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 www.tourism.gov.on.ca/english/research/index.html for links to the most recent studies, surveys, performance and industry outlook reports.