.

MM: Let’s talk about how we’re getting the word out. What’s involved in the marketing aspects of the campaign?

JM: We’re investing $4.2 million into this campaign and using many different channels: social media, digital, television, earned media, out-of-home advertising, ambassadors and more to reach locals and the regional drive markets in Ontario and Quebec. But, the success of this campaign will also be measured by the momentum of support we generate amongst businesses who will bring the creative idea to life in their own marketing and communications. And, if we can get locals to spread the word through their social channels then we have truly hit a homerun...just like the Jays do these days at Rogers Centre. The string that ties the activity of this collective effort is the hashtag #NeverHaveIEverTO. 

MM: You’ve touched upon it there. This is the first time marketing efforts have extended beyond the local Toronto market since the start of the pandemic: 

JM: Yes, it’s an important step in our efforts to signal to consumers in nearby regions that Toronto is open and looks forward to welcoming you. And by engaging locals first in the front end of the campaign, we will be showcasing their content as they re-explore and discover all of the ways one can enjoy the city from the waterfront to North York and from Etobicoke to Scarborough.  

MM: Shifting gears, how can Toronto’s tourism and hospitality businesses be part of the campaign?

JM: As mentioned earlier our creative strategy is rooted in inclusivity. Every business in the community can take part in the campaign and bring it to life in their own unique way. To assist businesses we’ve created a campaign playbook that outlines how to take part, as well as outlining how businesses can build their own Never Have I Ever experience. It’s important to reinforce that creating a ‘Never Have I Ever’ experience is not only about creating something new.  Why? Because what may seem like the same old experience can be repositioned in a new way to customers who have never visited your business in the past.   

But, of course, if a business has a new experience or offering, we’re encouraging them to share that out to consumers as well.  We just didn’t want to place a significant burden on businesses who have been hard hit for 18 months to spend a lot of resources to participate. We think the creative idea is one that simply requires your imagination—and that’s free for us all. 

Our primary ask of businesses who create ‘Never Have I Ever’ content is to use our campaign hashtags, #NeverHaveIEverTO and #SeeTorontoNow, when they post on their social channels. This way we can see it with our monitoring tools and amplify it out to our followers across our social channels.  

MM: What if a business has a really cool idea for a tactic or promotion and is looking for Destination Toronto to help bring it to life? 

JM: Great question. Absolutely, we’re here to help bring great ideas to life with our resources including our team’s expertise as well as working with our ambassadors. If you have a great idea that you want to share and need our assistance, please reach out to us. We’ll be back in touch as quickly as we can to discuss your idea and bring it to the market. 

MM: Also launching with the campaign is My Toronto Pass. Can you tell us more?

JM: First, to mention that My Toronto Pass is not an app in the app store. It’s a digital download direct to your mobile phone that features offers on attractions, tours, experiences and transportation. It’s an added incentive for locals and visitors to get out and explore more over the course of the campaign. I’d encourage readers of this interview to download the pass here to see directly how easy it is to download and use.

And if your business isn’t enrolled in My Toronto Pass yet, we’ll be doing another intake in the weeks ahead. Businesses can submit their interest and our team will be in touch to chat further.

MM: How long is the campaign running for? 

JM: The campaign runs from now until the end of October. The work done by our business intelligence team with our market signal analysis indicated that it’s the right time to launch. We are keen to help generate incremental business over the latter half of the summer and into the early fall.  And with all of our efforts we’ll closely analyze content performance and other campaign indicators to assess how we evolve our media strategy and other tactics. Staying agile is simply a necessity. 

MM: Since this campaign is truly anchored in discovering (and re-discovering) an experience, I have to ask—what’s going to be your next Never Have I Ever moment?

JM:  Oh, great question. Since our city has gradually reopened up in the past month I’ve had the opportunity to get out and safely enjoy some ‘Never Have I Ever’ experiences already. For instance, I’d never thought I would be able to dress up as Iron Man and battle invaders at Avengers Station in the Yorkdale Mall or take on NHL all-stars in a shootout at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’ll be sure to post those experiences and more on my social channels on campaign launch day. 

I’m also very excited to get out and enjoy many of the offers on the My Toronto Pass including a flight simulator experience, traveling across Canada with Little Canada and taking in Medieval Times & Dinner. I’ve never enjoyed that before. And of course with our diversity of restaurants and microbreweries there are many must visit patios on my list.

MM: Any final thoughts? 

JM:  We’re extremely excited to have our community actively participate in the campaign—we have not had a campaign of this magnitude in a long while where we’ve asked our community to take our creative ideas and own them in their own channels.  As the proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”   

The campaign also lays the groundwork and game plan for the generation of new content and the extension of the campaign into other markets and into the holiday and winter season. We’re already in planning mode for the holiday and winter season with ‘Never Have I Ever” with the objective to exceed the success we had with our Spotlight campaign back in 2019.  Look for more details in the months ahead.