What do Pope Benedict, Rob Ford and the Ikea Monkey have in common? They all boost tourism
Just so you know, this is not an attempt to lure readers simply by mentioning the lead characters in three of the most-read news stories of the past 12 months. (But it worked, right?)
Last week, I received an email from Hotels.com spokeswoman Lauren Wasley, who informed me that following the Pope’s resignation on Feb. 11, the accommodations-booking website found that searches by Canadians looking to stay in Rome increased 87 per cent when compared with Feb. 11, 2012.
"Makes sense," I thought. "After all, millions of his followers may want to:
a) Personally bid farewell to Benedict XVI (pictured above) before he enters his retirement years, which will probably differ somewhat from those of Gregory XII, the last pope to retire, in that there was a lot less shuffleboard being played in 1415, and Tim Hortons wasn't yet open for business.
b) Steal Raphael's The Transfiguration once that pesky Benedict is out of the way.
c) Visit Rome because...er...it's in the news."
In short, it seemed odd that the historic papal announcement would generate such travel interest. (Hotels.com wouldn't disclose sales figures, but it stands to reason that a big bump in searches should yield at least a small bump in bookings.)
It made me wonder if the setting of any big news story would boost searches for hotels in that place, even if the story isn't related to vacations, or even travel, in any way.
Turns out I was onto something.
Take the Ikea Monkey: When asked, Wasley revealed that among Canadians, Hotels.com searches for Toronto were up 61.5 per cent, year-over-year, on Dec. 9, the day the story of the little shearling coat-clad simian (pictured at left; you can't look away) started going viral. This begs the question: Why would a rhesus macaque's misadventures in a Scandinavian furniture store make anyone want to travel to Toronto?
It's not like you can personally visit with Darwin on a trip to Hogtown, or even get a first hand glimpse of the little guy, or even touch his adorable outfit -- although any of those things would be pretty cool tourism draws. I suppose you could visit the North York Ikea where he was found, stock up on gronkullas, and stand in the exact spot just inside the parking garage's automatic doors where Darwin gazed forlornly at a world that would soon embrace him to the tune of 100-million-plus page views.
(A customer service attendant at the store told me she had "never" heard of anyone doing this. Too early for a T-shirt stand, then?)
There's more: There are those among us who feel Toronto's (insert adjective here) mayor, Rob Ford, isn't boosting the city's profile in any way, shape or form. But on Nov. 26, the day Ford was (temporarily) turfed from office, Canadian searches for Toronto lodgings on Hotels.com jumped by 93 per cent year-over-year.
The papal explanations all apply here -- cheer or jeer as Ford leaves office, make off with the Stanley Cup -- but again, how could Ford's legal setbacks possibly prompt anyone to visit Toronto?
Sometimes these surging hotel searches do make sense. Prince Harry's Las Vegas
shenanigans last August apparently fuelled a 118-per-cent increase in Sin City hotel searches. In January of 2012, the London Summer Olympics caused Canadians to search for accommodations in the British capital 91 per cent more often than they did in January of 2011. (The first month of an Olympic year, I'm told, is the most popular time for planning travel to the Games.)
In the end, these stats tweak an old maxim: When it comes to travel, there's no such thing as irrelevant publicity.
Or at the very least, that many of us have a hankering to play strip billiards in Vegas...
-- Adam Bisby
Read all of Adam’s Tripified posts here.