By Mayor Bob Simpson
When the Council of the day adopted the “Gold Pan City” tourist marketing strategy in 1982/3, that tagline was not the one recommended by a Council advisory committee, nor was it one the Mayor initially supported. The advisory committee, based on a contest they had commissioned, recommended “Jack Pine City” and also advanced, based on public input, two other potential themes: “Jewel of the Cariboo” and “Flower Garden of the North.”
The Mayor, however, wanted “City of Festivals” and appointed a winter festival committee to look at hosting a major event similar to Billy Barker Days each winter as a way to boost the local economy and attract tourists all year round.
As we all know, the Gold Pan City theme eventually won the day; in part, because its champions claimed that European tourists were interested in Quesnel because of its association with the Gold Rush. But, it’s important to remember that the adoption of this theme was merely an effort by the Council of the 1980s to refresh and update the City’s old marketing strategy, not to find a forever representation of all that Quesnel is and can be.
Times change and people’s interests evolve, so marketing brands must be refreshed to meet the needs and aspirations of the current generation. That’s a fundamental principle of marketing, including tourism marketing.
A few years ago, when Council engaged in a public process to modernize the City’s brand to reflect the needs and aspirations of today’s tourism market, we realized that the old brand (Gold Pan City) had positioned Quesnel as a “flow through” community for tourists as opposed to a destination to come to and, it had locked the image of the City firmly in the past (and not necessarily its own past), as opposed to its present and future potential.
The goal of the most recent rebranding exercise was to find a way to promote Quesnel based on its own unique attributes and attractions, while still speaking to our historical roots. The “It’s in Our Nature” theme achieved that and was supported by all of our business associations. “It’s in Our Nature” speaks to our dependence on nature for our economy and social well-being; our ability to easily recreate in our surrounding rivers, lakes, trails, and wilderness areas; and, our inherent community spirit, which, like the early pioneers, is a ‘can do’ attitude that enables us to remain resilient during this very challenging time.
“It’s in Our Nature” also speaks to today’s tourists desire to experience all that nature has to offer: from mountain biking our new trail systems to fishing on Dragon Lake; from hiking in the wilderness, to RVing in one of our surrounding parks or rec sites; from ATVing and sledding in the backcountry to snowshoeing and x-country skiing in that same backcountry or on groomed trails. It also still embraces the idea of Quesnel being a “gateway” to Cottonwood House, Barkerville, and the Bowron Chain – so we don’t lose that connection to these important regional tourism attractions with our new brand.
In short, our 21st century brand, unlike the one from the last century, positions Quesnel as a great place to live and invest in, and a destination to come to rather than simply a community to flow through or a gateway to other attractions.
Post-COVID, the City’s new brand and community destination strategy positions Quesnel perfectly to attract urbanities wanting to escape to a place where social distancing is easier to maintain and where nature affords them some reprieve from crowded streets and cloistered living. It enables us to attract visitors, residents, and investors who realize that the “new normal” means more local travel and more rural living.
Eventually, “It’s in Our Nature” will become past dated too. Hopefully when it gets modernized at some future date, residents will realize that updating a brand is a necessary exercise for maintaining relevance and community resiliency.
Mayor Bob Simpson can be reached at email@example.com.