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by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua

Effective Destination Marketing

Benjamin Franklin’s old adage “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn” is the beating heart of effective destination marketing. This is particularly the case when targeting  incentive travel professionals whose core task it is to craft travel experiences that are memorable, immersive and always in line with corporate objectives and culture. Hosting SITE’s Incentive Summit Americas in late March, Tourism Whistler delivered a master class in destination marketing with an evening event that took participants on an unforgettable journey around everything that makes this location truly special.


[Photo: Tourism Whistler / Justa Jeskova]



The evening commenced at Whistler Conference Centre, an easily accessible, multi-purpose venue located right in Whistler Village. Built in 1985 and expanded in 2003, the facility served as the Mountain Media Centre during the 2010 Winter Olympics Games, co-located in Vancouver & Whistler. It’s a beautiful building that integrates perfectly into its mountain village context. It also provides extensive flexible spaces and can host a Gala Dinner for over 1000 attendees.


[Photo: Whistler Conference Centre]


Karen Goodwin, vice President destination & market development at Tourism Whistler – who also operate the Conference Centre – welcomed Incentive Summit Americas and highlighted how Whistler is a destination that breaks the mould by offering guests “a different landscape to adventure in, find relaxation, and immerse … in a unique mountain culture.”

Robin Thompson, Director Meetings Conventions & Incentive Sales, Business Events Canada, co-host with Whistler for the evening celebration also welcomed us and pointed out how Canada is very much on SITE’s radar these days with ISA in Whistler and Global Conference in Vancouver in January 2020. Karen then introduced us to the larger than life local, André Saint-Jacques, founder of Bearfoot Bistro, one of Whistler’s and, indeed, Canada’s most celebrated and awarded restaurants.

We learned the origins of champagne sabering – its dates from the Napoleonic Wars and is a “good luck” charm – and then got involved, successfully sabering several bottles of bubbles under the careful instruction of André, holder himself of the Guinness Book of Records for most bottles sabered in a minute. We then raised our glasses to André’s wonderfully appropriate toast “It’s good to be us!” and started the short stroll from Conference Centre to Restaurant.

Destination Marketing through unique food experiences

At Bearfoot Bistro André Saint-Jacques has managed to create a true Whistler gastronomic extravaganza that successfully combines unique immersive experiences, high culinary drama and casual comfort. Seated as parties of 6 and 8 we enjoyed fine wines poured theatrically into oversized glasses from beautiful decanters. We chose from a thoughtful menu designed by Executive Chef Melissa Craig that featured one of her signature dishes – Te Mana Lamb Rack (spiced belly, carrot, cumin, beluga lentil, poppadum, sumac yogurt, barberry). Needless to say the food was spectacular, as befits a restaurant that knows what’s its about and is committed to fusing fresh ingredients from Whistler’s natural bounty with the best global fare.


[Photo Tahira Endean]


The Bearfoot Bistro also hosts the Ketel One Ice Room, the world’s coldest vodka tasting room with temperatures at a chilly negative 32C. Thankfully Arctic Expedition parkas are provided to take the nip out of the air and introduce a little theatrical “dressing up” into the experience. From a total selection of over 50 global vodkas, you get to do up to 4 shots during which you experience how the extreme environment enhances the flavour while minimizing the alcohol burn. There was unanimous agreement that the flavoured vodka with the undeniable but highly implausible birthday cake taste was the winner.

The interlude in the Ice Room refreshed the group dynamic and facilitated interaction with other tables as we rotated through the space.  The entire experience was the perfect “instagramable moment” as we huddled in clusters for selfies taking horizontal shots for Facebook and vertical ones for Instagram. We were like giddy children on a school tour let loose in a candy story. Just that the candy was vodka!



Our visit downstairs to the fantastically stocked wine cellar was a learning highlight of the evening. 20,000 wines with a monetary value of CAD$1.2m line the walls from floor to ceiling. Naturally this remarkable setting stimulated a multitude of questions from what was  the most expensive wine  to what was the oldest one. The collection is very traditional overall dominated by well know French and Italian wines. I shared the sommelier’s personal preference for a good Brunello di Montalcino!


[Photo: Bearfoot Bistro]


The cellar is commonly used for champagne sabering ceremonies and upscale private dining. It’s all high drama gastronomy, decidedly out of the ordinary and definitely right on the mark for incentive travel experiences that must, by definition, surprise and delight. Before we returned to our tables for coffee, we were inducted into the mysteries of ice cream making with liquid nitrogen.

Tourism Whistler, Business Events Canada and their great partners clearly “get” the incentive marketplace. They know how hearts and minds are engaged and captured in and through the power of shared emotional experiences. If I’m told about a destination I’ll probably forget it; if I’m taught by a great teacher, I may remember but if I’m involved physically, intellectually and emotionally in the destination experience then I’ll learn and I’ll never forget.

Successful experiential events like what we shared at the Whistler Conference Centre and Bearfoot Bistro connect incentive travel professionals to destinations at a deep level of involvement and ensure that the positive afterglow of the experience lingers long after everyone has returned home.

The entire SITE team would like to thank Business Events Canada and Tourism Whistler  (particularly Alison Staley, Sales Manager, Meetings & Incentive Sales and Marianne Corak, Manager, Meetings & Incentive Sales) for being a great DMO partner to our organisation and supporting the “I” in MICE as a key component in an overall Business Events strategy.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney & Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a boutique agency working with destinations, venues, hotels, agencies and associations on marketing, strategy and training. Gilligan and McCrum work are part of the SITE global marketing team.


[Featured image: The Adventure Group]





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