Montreal is one of the top places to visit in 2017 according to nearly a dozen consumer travel publications. Combine its year-long 375th birthday celebrations with a favorable exchange rate for U.S. travelers — Montreal’s largest international market — and conditions are ripe for travelers to start streaming in.

But if Americans still aren’t inspired to make a trip north of the border, Tourisme Montreal, the city’s destination marketing organization, believes William Shatner is the man to convince them.

Starting this week, travelers in the New York City and Toronto metro areas will see Facebook video ads starring a tongue-in-cheek Shatner saying he’s “sorry” for the fun he and others will have in Montreal this year as part of the birthday festivities. The ads, each about 15 seconds long, feature Shatner apologizing for the variety of restaurants, festivals and nightlife, for example, that Montreal offers travelers.

Some 60 percent of Americans that visit Montreal come by car from New York City, Boston, or Vermont and Shatner mentions in the ads that Montreal is “just next door.”

Facebook’s programmatic video ads allow brands to target consumers based on interests and these ads will appear in travelers’ newsfeeds as they scroll. The “Sorry” campaign’s five Shatner videos (linked here) — food, activities, culture, nightlife, and festivals — represent five interests the destination is marketing this year.

Travelers will see different ads depending on their Facebook ad preferences and other brands and interests they follow on the platform.

The campaign will play out exclusively on Facebook with no traditional TV or other types of advertising. Facebook debuted video ads last year but this is one of the first examples of a travel ad campaign playing out entirely on Facebook without any traditional or other digital advertising.

Shatner, 85, is a Montreal native, which makes him an ideal fit for the campaign, said Yves Lalumière, Tourisme Montreal’s president and CEO. “He won’t be deemed as an official ambassador for Montreal but we will evaluate Shatner as we go and we’ll see if it’s a mid-term type of strategy.”

Shatner also knows a thing or two about the travel industry and has multi-generational appeal in the U.S. for his iconic role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek.” His decades-long stint as the Priceline Negotiator for Priceline.com helped make the brand a household name in the U.S.

He’s also been involved with projects for other destinations such as Visit California and he currently co-stars on the NBC reality travel show “Better Late Than Never,” where he backpacks throughout Asia for one month with Henry Winkler, George Foreman, and Terry Bradshaw.

Going Where The Money is

Four years ago, Montreal and other Canadian tourism organizations stopped spending marketing dollars on U.S. travelers because they didn’t spend as much in the country compared with other markets.

Times have since changed and thanks to a weaker Canadian economy, U.S. travelers were one of the top spenders last year, said Lalumière. Americans spent $432 per day in Montreal last year and spent 15 percent more than in 2014. U.S. travelers, mostly from northeastern cities and states, account for nearly one-third of all tourist spending in Montreal and they spend more than Europeans.

Americans are also the most satisfied with their trips, based on a survey the destination conducted last summer. “Often we spend a lot of money on millennials and that’s great, but this year we’re also trying to appeal to the 40, 50 and 60-plus travelers,” said Lalumière. “We find millennials will spend more on food and beverage and older travelers will spend more on hotels, concerts and museums.”

Lalumière, however, said that the “creative, millennial class” is the target for the video ads, which already received 2.3 million completed views and 5.2 million start views, or those where travelers started a video but didn’t finish watching, on test ads the destination has run on Facebook.

As the face of the campaign, Shatner lacks the youthful persona that’s needed for Montreal to attract U.S. millennial travelers. His own energy and that of younger travelers depicted in the ads, however, help portray the city as an exciting place to visit and convey the party atmosphere.

It’s difficult to find a celebrity with universal appeal, but Shatner is a great choice as he’s still relevant in U.S. popular culture. And since more than 60 percent of U.S. adult internet users over age 50 use Facebook and with more than 80 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-49 active on Facebook, Montreal has a good shot at hitting its marks.

Montreal’s neighbor Ontario, including Toronto, represents the largest overall visitor market for Montreal and is also a target for these video ads. “It’s not often that one city will go to other cities tongue-in-cheek and apologize and tell you to come and visit and have fun,” said Lalumière. “The ‘Sorry’ campaign has been a collaboration with other Canadian cities because the entire country is celebrating its 150th birthday this year.”

More Americans Are Booking Canada This Year

Lalumière said there was a 10 percent increase in visits from U.S. markets in 2016 and said he also expects double-digit growth in 2017. Compare this to a 10-percent drop in Canadian visitors to the U.S. over the past year.

AAA data show that Toronto and Vancouver have the highest year-over-year increases in U.S. bookings for 2017 compared to all international destinations.

Bryan Shilling, managing director of travel services for AAA National in Florida, said many Canadians also plan to travel in Canada this year and won’t go to destinations like Florida, for example, which usually have many Canadian visitors.

“With the dollar strong in the U.S. it’s almost like Canada is on sale,” said Shilling. “People also see Canada as very safe compared to what else is happening in other parts of the world and they see it as being comfortable.”

Below is an extended version of the “Sorry” campaign with Shatner.

Photo Credit: William Shatner will help promote Montreal this year for the destination's 'Sorry' campaign. Pictured is a still of one of the ads featuring Shatner. Tourisme Montreal