Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July Tourism News

Stats Showing local Tourism Industry on Par with 2007

With the first half of 2008 behind us, we are starting to paint a picture of how the visitor season will unfold. With the Tourism industry facing a number of unprecedented environmental challenges to contend with across Canada, Thunder Bay's tourism industry appears to be holding steady overall compared to 2007.

A review of a number of key indicators released to date paint a mixed picture and have identified areas of both opportunity and decline.

On the accommodations front, the local sector has faired well and on average, revenue per room has remained consistent with 2007 levels and in some cases slight increases have been shown. This has been largely due to growth in both the corporate (meetings and conventions) and sport tourism activities in the city and points to the successes of the city's enhanced focus on diversified tourism marketing efforts that put greater emphasis on attracting conferences and sporting events. The Mining Symposium and various sport events such as the Ontario Swimming Championships are strong indicators of the city's strategic advantage in hosting large groups.

Web visitation to http://www.visitthunderbay.com/ have shown a 51% increase over the same period of 2007, with visitors exceeding the 242 000 mark, up from 180 000 during the first half of 2007. This shows an increase in awareness about the city and it is being used as a tool to research leisure, sport and corporate travel.

Visitor Registrations at the Terry Fox Centre for the second quarter of 2008 show an approximate 8% decline. Domestic registrations are down approximately 4% with the biggest losses coming from Quebec, BC and Alberta markets. The Ontario market has shown increases of 2% over 2007, consistent with industry expectations that North American travellers would stay closer to home in 2008.

US registration numbers at the centre have shown a 25% decline over 2007 for the second quarter with declines across all major US markets. Overseas markets, while only representing 5% of our market, showed a 23% increase, consistent with national trends towards more European and Asian visitors who are coming to Canada because of the relative bargains and lower fuel prices compared to home markets. While the overseas markets are small, they typically stay longer in the community and have a higher per person per day spending over domestic visitors.

However, Canada Border Services data for the 2nd quarter paints a slightly more optimistic picture. While June US traffic at the Pigion River crossing was down 23%, April and May were on par with 2007 for US travellers entering Canada south of Thundder Bay, resulting in a second quarter decrease of only 12% overall. The second quarter saw 14 832 cars while 2007 saw 16 952 cars. However, the number of occupants within each car (not reported) is the more accurate measurement of visitation.

While we do not capture every single visitor in registrations at the Terry Fox Centre, the sampling represents the majority of those who provide basic information on their point of origin and is used as a barometer for guaging leisure traffic. Visitor retention is another important statistic as visitors who stay longer in the community will leave more of an economic impact, offsetting losses incurred by the number of person visits. U.S. visitors, while numbering less, are typically staying longer, helping to partially offset economic declines.

It is cautious to point out that these numbers are early indicators based on available data at this time. July and August travel numbers will be provide a more accurate picture as these two months represent the height of the leisure travel season. May and June border crossing statistics have not been released to us as of yet and may very well show declines less significant than visitor centre registrations are indicating, in percentage terms. We will endeavour to release data as it becomes available to us.

Motor Coach Industry Ramping Up

This Year's OMCa (Ontario Motorcoach Operators Association) conference painted a picture of an increase in motorcoach activity for 2008 and 2009 and the City recently hosted representatives from a number of Motor Coash and Tour operators who toured the city's main attractions to understand the opportunities that exist here. With rising fuel prices, the motorcoach industry is expecting a rise in travel as it becomes a more affordable option for those seeking to explore the country by road.

A number of cross Canada motorcoach tours are expected in the city over the summer and recently I had the opportunity to dine with 97 Southern Ontario visitors travelling aboard two Great Canadian Coaches from Toronto to Victoria on a tour called "Fabric of Canada" While in the city, they dined at the Fort William Country Club dining room, with the Norwesters providing the perfect backdrop to several presentations on the geology of the city by Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (http://www.mndm.gov.on.ca/) Geologist Mark O'Brien and Tim Lukinuk of Amethyst Mine Panorama (http://www.amethystmine.com/).

Special Group Visit Coming Up

On July 11th, 13 very special visitors will be coming through Thunder Bay on their way North for a 8 day fly fishing school with Wilderness North (http://www.wildernessnorth.com/) through their sponsorship of a program called "Healing Waters"

10 U.S. and 3 Canadian Military Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who have suffered serious physical injuries during the course of their service, will be arriving in Thunder Bay on the evening of July 11th and will be flying north to one of Wilderness North's camps on July 12th to enjoy a relaxing week of world class fly fishing.

American Airlines has donated the flights for the service men to Chicago and a number of retired airline pilots will be flying them to Thunder Bay on their private aircraft to start their adventure. We want to extend a huge Thunder Bay welcome to our friends from across North America who have made enourmous sacrifices in the battle against global terrorism.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings. You can click on http://www.projecthealingwaters.org/ to learn more about this program or to make a donation.

Upcoming Media Tours

Later this month a number of media familiarization tours will be in the city, including a number of Japanese travel writers and outdoor travel writers from as far a field as Atlanta, Georgia. These itineraies have been brought together in partnership with Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership in support of Seven Days with the Giant.

...and speaking of the Giant, Seven Days with the Giant generated over 25 246 entries during its 3 month run.

BluesFest Weekend Getaway a Success.

This year's TBayTel's Thunder Bay Bluesfest was a great event with perfect weather. Tourism Thunder Bay was a media sponsor of the event and hosted the Bluesfest Weekend Getaway contest in the regional, Winnipeg and Northern Minnesota markets. This year set a new record for entries, with over 700 received. The winners, from Winnipeg, enjoyed Thunder Bay hospitality with Lake Superior Visits (http://www.superiorvisits.com/) and enjoyed 2 VIP passes to the Bluesfest with VIP parking privilages at the gate, a sail tour of the harbour and one night aboard http://www.sailsuperior.com/ 's floating bed and breakfast, two nights at the Days Inn North (http://www.daysinn.ca/) and meals at the Prospector, Lot 66 and Ruby Moon.

MyTBay.ca Around Town

The launch of MyTBay.ca in mid June has generated over 100 stories, photos and videos to date and we are taking the show on the road this summer around the community. Tourism Thunder Bay staff will be around Summer in the Parks events at Marina Park every Wednesday evening to give out buttons and give people the chance to win a cool MyTBay.ca tee.

A big thanks goes out to MyTBay.ca sponsor TBaytel (http://www.tbaytel.net/) and Barry Streib for hosting MyTBay.ca and Tourism Thunder Bay staff at their booth during this past weekend's Bluesfest to help get the message out.

We have started uploading some select stories and photos to the MyTBay.ca facebook group and will be utilizing these stories and images in upcoming tourism marketing campaigns into 2009.

Sport Tourism Strategy Update

The Recreation and Culture and Tourism Divisions of the City of Thunder Bay are presently circulating a draft sport tourism policy that will form the foundation for a future of aggressive growth. To view and comment upon the proposed policy, contact Paul Burke at pburke@thunderbay.ca. We are hoping to have the final policy approved by Council in the fall of 2008.

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