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At the Albian Sands (Shell, Chevron and Western Oil Sands) oil sands site near Fort McMurray, Alberta, a Bucyrus 495 electric shovel loads Caterpiller 797 dump trucks with oil sand ore at the Muskeg River Mine.

Larry MacDougal/The Globe and Mail/Larry MacDougal/The Globe and Mail

Viewing an anti-oil-sands advertising campaign will have a "devastating" impact on the willingness of American and British tourists to visit Alberta, a new poll suggests.

The Rethink Alberta campaign, launched last month and supported by a U.S. environmental group, targets the oil sands and urges people to avoid visiting the province.

The provincial government has dismissed the campaign as marginal and responded mostly through newspaper advertisements. But an Angus Reid poll released Monday suggests the campaign's video makes an impression on those who see it.

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Before watching the ad, 54 per cent of Britons and 49 per cent of Americans said they would consider visiting the province. After viewing the ad, those numbers plunged to 24 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.

"The effect of the ads to those who have been exposed to it is devastating," said Mario Canseco, Angus Reid's vice-president of public affairs. "We thought they'd take a hit, but we didn't think they'd lose half the people."

The poll also surveyed Canadians, and found that while 36 per cent of Ontario residents consider the ad "fair," only 5 per cent of Albertans do. Sixty per cent of Albertans found it offensive, twice the national rate.

The campaign's creator, Corporate Ethics, revised the video last month after an uproar in Alberta over inaccuracies, including the suggestion that the oil sands' ecological footprint is greater than the surface area of Britain. It is in fact about 600 square kilometres, less than 1 per cent the size of Britain.



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Alberta Tourism Minister Cindy Ady said Monday the government will continue to promote its $5.8-billion-a-year tourism industry, including such attractions as Banff National Park, and played down the poll.

"I don't disregard it, but let's put it in perspective. I'll show those beautiful parks to 1,000 people in that amount of time [that a survey takes]" Ms. Ady said.

But Mr. Canseco of Angus Reid said the video ad, available on YouTube, has staying power with the approximately 18,000 people who've viewed it.

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The poll was conducted online with about 4,000 respondents spread across Canada, the United States and Britain. Tourists from the United States and Britain are traditionally "very good customers" of Alberta, Ms. Ady said.

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