Friday, October 30, 2009

Encouraging Youth to Consider Careers in Tourism

With high school , college and university curriculum in full swing this time of year, its also the time we ramp up the educational elements of our tourism mandate, speaking to students from grade 8 up to 4th year university about the local tourism industry.

Over the past few weeks, we've taken our message to Churchill High school's Grade 11 I.B. geography program, Confederation Colleges second year marketing program and most recently, Lakehead University's second year "issues in tourism" class. Hats off to educators in our secondary and post secondary school systems who understand the value of tourism and want to integrate our work into their curriculum.

Reaching out to the next generation of potential marketers, entrepreneurs and outfitters is always a rewarding part of our mandate. Sharing our marketing strategy, consumer research, industry performance and product development focus with youth helps them with their studies and raises the interest and awareness in tourism. Our focus has been diverse, ranging from a workshop on geography's role in shaping our tourism focus to our other topics including marketing strategy, product development, social media in tourism and data analysis.

I always start a presentation with asking a few simple questions. "How many of you have grown up in the City?" and "How many of you want to make a career for yourself here after you graduate?" The first question solicits mixed results based on the audience, with the majority of high school students having lived here since birth, whereas the university groups typically have a 80-90% out of town residency rate. The second question, at all levels, sees very few wishing to stay here after school. That is something we have to change and the small percentage of those who want to stay -usually 10-20% are going to have to be the leaders to create new opportunities so that others will want to stay. Its also important to recognize that we'll never be everything to everyone. some people love big cities and some people love small cities. Youth have a natural exuberance to explore and see the world beyond their city limits. Some, as we are seeing now, eventually return to set down their roots and help grow the community.

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry right now is the recruitment of motivated customer oriented employees and we see this as a way to encourage them to consider career opportunities within the hospitality and tourism sector. Its also an industry that needs new ideas and enthusiasm to meet the changes in the industry and take advantage of new opportunities in a proactive and constructive entrepreneurial manner. Thunder Bay has a lot more potential to become a world class destination than many give credit too. It simply takes people with a positive attitude and a spirit to see it through to that level. Encouraging them at an early age when they are forming their opinion about the city, presents a perfect chance to gain their support.

We're always happy to share our presentation materials with groups and individuals alike. You can email me at to get a copy or book myself or one of our team to speak to your work, social or educational group about elements of our tourism economy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

September Visitor Center Registrations Show Upswing in Traffic

The Terry Fox Visitor Information Center enjoyed a significant upswing in traffic in September 2009, with 7,546 persons using the facility, up 19.5% from 6,312 users in September 2008.

Of the 7,546, building visitors, 2,471 took the time to register in our visitor management system, providing us with some valuable consumer data. Approximately 75% of visitors were Canadian, with 57% of those being from Ontario. These markets are followed by Alberta (11%), British Columbia (8%), Quebec (8%) and Manitoba (7%).

U.S. residents accounted for 20%, largely from our key Minnesota (31%), Wisconsin (18%) and Michigan (15%) markets while 5% were from overseas, primarily Germany and the Netherlands.

The increase in traffic coincides with the traditional fall touring traffic around Lake Superior and is encouraging to see. An increased shift towards promoting the City's location along the Lake Superior Circle Tour to the touring markets in both Canada and the United States is likely contributing to the early returns on investment as is our overall outdoor strategy that continues to draw those seeking unique recreational experiences on the doorstep of the City. After a summer season that continuously saw lower than average temperatures, a pleasant, seasonal September created a better touring environment for the region.

Promoting our City's connection to the natural spaces around us and our location on the Circle Tour is key to increasing awareness of one of North America's most scenic coastal drives to the hundreds of thousands of avid motorcycle, RV and auto club visitors who continuously seek out new destinations based on exceptional scenery, culturally unique communities and winding highways.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quality, Value and Relevance Are Keys to Success in Challenging Times.

Entrepreneurs need to be nimble at the best of times to succeed and the have to take advantage of changes in the environment around them. No where is this fact more true than the tourism industry, an industry that has seen its share of changing environmental elements.

In the past, our traditionally low dollar value against the US currency has been a central point in tourism marketing for us all. "You Dollar goes further" was a staple of visitor attraction programs. In the past two years, we've seen several cycles that have brought our dollar on par or even greater and that means we have to rethink our approach and messaging.

The core elements to this changing environment are quality, value and relevance - pure and simple. Now is the time that tourism operators and marketers need to look at their offerings and ensure they are offering experiences that make consumers feel good. Whether its exceptional customer care service, going the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable, spotless rooms and exceptional dining experiences, quality is always appreciated. I shake my head when I drive by a property that hasn't cut its grass in 3 months and even recently, I had to call 4 restaurants to order 8 sandwiches - 8 simple sandwiches - on an hour's notice before someone could help me. Quality and customer care start at the most basic levels.

Value doesn't mean gutting rates simply to retain visitors. Reducing prices too much makes it hard to raise rates again in the future and could undermine operating viability even in the short term.. Its important for operators to find that balance of offering quality experiences that consumers feel good about without them feeling gouged. These experiences make them feel pampered, appreciated and wanting to return. As an industry, we need to be confident in the quality of our experiences and charge accordingly - competitively but appropriately. We have to remember that there are a lot of travelers Globally who want the outdoor adventures we have around us and place a value on them.

The last simple tip is relevance - perhaps the most important element of all. We all need to market experiences that consumers want. It sounds simple but for years. we've created products and experience we think consumers want and often, tourism development and marketing in rural Ontario has been based on political boundaries and destinations rather than consumer research based around experiences. Remember, 75% of travelers look for an experience first, not a destination, when planning their vacation.

We've made some bold shifts in our own marketing strategy to target experience seekers in specific categories where we know we have an advantage and that seems to have been successful in 2009 judging by the positive US Border traffic coming into Thunder Bay at Pigeon River. By focusing on avid outdoor seekers and touring groups such as motor cycles, RVs and auto clubs, we've been able to reach new relevant demographics effectively. Individual businesses too, have match their products and experiences to the consumers who want them and while that sounds like a daunting task, knowing your customers is the foundation of success in business.

We all need to know exactly who are customers are and match their needs to the experiences we know we offer well. This blog's regular postings on travel statistics helps small businesses plan their marketing and product development initiatives. The recently released Premier Ranked Destination Framework is an invaluable tool to help small businesses in the Thunder Bay district analyse consumer needs and the Ministry of Tourism ( 0ffers a wide range of research tools online-free of charge - to assist the tourism industry in ensuring our experiences are what consumers are looking for and targeting them more effectively.

There are certainly no end of ideas for small businesses to pursue in reaching new markets and meeting the needs of new consumer environments but hopefully these three elements -quality, value and relevance- remain the foundation we all remember when we undertake our business planning.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Building on the Potential of Lake Superior Boating

Lake Superior has some of the most impressive shoreline of any lake in the world and is, undoubtedly, a dream destination for many boaters. The Lake's vast size and near absence of infrastructure on the Canadian side are both draws and challenges.

During the 2009 boating season, some 39 US vessels and 8 Canadian private vessels called upon the Marina, staying a combined 151 days in the city. The average length of U.S boat was 36.7 feet while the average size of visiting Canadian vessels was 30 feet. The vast majority of visiting U.S. vessels were from Minnesota (22), with a half dozen or so from both Michigan and Wisconsin. The vessels recorded are those that entered the marina by water rather than arrived by trailer and those visits number in the dozens although no accurate tracking of them has been undertaken.

So why are we not attracting more boaters? There are over 800 000 vessels registered in Minnesota and 600 000 in Wisconsin. There are hundreds of thousands more registered in Michigan and Illinois. While many of these registrations are small trailer type fishing boats, there are tens of thousands of vessels in excess of 30 feet that are docked at hundreds of Marinas around the basin. The answer is that we collectively have not done as much as we can as a region to reach this large niche market. Reaching them is easy. Most belong to yacht or boating clubs and marinas, many communicate in on line boating communities and many attend boating consumer shows in major centers.

The key is to work together as a Lake Superior community and recognize that our individual cities are not the destination but rather the entire lake is. To do this successfully, we have to think of lake experiences and the consumer motivators that link to them. Next, we have to discard the geo-political boundaries that so often limit our marketing programs. Travellers care less about a destination, than on the experiences that exist there. When we limit ourselves to Ontario, Or Minnesota or the North of Superior political boundaries only, we don't tell the whole story to potential new visitors about the rich experiences here that transcend borders.

Tourism Thunder Bay is partnering with the Townships of Red Rock and Nipigon to increase awareness of our part of the lake with a presence at the 2010 Minneapolis Boat Show. All three of our communities are reinventing our economies and with that, enhanced waterfronts play prominent roles to provide infrastructure and visitor attractions to attract vessels and keep them in the area longer. While we have been a part of the North of Superior Marina Marketing Association over the past few years. the association is currently not as active as in the past and we're stepping up with regional partners to help promote the experiences that exist. In the long term, we'd like to see this partnership grow to include other Lake Superior communities, in both countries.

The need exists for a larger, pan Superior strategy to market boating on the big lake to the tens of thousands of big boats around the Great Lakes and as far as the Florida Keys that are seeking new freshwater cruising experiences close to home. Tourism Thunder Bay, through our membership in the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, is also a member of the U.S. Super yacht Association, a gathering of vessel owners and managers of private vessels 80 feet to 200 feet in length. For those skeptical as to the potential to attract these vessels here, opportunities exist and with a long term vision and a comprehensive marketing and product development strategy to accommodate the needs of boat owners and charterers, it can and will grow. In fact, this past summer, the 115 Motor Yacht "Paradigm", called upon the Port and is only one example of what we can attract in the future.

Building upon our potential takes time but as I like to say, there are two good times to plant a tree - 20 years ago and today.

August 2009 U.S. Border Crossing Numbers Released

Canada Border Services Agency has released its August 2009 travel statistics for the Pigeon River Border Crossing

August 2009 saw an 8.3% decline in U.S. travellers over 2008, with 18, 043 US residents travelling into Canada at that point versus 19,672 the previous year.

All segments were affected with the following results

Same Day 2,987 (2009) - 5% from
1 Night 626 (2009) -15%
2 + Night 14,430 (2009) -9%

Our year to date U.S. traffic is 74,348 residents versus 75,434 in 2008, resulting in a very modest overall year to date decline of 1.5%, not bad considering the economic environment we are all working within.

While the August figures are disappointing, we have to look at these numbers within the context of the U.S. economy, passport regulations, cooler weather and a upward creep of the Canadian dollar around this time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

August Hotel Occupancy Continues to Show Optimism In challenging Environment

HVS Canada has released its August hotel performance for all major markets in Canada and once again, Thunder Bay's accommodation sector has continued to hold steady in a challenging international environment.

Room demand in August 2009 was up 0.8% while occupancy rates were down slightly to 77.6% from 77.7% in 2008. While flat performance is normally nothing to get too excited about, this has been the year the tourism industry was facing unprecedented challenges and everyone, including ourselves, was expecting to see some sort of notable decrease. This is the year where measuring our performance relative to other cities is just as important as measuring our performance to past years.

With most major markets reporting declines in August, including Windsor (down 36.7%) and Edmonton (down 10%), Thunder Bay was joined in reporting increases by Sudbury, Vancouver and Saskatoon.

Overall, Thunder Bay's year to date performance is down modestly 1.1% over the same 8 months of 2008. Once again, while a concern in normal years, it is the least significant decline of all but one hotel market - Saskatoon, who posted a 1% increase.

While summer corporate markets are typically softer, stronger mineral exploration and health sciences segments have likely given our corporate segment a summer boost. With respect to the traditionally strong summer segments of leisure, VFR and sport tourism there are likely a number of reasons market share has remained steady, including strong visiting friends and family travel to the city and a shift in our U.S. based campaigns with a focus on touring and avid outdoor seekers that brought stronger than expected US travel to the city in June and July.

Despite these positive performance indicators, we have to remain vigilant and continue to build traffic in both new and core existing markets. The release of these numbers has continuously created a positive buzz about the City's economy over the past few months and we are constantly asked at industry functions about the local environment. Maintaining the current positive buzz and using new media tools to promote more of this news has the effect of positioning the city more successfully as a destination of choice because we all know, people want to go where other people are going.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Valhalla Inn Invests in Quality Experiences with Newly Renovated Rooms

Quality is the cornerstone to building a successful tourism economy and elevating our community's reputation as a first class destination for visitor experiences. As such, its always noteworthy to acknowledge Thunder Bay tourism partners who are investing in their facilities. Investments such as these improve Thunder Bay's reputation as a quality destination for leisure, work, sport, culinary and accommodation experiences

The Valhalla Inn, Thunder Bay’s Premier hotel is pleased to announce the completion of guest room renovations. The 4th and 5th floor rooms have been completely renovated at a cost of more than 2 million dollars. Renovations include 30 Amethyst rooms on the 5th floor and 30 Executive Suites on the 4th Floor. There are also 2 luxury suites available with whirlpool tubs and extravagant fixtures.

The Valhalla Inn will be holding a grand opening showcasing the new rooms on Thursday October 15th , 4:30 – 7:30. All media is invited. Tours for the media will precede the event please call Bill Dell @ 577-1121 for viewing times.

I'd like to extend congratulations to the Valhalla for making this investment in quality.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vote for the Sleeping Giant in CBC's Great Canadian Song Quest.

October 14, 2009 – Thunder Bay could be immortalized through song if the Sleeping Giant is chosen as Ontario’s location for CBC Radio 2’s Great Canadian Song Quest. Voting is now open through Oct. 23

The Sleeping Giant was nominated as one of the most popular places finalist locations for Ontario in the campaign that was launched in September. The contest gives Canadians a chance to nominate what locations matter most tothem and commission 13 new songs to be written about those places. Not onlywill Canadians get to decide on one place from each province, they will also get to vote on the 13 singer-songwriters who will compose and recordthe new songs.

The City of Thunder Bay is asking residents to go and cast their vote for the Sleeping Giant. Residents are also encouraged to ask friends and family outside of the City to participate by voting for the Sleeping Giant.

The final 13 artists will be revealed Oct. 26 and composition on the original songs will begin. The final locations and songs will be announcedon Nov. 23.

“This is a unique avenue to promote and share Thunder Bay's incrediblenatural beauty across the country,” said Mayor Lynn Peterson. “It would begreat to hear our natural wonder promoted through music.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ahnisnabae Art Gallery Wins at the Northern Ontario Business Awards

Congratulations goes out to local business Ahnisnabae Art Gallery and owner Loise Thomas for being victorious at the 2009 Northern Ontario Business Awards ( held in Sault Ste Marie this past week. Ahnisnawbae Art took home honours for the First Nations Business Award of Excellence category.

This gallery, located on South James Street between Gore and Frederica, has become an incredible cultural gem in our community, attracting visitors from all over. A look at the website or stroll through the gallery shows the works from dozens of regional Ahnisnabae artisans that is available for purchase. For those in the tourism industry, be it an attraction, hotel or restaurant, its worth the visit to understand the scope of talent that exists in our city and region and its certainly one of those "must see" stops to tell your visitors about, especially those who want to acquire something regionally authentic to remember their visit here.

The Gallery was founded by the Late Roy Thomas in 1997 and since his death, has been run by his wife Louise as a tribute to his memory and his dedication to creating and sharing not only his own work but the works of other artists who promote Ahnisbabae culture. Its another fine example of the award winning world class cultural attractions that we have here in the community and region.

To learn more about the Gallery, visit

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Online Tools Help You Keep Up on the Waterfront Development

With the City of Thunder Bay's waterfront development well underway, there are a number of channels available to the community to stay on top of all of the activity and get answers to the questions they have. As part of an proactive communications strategy, a regular newsletter and facebook fan page have been established.

This is a high quality catalyst infrastructure investment in the community unlike anything in the past and will be relevant to the local population and help with visitor retention by keeping them in the city longer with a variety of activities including enhanced charter boat access, galleries, local eateries, water park, public walking and biking trails and spa. Subsequent phases of enhanced marina capacity and a cruise shipping terminal will become important regional beacons for the regional tourism economy, drawing educated adventure seekers to the city and area. Its a large, complex and complicated undertaking but one that will play a major role in the transition of Thunder Bay's tourism economy towards a more captivating destination. When one looks at some of the most successful cities in the world, a common theme is a vibrant mixed use waterfront that brings people to the waters edge 24 hours a day and year around.

The fact that the funding for the first phase is already committed is a testament to the quality of the project and the matching of pragmatic elements with consumer travel experience demands. At last week's Ontario Tourism Summit in Windsor, talk of the development was everywhere and at a time when many economies are constricting, the positive movement is putting Thunder Bay on the tourism map internationally. There are some in the community who are fearful of change, lack confidence in our community's potential to be world class or are just unaware that we have the ability to develop infrastructure and experiences that people the world over are seeking. Its important that we move forward confidently and boldly, take calculated risks based on good consumer research and embrace everything great this city can be.

New Paul Shaffer Bio Shines Spotlight on Thunder Bay

Perhaps the most important element in successfully promoting a community is through public relations. Maintaining a positive image and celebrating milestones and people continuously in the media helps build our brand, enhance our on line search ability and keeps us relevant in the public eye. Great people make a great community.
Former residents of the City who have gone on in the world to reach marks of excellence and accomplishments add to enhancing our community's image as well and its these people that, as ambassadors, bring positive attention to Thunder Bay. One of those folks is Paul Shaffer, a local musician who has made an impressive name for himself on the international scene, not only as the Musical Director on the Late Show with David Letterman but also through an extensive resume of film and music credits dating back to the 1970s.

Why am I discussing this in a tourism industry blog? Because Paul's Biography is released in North America today and undoubtedly talks positively about his time growing up in Thunder Bay. While I don't know Paul personally (people claim he and I look alike) I do know that he returns to the City regularly and is a great ambassador for this community. He's making the media rounds starting today to talk about his book, starting with his appearance on the Late Show tonight, where' he'll trade his trademark position at the keyboard for the guest chair to talk about the book and his experiences that took him to where he is today.

This is another great channel to place Thunder Bay out on the international landscape as a city that possesses an eclectic and fun musical culture and those who follow along on Paul's story will know a little more about the city than they did before, some will google "Thunder Bay",some will go to our city and tourism websites and some may actually make a trip as a result.

Paul, congratulations on the release of your biography and on your many musical successes and thanks for being a great city ambassador. You do a lot to bring positive attention and energy to the city you grew up in.

To learn more about Paul's new book, pick up a copy at Chapters Bookstore or visit

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thunder Bay to Host the 2011 Ontario Winter Special Olympics

The 2011 Special Olympics Provincial Winter Games, hosted by the City of Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Police Service and Thunder Bay Sports Central, is set for January 20th - 23rd, 2011 in Thunder Bay.

The Games will be the stage for more than 300 athletes and 125 coaches from across Ontario participating in six sport competitions. Curling, speed skating, figure skating, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing and snowshoeing will be highlights of the Games along with a number of social events and activities.

“The 2011 Special Olympics Winter Games will provide a provincial level of competition for many great Special Olympics athletes,” said Glenn MacDonell, President and CEO of Special Olympics Ontario. “We anticipate a fantastic Winter Games and we’re grateful to the City of Thunder Bay for their most hospitable manner.”

Special Olympics Ontario is part of a dynamic, worldwide charitable organization dedicated to providing sports training and competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The primary focus of Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) is to provide grassroots sports programs in communities throughout Ontario.

With an economic impact of over $800 000, these games will showcase our incredible winter landscape, outdoor experiences and legendary hospitality.

For Further Information Contact Chris Adams, Executive Officer – Thunder Bay Police Service 684-1248

Friday, October 2, 2009

Regional Partners Profiled for Tourism Photography at this Year's Tourism Summit

The 2009 Ontario tourism Summit has come and gone and has once again provided us with a great outlook for the future of the tourism economy, given us some insights into changing consumer behaviors and provided a look at proposed new legislative changes that will impact the industry. Its also been a chance to get caught up with friends in the industry, share our successes and learn new ideas from our peers.

One of the highlights of the annual conference is the tourism awards gala, an opportunity to celebrate excellence in Ontario tourism and learn from some of the best. While we were nominated in 2008 for best campaign under $25 000, we were not so fortunate this year (Did I mention we took home 2 gold medals at this year's Canada Marketing Awards?) However, two of our local and regional tourism partners were acknowledged with an award this year, one directly and one indirectly. They deserve to be recognized for their contribution to the Tourism economy.

Gary and Joanie McGuffin won for best tourism photography this year for their emotionally moving cover shot of the summer 2008 Superior Outdoors Magazine featuring the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Gary and Joanie are big friends of Tourism Thunder Bay and were important partners of the 2008 Seven Day With the Giant contest campaign. While Gary and Joanie live on the lake near Sault Ste Marie (I'm trying to convince them to relocate to Thunder Bay) their work on Lake Superior and in important Provincial Parks that the city is a gate way to, helps elevate the reputation of our city and region as a hub for some of North America's best outdoor experiences.

Equally important at the awards was the context of the winning photo in that it appears on the cover of Superior Outdoors, a 2 year old magazine celebrating the Lake Superior sustainable lifestyle that is produced right here in Thunder Bay by Darren and Michelle McChristie. This fantastic print and online editorial delight is quickly gaining attention across the North American sustainable tourism community and is, in its own right, elevating the region as a sustainable tourism destination of choice. Tourism Thunder Bay has been an advertiser in this magazine from its inception as we see the value it has in helping us reach new markets for affluent and educated outdoor seekers who are looking for experiences in and around the world's largest freshwater lake.

My team and I extend out heartfelt congratulations to Gary and Joanie for their great photographic interpretation of our great city and region and to Darren and Michelle McChristie for telling the story of Lake Superior in ways that have garnered them Provincial attention among their peers.

To learn more about the work of the McGuffins, visit To find out more about Superior Outdoors, visit or stop by Chapters in Thunder Bay to buy a copy.