Thursday, September 3, 2009

How Will Greyhound's Departure Affect Local Tourism

With today's announcement that Greyhound Canada will discontinue service in Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, there is some speculation on what this departure, and the removal of a traditional form of ground transportation, will have on the city.

While hard to pinpoint the exact numbers of travellers to the city who use Greyhound, the effect will be negligible for a number of reasons. Many of the people utilizing Greyhound through the city are doing just that - going through the city - and their stop here is only a matter of stretching for a few minutes, grabbing a meal and getting on with their journey. Those that do start or end their journey here are taking the bus because their point of origin is not serviced by air, that the bus is cheaper (in theory) than air or they are afraid to fly. Where we anticipate a reduction in visitation, albeit a minor one, is the youth budget cross Canada market. These groups are generally on a budget and have a big country to explore so they won't stay in the city that long, nor leave a large economic impact. That said, the local industries that I predict may be affected by this travel segment would be the hostels, basic level accommodation providers and in some cases, even campgrounds.

The air corridor and fear of flying reasons are both sound reasons but on the topic of expense, a look at the Greyhound website shows 14 day advance bookings at $93.75 each way from Toronto and a last minute non refundable ticket at $195.10. A refundable ticket will set you back $216.10 each way. These rates are not that much less than advance airfares on the three major Canadian airlines that service the Thunder Bay to Toronto corridor and add to that the 2 hour travel time by air versus the 24 hour travel time by bus, the time saving alone is worth the extra airfare cost.

Given the emphasis we have placed on the motor coach attraction market, our focus has been on the specialty firms that offer packaged destination experiences and not scheduled transportation carriers like Greyhound. In fact, we see those charter operators continuing to serve Thunder Bay and some that provide trans Canada touring routes could even pick up some of the slack albeit a minimal amount. With respect to Tourism Thunder Bay's marketing focus, most of our efforts in the leisure market caters to the independant adventurer, arriving by car, RV or motorcycle. Our corporate market caters to regional auto travel or air travel and our sport tourism markets will generally utilize charter coaches or air travel.

However, I don't see the absence of bus travel to and through Thunder Bay lasting long at all. Within the city we have 4 great locally owned motor coach operators. Caribou Coach ( has already assumed previously abandoned Greyhound lines extending from Fort Frances to Hearst and is growing to meet growth opportunities in the charter field. Other local players include Winning Streak Charters (, Norcan Tours ( and Happy Time Tours ( While there is no telling, who, if any pick up the routes, the opportunity could exist for a local or regional solution to link Saskatchewan and Southern Ontario.

The bottom line is, while a concern for those in rural Northern Ontario, the departure of Greyhound will not have a huge or lasting negative impact on tourism within the city of Thunder Bay. If efforts to restore a traffic corridor were to be undertaken through the region, I'd rather see efforts made towards the return of passenger rail.

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