Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thunder Bay Observatory a Unique Addition to the Local Tourism Experience

The Thunder Bay Observatory is probably not something most of us in the industry are aware of or have really given much thought to as a important part of tour tourism economy. However, the Observatory represents an important piece of the tourism puzzle in that it is a visitor experience that targets a niche avid experience based traveller.

I've known about the site for a number of years and am friends with its creator. I recently had a chance to host a dinner for the SKAL International Thunder Bay chapter ( out at the Observatory to introduce them to Randy McAllister, the owner and visionary behind this great hidden gem 15 minutes drive southwest of the city. While still in development, we were able to dine and listen to Randy speak about the history and purpose of the Observatory and tour the actual telescope and dome as well.

Randy's passion for science, construction, computers and astronomy have all collided to produce something different that takes advantage of our community's geography and effectively reaches an international market of like minded travellers who want to escape the light pollution of larger centers to view the sky like almost no where else within range of a major centre.

Randy picked the location southwest of Thunder Bay to ensure a clear southern view with minimal light pollution (the effect of city lights on viewing the sky clearly) The 16 foot diameter dome that he built himself houses Canada's largest privately owned telescopes available for public use.

While the Observatory's planetarium and dining facilities are still under development, Randy continues to build programming opportunities and has been receiving some fantastic media attention, both locally and on the international front. In fact, June's edition of Lake Superior Magazine ( features Randy and his Observatory within the article entitled "The Not So Secret Thunder Bay."

At the end of our dinner and tour, our SKAL members were eagerly picking up copies of the brochures and cards to make available at their front desks for both leisure guests and corporate clients hungry to see something a little different after the sun sets in the city. Its clear that the Thunder Bay Observatory plays a role in raising the profile of the city, attracting avid sky watchers to our community and encouraging visitor retention by offering one more unique experience.

Randy offers group and individual tours of the facility, teaches astronomy at Lakehead University and hosts an event each August that provides ample room for on site camping.

For more information, visit

Focus on Experiences Key to Attracting U.S. Travel Markets

With the Canadian Dollar closing out the week at $1.09 against the U.S. dollar, it reminds us that we cannot always place our emphasis on the currency advantage when marketing to our U.S. visitors.

Despite a 50% drop in U.S. visitation to our region post 9/11, the market still remains an economically and logically important one to us. While the current US share of our tourism market appears to be a modest 19%, it still translates into over $35 million in annual economic impact for the city and district. Thunder Bay is the epicenter of a 12 hour drive radius of over 30 million potential visitors and while past practices have taken the "shotgun" newspaper approach, we have had to shift towards more creative and better researched methods of reaching those markets effectively.

Understanding the travel motivations of our U.S. markets has never been more important and accessing, analysing and implementing that data has been key to successfully reaching the cross border visitor. Considering 57% of U.S. visitors are motivated to travel around outdoor experiences (the single largest category), it makes sense to promote our city and region towards those outdoor markets along four lines.

The first is as a hub or base camp for their outdoor adventures into the region, be it angling, kayaking, back country camping or other lucrative niches like climbing, cross country skiing and scuba. The second targets the road and water based touring markets who choose the Lake Superior circle tour for its spectacular natural environment and promote the City as a major stopping point on the tour. A third group with respect to U.S. markets is sport travel, encouraging U.S. based sport teams and organizations to travel to Thunder Bay to participate in events, be it cross country ski races, marathons or organized team tournaments in soccer, hockey and baseball. The fourth is the attraction of group travel programs targeting specific cruise industry and motorcoach travel organizers who are looking for unique landscapes. Take note that all four of these motivator groups all come back to a connection to the outside activities.

These travel groups constitute the "avid traveller", people who love the experience and are often less likely to give it up in tough economic times or be overly concerned with fluctuations in the currency markets. Its important that we focus on delivering value for travellers. We have to market and provide a quality experience, one where the cheapest price is not the selling feature but rather, the visitors have been wowed by the experience, the customer service and genuine concern for their satisfaction.

The other important advantage of experienced based marketing approach is that its also easier to reach these markets with direct web based media campaigns, social media channels and experience based travel media, translating into a better return on our marketing investment.

What can individual tourism business owners do to reach markets more effectively? The answer is simple. Know your product, know your target market and match them together. The Ministry of Tourism is an exceptional source of travel motivator research that is available free of charge to anyone who wants to know their markets better. Just visit for links to the most recent studies, surveys, performance and industry outlook reports.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Steelhead Association Makes a Difference on the Current River

One of the best viewing spots in the City of Thunder Bay is the mouth of the Current River. Its a fantastic location whether you're a angler, bird or ship watcher, or nature enthusiast. It offers a great dichotomy of the City's industrial heritage and connection to our natural environment.

I've known about this area since I was a kid. My dad, brother and I would head out there smelting every spring. It is probably why I started getting a taste for coffee at the age of seven. We'd head out there on a Saturday night around 11 pm, flashlights, thermos, buckets and nets in hand to jostle among the hundreds of other anglers to catch those tasty little silver fish that, when cleaned, rolled in egg, milk and flour and pan fried, remain one of my favorite local meals to this day. Pair it with a fresh baguette, a bottle of Pelee Island Pinot Grigio ( and good friends and you've found heaven on earth.

Getting back to the story at hand, the 5 acre area, as great as it is, is not very well known or travelled to and unfortunately some of the people who do know about it, have used it as a garbage dump and location for amorous encounters for decades.

The Thunder Bay Steelhead Association wants to make this area more usable by the public and has announced an ambitious and commendable effort to clean up the property, replant some of the native plant species, connect to the Boulevard Lake trail system and make this a place more people visit and enjoy. Apart from smelting expeditions, its long been a great place to watch massive grain ships from around the world load up at Viterra C Terminal, watch vessels in drydock at Lakehead Marine, kayak, fish and just watch the wildlife, that on land included deer and in the water, ducks, geese and a host of other bird species. Its a great location to take a coffee, sit on the shore and watch Thunder Bay's industrial engine tick away to the spectacular backdrop on the Big Lake. Getting more people to visit the site also has the added effect of more eyes keeping dumpers away.

June 6-7 is clean up day and the Steel Head Association is looking for volunteers to help out. I for one will be out there and I encourage others in the community to join in as well. It takes all of us to keep Thunder Bay clean, green and beautiful.

For more information on volunteering for the clean up, email them at or visit

Thunder Bay Art Gallery Showcases "The Waking Giant"

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery ( is one of my personal favorite gems in the community. Tucked away on Sibley Drive on the Confederation College campus, this center features one of Canada's most extensive permanent collections of Woodland Aboriginal Art and is always showcasing unique local, national and international exhibits in its three exhibition halls. Its also a fantastic location to hold a meeting or workshop, with a conference room that can hold about 60 people comfortably.

While there today for a workshop, I had the pleasure to catch up on things with the Marketing Director, Alastair MacKay, who introduced me to "The Waking Giant" a children's book produced by the Gallery's Art Access program. I knew of the project and had a chance over a year ago to see the individual prints on display at the gallery. The project was born out of the attention provided to the Sleeping Giant 2 years ago in CBC's Seven Wonders of Canada contest and has now been produced in a limited print run book that is suitable for children in grades 1-3. The artwork is great and the story, of the Giant waking up to stretch, is fun.

The book is available for purchase at the Gallery's gift shop, a great little gem in itself that features unique jewellery, books and other items. In this day of promoting sustainability in the tourism industry, their new reusable shopping and gift bags make a great statement and promote the Gallery.

The Gallery is an attraction everyone in the local tourism industry should visit-and revisit regularly. Its a great place to take family and Friends and to recommend to visitors. It represents the cultural fabric of our community and makes a great destination year around. Getting there is easy. Just take Sibley Drive off Balmoral Ave or the college's main entrance off Golf Links Road.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to my friends at Lake Superior Magazine in Duluth as I was making my way to Minneapolis for the Midwest Mountaineering Expo. It was just coincidence that it was proofing day and everyone there was working late but I had decided to bring them a box of Thunder Bay's famous persians. Needless to say, they loved the food offering and I had a great time chatting with everyone over coffee.

The entire team at Lake Superior Magazine, lead by Bob, Cindy, Konnie and Bob, are good and trusted friends of Tourism Thunder Bay and they continuously showcase our great city to the tens of thousands of loyal readers, residents and travellers around the lake basin.

I got to see the proof of the upcoming issue with a feature titled "The Not So Secret Thunder Bay" featuring such great little hidden-and not so hidden- gems as SailSuperior (, The Thunder Bay Observatory ( , and Thunder Bay's new competition level skateboard and BMX plaza located at Marina Park. I wont ruin the rest of the article for you but I encourage you to keep an eye out for the upcoming edition, sure to hit new stands in the city very shortly. If you don't subscribe or buy this magazine, I recommend it highly as it helps us know whats going on, not only in our city, but around the entire lake basin. We really are one big Lake Superior community and we need remember that working together and visiting each other benefits the entire region.

A side note is that the current edition, still on the stands, features an article on cycling around the lake and features quotes from Thunder Bay's Larry Lage of Excalibur Motorcycle Works. Motorcycle riding (and bicycling too for that matter) are great ways to see the lake and given the trends in motorcycle ownership over the past few years, its an ever increasingly important market for us all.

Check out for more information.

Digging For the Truth Demonstrates Local Leadership in conference Attraction

I've said it often. Successfully marketing Thunder Bay as a destination of choice cannot be done with one department or through a handful of people. It takes each and every one of us in the industry to do our part to attract visitors.

The latest example is yesterday's announcement that local entrepreneur and tourism professional Lori Paras is organizing "Digging For the Truth", an international conference being hosted at Thunder Bay's Best Western Norwester Resort Hotel ( this coming October 22-25th, 2009.

Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to explore new theories behind some of the world’s most fascinating mysteries and historical enigmas. The conference program includes speakers, panel discussions, workshops and presentations by international writers, theorists and researchers. The program will also highlight the City of Thunder Bay and will include exciting social networking opportunities.

This conference demonstrates how a local person with a passion for a particular subject, can transfer that effort into an event that will attract motivated travellers from around the world to the city, creating an economic impact in the tens of thousands of dollars and raising the profile of the city as a unique destination.

Visit for more information or to register.

New Passport Requirements Take Effect June 1

Its probably not news to anyone intimately involved in the regional tourism industry but it worth reminding everyone that the latest incarnation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative takes effect June 1, 2009.

What does that mean? Passports. Canadian residents travelling into the United States by road crossing will now be required to have a valid passport or accepted registered secure smart driver's licence to enter the United States. U.S. residents will require the same to re-enter the United States.

The date has been pushed back a couple of times and there had been hope that the new Democratic government would scrap the initiative altogether. The new regulation will undoubtedly have a short and medium term effect on border communities the most where casual day traffic will decline in both directions. However, in communities where residents depend on goods, services and employment across the border, they are more likely to get their documents.

We are entering a new era and the passport requirement will soon reach a point of equilibrium. I liken them to a flu shot in that it is a little inconvenient to go and get the application, a pic taken and a witness's signature. However, once you get one, they're one of the best documents to have. Recent increases in the numbers of both Canadian and U.S. residents applying for passports is an encouraging sign that people are getting them.

And who is getting them? People who travel is the obvious answer but more specifically, educated and avid experience seekers and these are the clients we want to market to anyway. The person who never leaves their sofa to get a passport is also the person no amount of marketing is going to likely encourage travel.

So what can you do to ensure your U.S. clients are getting their passport?

  • Send them the information on the Canadian AND U.S. requirements when they inquire or book their vacations. The Canadian Border Services Agency is always more than pleased to supply tourism partners with the forms they need.

  • Send clients the link to the U.S. and Canadian Border agency websites or better yet, put the links on your websites. They are listed here.

Canadian -

United States -

  • Read up on the regulations so you can at least answer basic questions your clients may have.
  • Offer a travel discount up to the equivalent value of their passport fee.
  • Grand Portage Lodge and Casino has taken things one step further. They have been hosting a number of sessions and taking Canadian resident's passport photos for them. Imagine booths at U.S. sports shows with passport information and photographer on the ready to make people's processes a little easier. I am not sure what the legality is of doing this in the U.S. but its worth getting the information on and reporting back on it here.
Remember, while this is an added travel challenge during tough economic times, it is inevitable and its best we respond with creative means to ensure our efforts continue to offer and market the types of experiences where the U.S. market is likely to have or willing to get a passport.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Emerging Group Tour Markets Key to Building Leisure Traffic

Thunder Bay is fortunate to be situated on the world's largest lake and as such, is part of one of the continent's best driving routes and most spectacular boating experiences. With the individual leisure travel market becoming more challenging to attract, its important to harness our position the Lake Superior Circle tour to attract the emerging leisure markets-what I refer to as the semi independent group travel.

Simply put, these are the folks travelling by individual automobiles, motorcycles, RVs and boats but in groups-some numbering in the hundreds. Often these people belong formally, or informally to a group specific to RV, motorcycle brand or automobile style. We all see them throughout the summer months and we've been getting them here for years. In 2008, Thunder Bay played host to the Wally Byam Air streamers group, this year, a large group of U.S. RV owners and in 2010, the Miata Enthusiasts of Upper Peninsula (Michigan) will be bringing in excess of 30 cars to the city for two days. As a new owner of an older miata myself, I've quickly become immersed in the group ownership culture and have come to understand first hand, the economic impact these touring groups make on a region. The itinerary and pics from the 2005 run are available at for those interested. If you are a Miata owner, stay tuned as new information is posted on that site for the 2010 run.

On the motorcycle touring side, Larry Lage of Excalibur Motorcycle Works ( has been instrumental in helping us understand the motorcycle touring market and with respect to boating, we communicate with the Great Lakes Cruising Club ( to promote the area to the thousands of boaters who live around the lake and the tens of thousands who live elsewhere on the Great Lakes.

Opportunities exist to better target our marketing towards these groups, using both online social media as well as building partnerships with local enthusiasts groups who play host to these groups. Its something we have worked on in the past two years and will be doing so more formally in the future. Its good for local event organizers to know that bringing in groups often ensures special rates on hotel rooms, meals and attraction admissions can be offered by many local and area tourism partners.

Attracting these groups is important on a number of fronts. As previously mentioned, its easy to reach out to them AND we are on one of the best scenic touring routes in North America. However, those who motorcycle, RV or drive sports cars are more likely to be avid travellers. They seek out the driving experience, they love to socialize with like minded individuals and are more likely to travel even when the economy is weak. They are generally of a higher education, more affluent and adventurous. In our case, we have a lot of enthusiasts in the community who act as advocates and organizers, helping reach their peers across North America more directly than we can on our own.

Tourism Thunder Bay has been providing support to such local groups who host. For those who want to host groups, Tourism Thunder Bay provides magazines, delegate packages and even the use of our roll up displays to help promote the city. Our meeting and convention planner has even been known to help source out prizes for groups who set up gatherings here. The City's event central can help provide one stop shopping for event organizers with respect to information on road closure processes, permit requirements and even equipment the City of Thunder Bay can provide to event organizers.

For 2010 we are currently evaluating the implementation of a potential sponsorship program to help sponsor some of the financial costs of hosting motor touring groups in our city.

If you are a Thunder Bay or area motor touring enthusiast who wants to host a group here, feel free to contact Rose Marie Tarnowski, our Meetings and Convention Planner at and she will be happy to discuss venues, attractions and other related information.

photo courtesy of MEUP

Daily Exchange Rate

Offering a fair rate of exchange is all part of offering great service to our U.S. visitors. Recent increases in commodity prices, particularly oil, has caused an increase in the value of the Canadian dollar and it is trading against the U.S. much better than the $1.25 per $1 USD only several months back.

Today's opening exchange rate on U.S. cuurency is 88.5 cents U.S. per Canadian dollar or $1.125 CDN to $1 U.S.D.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Ontario Parks Has Opportunity for the Right Marketing Student this Summer

Hot on the heals of Tourism Thunder Bay's presence at the 2009 Regional Career Fair, we're going to open up the Blog to help post any tourism job opportunities that exist out on the landscape. Ontario Parks has a great opportunity for a summer marketing student this year.

Ontario Parks - Marketing and NHE Assistant (Park Ranger) 2009
Summer Experience Position # SEP_N43542
Start Date: TBD (approx. 7-14 weeks TBD)

Position Background
· Candidates must meet SEP general and age program eligibility requirements.
· Based out of the Northwest Zone office of Ontario Parks under the general supervision of Zone Manager and working with the NW Zone Marketing /NHE Specialist.
· 8 hours per day, 40.00 hours per week, $9.50/hr
· You may be required to wear an Ontario Parks uniform (will be supplied as required). You will be required to maintain a neat and clean appearance at all time. Hair colour must be natural and jewellery must be tasteful and appropriate. Proper office attire is required.
· Should safety work boots (green patch) be required – this is the responsibility of the employee to provide.

Duties Will Include:
As a member of the Ontario Parks Northwest Zone team, under the general supervision of the Zone Manager you will provide assistance to the Marketing/NHE Specialist in undertaking marketing and Natural Heritage Education projects. The position will require office work, day field trips and possibly overnight, extended field trips in the outdoors i.e. camping.

Background knowledge and related experience with Ontario Parks, parks, tourism, marketing, special events planning and delivery, resource management and outdoor recreation or related
· Knowledge of tourism and recreation industry, visitor demographics and research techniques
· Knowledge of natural sciences (i.e. flora, fauna, geology), ecosystems and cultural history of the Northwest Region and parks
· Knowledge of, and ability to use personal computers including word-processing, record-keeping, Internet and electronic mail software applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, other, photographic software)
· Good presentation, leadership, organizational, interpersonal, computer skills and oral and written communication skills. Data entry and statistical analysis skills. Research and report writing skills.
· Working knowledge in camping, orienteering and practices/techniques of outdoor living. Outdoor skills and work experience preferred. Hiking, backpacking, canoe tripping, kayaking, camping and wilderness trip planning skills an asset.
· Valid Class "G" Driver’s License an asset. Valid First Aid Certificate an asset.
· Ability to lift materials and supplies up to approximately 40 lbs.
· Ability to work independently and part of a team follow and carry out instructions.
· Ability to work flexible hours, shifts, and weekends and in inclement weather (rain, bugs).
· Working knowledge of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and those regulations made under the Act that applies to the workplace and the work being performed.

For more information contact:
Barb Rees, Natural Heritage Education/Marketing Specialist
Ontario Parks - Northwest Zone at 807-475-1482.
Resumes can be emailed to no later then 1 p.m. on Wed. May 27, 2009
Please indicate: Marketing/NHE Assistant Position in Subject line of email.

April Visits to Terry Fox Demonstrate Market Resiliance.

The April 2009 visitor statistics at the Terry Fox Center are approximately on par with 2008, a welcome sign that this summer's leisure season may be reasonably successful in light of challenging economic times across North America.

A total of 1064 visitors registered at the center in April and while that was down 94 persons from 2008, the center was closed on April 1 for a snow storm and on Easter Monday as part of our restructuring plan to reallocate staffing to keep the Pagoda center open longer during summer months. When these dates were accounted for as their daily average visitation, the numbers are pretty much only 10 visitors off from the previous year.

Canadian Visitors totaled 900 or 78% of visitors and included the following
  • Ontario - 64%
  • Manitoba - 11%
  • BC - 8%
  • Saskatchewan - 7%
  • Alberta - 4%
  • Quebec - 2%
US traffic, at 118 visitors, was 10% and was overwhelmingly from our core markets of Minnesota (70%) and Wisconsin (15%)

Overseas traffic, at 46 visitors, made up 4% of total traffic to the center.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tourism Thunder Bay Encouraging Careers in Tourism

For the first time, Tourism Thunder Bay has a presence at the 2009 Regional Career Fair being held at the Confederation College Aviation Center of Excellence. The Fair runs May 21 and 22nd.
Opportunities for summer employment, careers and entrepreneurship exist in the tourism industry and its important to reach youth in the community and encourage them to consider the opportunities that the industry can provide. There are dozens, if not hundreds of careers within the broader tourism industry, ranging from culinary and hotel management to web development, marketing, human resources, parks, guiding, and aircraft maintenance and flying. These opportunities span the private, public and not for profit sectors. Students don't often think about tourism or the employment future that can exist in the region and with downturns in the traditional economic sectors, a pending wave of retirements across the public service and product gaps requiring skillful entrepreneurs, there is a future for youth in tourism.

We're also utilizing this as a platform to promote tourism programs at Lakehead University and Confederation College as well as some of Northern Development and Mines NOHFC Co-op and Intern, Youth Entrepreneurship and new entrepreneur programs. In discussions with event organizers, we see the potential to grow the tourism industry presence at future career fairs to involve more of our private and public sector tourism partners to showcase the exciting diversity of careers within an industry that will need youth the grow and diversify. My hat goes off to event organizer Pat Forrest of Forrest Marketing and Communications for her leadership role and enthusiasm in organizing this great event.

An added side benefit of a tourism presence at the event has been educating young people about all Thunder Bay has to offer. With thousands of students from Grade 8 and up coming through the doors, our 2009 Visitor Experience magazines have been a popular item, with many students commenting that they never realized how much there is to do in Thunder Bay. As our community's teenagers reach the age where they are forming opinions about the city and whether they want to remain here after school, building community pride and awareness of all the city has is an important step in helping stem out migration.

After a successful first day today, we'll be at the fair again on Friday May 22nd from 9 am to 2:30 pm in booth 24. Feel free to stop in and say hello. For more information, visit

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Harnessing Technology Improves Communication

Well, the title is pretty obvious and to anyone in marketing, the statement is like preaching to the converted. The tourism industry is made up of thousands of stakeholders in Thunder Bay and keeping the industry informed is a little like herding cats. Town hall meetings rarely get large turnouts because industry partners are either busy running their own business, are content with how things are working or are suspicious of the input processes.

The City's exciting new waterfront development program at Prince Arthur's Landing is an important step forward in moving our community's reputation as a great outdoor city and hence our tourism economy forward. Connecting people and the downtown to the water is essential to making our city more vibrant. Understandably, a project of this investment level and magnitude does not evolve without its detractors. We're not alone. Every city undergoing a fundamental shift in its economy goes through these discussions and debates.

Providing the community the opportunity to understand what's happening within the tourism industry is an imperative part of the transparency process. Recently an open house was hosted to inform the community of the design details and environmental assessment process. The unique part of the session was that it was broadcast live on streaming video. Morvision's Paul Morallee ( teamed up with James Murray of NetNewsLedger ( to broadcast the entire session on the web and post participant workbooks for interested individuals to fill in and email back to the City. Hats off to these two gents, who are huge supporters of the City and have been incredibly helpful to us in getting the tourism message out during my time here.

I had a chance to check out Paul's set up earlier that evening and its slick and compact. Camera, laptop, wireless transmitter and brackets and bracing (manufactured by Thunder Bay's own Cinevate no less) make for a set up that's relatively easy to set up, move and store.

Utilizing this technology is simple and has countless applications in reaching industry partners effectively, on their time and turf. This isn't new technology but recent local partnerships are making it more available to wider audiences and providing new opportunities to share and inform in real time. For more information, visit or

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Program Gives Potential New Tourism Entrepreneurs a Leg Up

Starting a business is not easy and with the current trends in the economy and of the commercial banking industry that can make access to credit all the more difficult, its great to see new programs available to reward the spirit, confidence and determination of the entrepreneur.

The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) has announced the "New Entrepreneur Program" today. The program provides conditional contributions up to a maximum of 50% to a maximum of $125 000 for new start ups in Northern Ontario. The program is welcome news for the regional tourism industry, where current product gaps can potentially now be met. The commercial banking industry has been cool to the tourism industry in the region but this program provides applicants with significant financial support that can be used to leverage additional funds successfully.

I hear dozens of new business ideas weekly from people who call, email, stop me in the mall and even call my home. A lot of these ideas are great ones (and some need more thought) and many can be referenced back to the product gaps we've identified within the recently released "Premier Ranked Tourist Destination Framework". However, a major stumbling block has always come down to access to financial assistance to take these ideas to reality. It's what has been preventing the industry from expanding to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

There are a lot of educated and talented people in the city and region, many of which have found themselves caught up in the turmoil of the resourced based economic slowdown. Many have talents passions and ideas that can form the foundation of rewarding self employment opportunities. Programs that can make entry into the industry easier are welcome and while entrepreneurship is one of the most rewarding careers on earth, it is also one of the most stressful and challenging. I know as I've had several businesses over the past 20 years and know the highs and lows well. Prospective entrepreneurs can feel comfortable knowing there are numerous programs to help them through the process, well beyond the financial challenges.

Some of the program highlights include:
  • The program is open to residents of Northern Ontario who intend to start a new full time business in the region.

  • The program provides conditional contribution of up to 50% of eligible costs up to a limit of $125 000.

  • The business must create new full time employment opportunities.

  • The applicant must make a cash contribution of 10% of the conditional grant.

  • Total federal and Provincial financial support must not be greater than 75%

  • Eligible costs at the 50% threshold include capital and leasehold improvements.

  • Marketing costs up to 20% of the total project cost.

  • Cannot be utilized to expand an existing business similar to an existing one owned by the applicant or family members.
Nothing worth doing is never easy and hopefully, the uptake on this new programs sees bold new business owners take their new tourism experiences to market shortly. I, for one, can't wait to see what new tourism businesses succeed because of this.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Putting Our Best Foot Forward

Last Friday kicked off Spring up to Clean Up in Thunder Bay and over 9000 people came out of their workplaces and schools to pick up winter's nasty little surprises around the community. The receeding snow leaves its share of litter and debris but so do inconsiderate residents. Its the reality of a winter city and we can take some degree of comfort in knowing that every city faces this problem. This effort helps out the dozens of parks and road crews out scrubbing the roads and parklands in preparation for the spring visitor season.

The tourism and waterfront staff did our part too, getting out to collect litter, old tires and even disgarded car parts along the waterfront office road. In our case, this was the first time in over 5 years that people have been working along that road and so , it was quite a task. however, it took a team of 8 people only 30 minutes to make a huge dent in the accumulated litter. In fact, while we were out there, citizens joined us, bringing their own garbage bags and gloves.

First impressions mean everything in our industry and as I begin my seasonal tours of the City's attractions and accommodators, I often point out ways that tourism businesses can improve the appearance of their business creatively and inexpensively. Picking up litter on a regular basis, cutting the grass, trimming weeds, planting gardens and trees and sweeping winter sand from parking areas are all easy and inexpensive ways to make a business shine. Even installing ash trays and garbage cans is something easy to do but often overlooked. These are all easy things to do, using existing staff but sometimes get overlooked for a variety of reasons. Maybe its because I am a former landscaper but my big peeve is unkept grass and empty flower beds.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce ( annually gives out a looking good award and this year, congratulations go out to the Best Western Norwester Resort Hotel. Some others that consistently shine also include the Valhalla Inn (, OLG Casino Thunder Bay ( , Fort William Historical Park ( and the Day's Inn ( properties and they deserve a round of applause for the continual efforts made to promote clean and green. I encourage our tourism partners to get out there, look around your businesses and see what the visitor sees. Check out other properties and you will find that you don't need to do a lot to make visual improvements.

The City of Thunder Bay's Clean, Green and Beautiful committee is another great new initiative worth noting. $300 000 annually is set aside in the City's operating budget for projects that promote a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing community, including public art and campaigns that celebrate businesses and organizations who have made an difference in presenting themselves through clean and green initiatives.

For more information on getting involved in Spring Up to Clean Up and other environmental programs and advice for your business, visit Eco Superior at

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ontario's Competitiveness Strategy Provides an Opportunity for Input

A few month's back, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism unveiled the blueprint to revitalize Ontario's tourism industry and improve its competitiveness on the global stage. If you haven't read this yet, its a must read for the industry and can be accessed at The report's 20 recommendations are all solid although there are not a lot of surprises with respect to the elements of the tourism economy we can improve upon. One thing is for certain. Its great to see them spelled out and movement being made to implement them.

The Province has been quick to begin unveiling some of the recommendations already, with the notable inclusion of $40 million in the 2010 budget towards regional tourism marketing. That $40 million, as you may recall, is the net from a proposed Province wide destination marketing fee being proposed. Essentially, every accommodation provider in the Province will collect a hotel room levy, with the proceeds reinvested back in the industry. While it is estimated that $100 million could be collected, retailers collecting the new tax are expected to be able to apply input tax credits, meaning that they will get back what they pay out for supplies. This is an exciting time for the future of the tourism industry in the Province but some tough decisions must be made to move us collectively forward.

The Province is currently undertaking a series of consultations across Ontario to get input into the proposed new Tourism Destination Marketing and Management regions with their own organizational structures . Two of these DMMOs have been proposed for Northern Ontario - northeast and northwest - and as you can imagine, this is creating quite a lot of spirited discussion. To that end, its imperative that the industry provide their feedback into the proposal and help craft destination management zones that are effective and make sense.

I encourage industry representatives to submit their input to Rob Ballantyne at the Ministry of Tourism by emailing your constructive and creative suggestions to him at To help you craft your submission, follow the following questions that have been posed at the various input sessions.

Determining criteria for regional boundaries resulting in successful regional tourism management

Think about: A region being destinations that work together

Question 1: What criteria should be used to determine regional boundaries?

Think about:
Iconic attractions within an area
A well established brand
Tourism travel patterns
Minimum level of tourism activity
The potential for travel packaging

Question 2: How should the boundaries be drawn and who should draw them?

Think about:
Whether you have suggestions for specific boundaries

Question 3: How should the name of each region be decided?

Think about:
What the process should involve
The people / organizations who should be involved

Describing roles and responsibilities of a Destination Marketing and Management Organization

Question 1: What should DMMOs do?

Think about:
Leadership and coordination
Marketing and packaging
Quality of service/experience
Workforce development
Investment and product development

Question 2: How should DMMOs be organized?

Think about:
What is needed to put them in place
The appropriate governance model (e.g.
board structure, partnerships, success

Question 3: How would the DMMO work with others involved in tourism?

Think about:
Ministry of Tourism
Provincial marketer
Other levels of government

Question 4: The 2009 Ontario Budget announced funding for tourism regions. What factors should be considered in distributing the funding?

Think about:
What is needed to become sustainable
The expectations of DMMOs that receive funding
Other sources of funding
How existing partnerships can be further

How to move forward to establish a DMMO in this area

Question 1: What challenges or issues would have to be addressed?

Question 2: What are the strengths you have to build on in your area?