Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking Back on a Great 2010 - 10 Big Things That Defined our Tourism Industry

Yesterday, I made my predictions for our local tourism economy for 2011. Today, I want to reflect on the past year and some of the high points with respect to the City's tourism economy. The good news stories came from many sources and many partners and demonstrates how everyone has a role to play in growing the industry.

1. The Regional Tourism Organization Framework is perhaps the most significant and fundamental change to how we manage the tourism industry in Northern Ontario in the past 40 years. The Ministry of Tourism responded swiftly to the recommendations spelled out in the Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Study a year earlier. The first order of business was the implementation of the thirteen new tourism regions and $65 million Province wide in annual transition funds being made available to our industry if we all played nice in the sandbox together. It also meant we all begin focusing on the consumer and not our individual organizational empires. There have been far too many organizations duplicating each others efforts and this new regional approach to tourism management will see more financial and human resources aligning and coordinating marketing, product development, skills development and investment attraction to bring more experiences to market that consumers seek.

2. Sport Tourism continued to thrive in Thunder Bay in 2010, with the city hosting a number of Provincial, National and International events. Perhaps the one that received the most attention was the World Junior Baseball Championships that brought over $1 million in economic impact to the community, leveraged sport tourism capital investments and solidified our reputation for hosting word class events flawlessly. However, it was much more than that. It was the Cavendish Cup Canadian Men's University Hockey Championships, it was the North American Ice Yacht Races and it was our city's very own home grown fall sport tourism investment in the inaugural Thunder Bay Marathon - Miles with the Giant. Thousands of local residents all made these things happen.

3. Hotel performance. With summer occupancies hitting close to 84% and strong spring and fall performance as well, we saw our annual hotel performance jump significantly over the past year by over 6%. It was leisure, corporate and sport all growing simultaneously to feed the accommodation sector. This resulted in a number of properties undertaking massive capital renovation programs to modernize their guest's experiences as well.

4. Airport Performance - The arrival of Porter to Thunder Bay in 2009 helped improve an already strong air corridor with Toronto - and the rest of the world. However, the summer and fall of 2010 saw airport passenger traffic records shatter as more passengers utilized Thunder Bay Airport. This really drove home the role the Airport authority plays as a economic development driver in the community and how important air connectivity is for Thunder Bay to position itself as a regional hub for leisure, corporate, sport, education and medical tourism markets.

5. We continued to see our cruise shipping industry grow with more capital investments made in our Pool 6 Cruise Terminal, notably landscaping, security and dredging improvements. After declaring in 2009 at Seatrade's Cruise Shipping Miami that "Lake Superior was as exotic as the Galapagos", interest in our area continues to build from the international cruise shipping and touring industry. We are still in our infancy with this but given the growing interest from north shore communities to help grow expedition cruising and the catalyst potential of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, Lake Superior can certainly be the next big expedition and discovery cruising hot spot.

6. Thunder Bay and the bigger picture. We're a gateway to some of the planet's best outdoor experiences - angling, kayaking, birding, wildlife viewing, hunting, skiing, back country snow mobiling, sailing....you name it. In January we ramped up our gateway positioning and regional partnership philosophy to launch "Canada's Great Outdoors begins in Canada's Great Outdoor City", a half million dollar campaign targeting Illinois with OTMPC, Thunder Bay International Airport Authority, Porter Airlines and dozens of local and regional outdoor tourism partners. The premise was simple. Give consumers information on how to get to their trophy experience effortlessly and maximize the opportunities for our urban tourism partners to be part of their experience through accommodation, food and outfitting and supply.

7. 2010 was a great year for travel media exposure for the City. From KSTP's great online and television series on the Gems of Thunder Bay to having our winter experiences featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sailing in the Toronto Star, profiled on the Ron James Show, and Mantracker filming two upcoming episodes here, our name continued to resonate with consumers at every turn. We call ourselves Canada's Best Outdoor City for a reason.

8. Waterfront Redevelopment. Construction at Prince Arthur's Landing was in full swing in 2010, reclaiming and transforming a nice but massively under performing public space into a spectacular world class waterfront. We live on the world's largest freshwater lake and the fact that until now, we never fully connected ourselves to it properly or celebrated our connection to this huge part of our natural environment was, to be polite, unfortunate. Once completed, hundreds of people will live and stay in our downtown waterfront district daily on a year around basis, better cultural and recreational facilities will abound, new unique gallery space will welcome visitors and expanded and improved marina facilities will bring more local and visiting boaters to the waterfront.

9. Preliminary public consultations began on the potential to develop a new multi purpose facility in the city to replace the aging and capacity limited Fort William Gardens. An investment in strategic capital infrastructure that increases our potential to attract larger conventions and sport tourism events will benefit the majority of our local tourism industry. Stay tuned in 2011 as more research is undertaken on this potential new tourism catalyst.

10. Sustainable Tourism Embraced. You all know that despite my love for old cars (I think of it as recycling), I am a huge advocate for making sustainable tourism a key element of our community's core tourism values statement. In 2010, we saw a new partnership with regional municipal economic development partners and the Trans Canada Trail organization to begin the investigative process of converting the old CN Kinghorn line to a new multi season destination trail. The community saw the development of new bike lanes, 24 km of newly paved recreation trails, new locally themed culinary attractions like the Growing Season emerge and our Farmer's Market continue to grow and welcome an expanding visitor segment.

Here's looking to see these ten milestones continue to grow upon their successes and redefine who we are as a tourism economy in the coming year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nine Local Tourism Predictions for 2011

With 2010 quickly making its way into our rear view mirrors, we've begun to deconstruct the past year's performance, looking at the emergent trends, decreases and shifts of the past year to predict what lies ahead of us.

Here's my predictions for the 2011 tourism year for the Thunder Bay area.

1. Partnerships are king in 2011. with over $1.5 million in new Provincial regional tourism funds available to the tourism industry of the Northwest for partnership based initiatives, communities, industry and regional tourism organizations are going to have to focus on experiential tourism initiatives versus the old destination based models that saw a lot of duplication of marketing and product development efforts that frankly, only confused the consumer. We're going to be working a lot more together as industry and communities.

2. We're going to hear the words "product development" a lot more. Good quality relevant experiences are easier to market and in our new regional tourism model, product development, capacity building and investment attraction are more important than marketing. Now is the time to refresh aging product, find new markets and build new visitor experiences people actually want to travel for.

3. Continued modest gains in the domestic markets. The Canadian economy has remained stable in the past year and we're going to continue to see Ontario and Manitoba lead our domestic markets, primarily in the summer leisure segment. They will be drawn here primarily to visit friends and family, touring, angling, hunting, and soft adventure. We're going to continue a strong focus on the domestic trade.

4. We're going to continue to see a shift in the US travel demographics towards the touring and to a lesser degree soft adventure segments. The US economy is still tender and the U.S. midwest is no exception. This tender economy will have its most significant impact on the tradtional angling and hunting markets.

Touring is the emergent trend in US travel to our region and those seeking to explore the lake basin will continue to grow, following urban gains made in 2010 around this segment. There are 75 million plus passport holders in the US and looking at motorcycle, auto (AAA and specialty auto sport groups) and RV clubs will be a smart investment for all of us in the industry. The north Lake Superior coastline is one of Canada's top 3 scenic motorcycle destinations.

Don't write off angling, however. Its still the single largest tourism segment for the entire region and the experience here, particularly the remote trophy experience, is pure world class Canadian iconic wilderness and this segment can flourish by investing in reaching new markets domesticaly, in the US and globally. Also, remember how many hundreds of thousands of our US friends are serving overseas? As they start returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, they and their family members will want relaxing experiences and we could see that segment play a role in rebuilding US traffic to the area beginning in 2011. In the meantime, the angling segment should look east and west - GTA and Alberta - for new angling markets as well as affluent US avids outside of the traditional border state markets.

5. MC and IT. We'll see continued strong performance in corporate travel to the city, largely driven by the mining and health sciences sectors and increased air corridor options such as Porter. We're going to see the awareness of the city as a business hub continue to be seen be meeting planners as a advantage for those seeking something out of the ordinary. Our corporate segment will continue to be dominated by the domestic market. Canadian organizations and firms are travelling for conferences again after some contraction in 2008 and 2009 and they are hungry for unique destinations. Cue our "Unconventional Convention" destination positioning.

6. Sport tourism will continue to play a healthy role in our tourism economy with traffic similar to 2010. This is easy to predict because a lot of our events are secured 2 years out. The World U23 cross country ski time trails and Ontario Winter Special Olympics will bring a welcome increase to local hotels in January (generally a tough month in accommodation sectors)

If our winter stays cold and snowless, we can expect a shot at hosting the North American Ice Yacht Championships again as we did at the eleventh hour in 2010. $155 000 in local economic impacts were generated in an event we had 48 hours notice of earlier this year as over 100 racers scrambled to find clear ice. We'd love to welcome them all back.

7. Group travel. What can I say about this other than we are rethinking what group travel is in recent years and a lot of the potential growth in this segment ties into the trends in touring by looking at groups "beyond the bus" Motorcycle groups, sports car clubs have the potential to drive this segment's future and our hosting of the 2011 Ontario Harley Owners Group will see over 800 avid motorcyclists descend on the city in late July, bringing a lot of attention to the spectacular touring route around the lake. This could very well become a catalyst for an annual motorcycle gathering in the city. Now, lets start adding up the corvette, porsche, miata, vintage clubs around Canada and the US midwest who travel in groups and you can see where the potential lies.

However, there are also thousands of special interest clubs around North America - be it canoe, hiking, birding or skiing-looking for group excursion destinations positioned around an experience of common interest. The nice thing is that these groups are easily reached through social media channels.

While we'll only be seeing two cruise ship visits in 2011, compared to ten in 2010, the C Columbus is larger than we've seen in the past two years and total visitor impacts will be approximately the same.

Motor coach travel is still in the mix and we will continue to see traffic. One of the potential growth areas with this segment ties into the expected growth of the Chinese market and I predict we're begin to see more trans Canada motor coach packaged tours than recent years as this new market wants to explore Canada's geography, bookended by Vancouver and Toronto due to their air connectivity and large Chinese communities.

8. Sustainable Tourism is going to be embraced by more consumers and more industry partners. local culinary and cultural attractions that give visitors an authentic experience are only growing in demand. Keeping in mind that the definition of sustainable tourism is "the promotion of experiences that conserve the environment and bring economic benefits to local populations", there is no reason why every single tourism operator in the region shouldn't embrace some level of sustainability in their operation. Expect to see a green touring program evolving in the next 12 months.

9. Social Media. Yeah, its been around for the past 4 years but digital media and two way conversations will continue to dominate our marketing and communications strategies with up to 1/2 of our media programs being delivered electronically in 2011. Expect to see more content generated online to feed the search engines. My advice to tourism partners not using digital social channels in 2011? Call an realtor.

10. We're going to have fun doing what we do and share our positive attitude with our clients and guests. I've been privileged to work with some of the best in the local tourism industry in the past 4 years. These are people who are passionate, fun and collaborative. As an industry, we've weathered some pretty significant environmental challenges in the past few years and our 2010 performance showed we overcome them with creativity and entrepreneurship and a lot of camaraderie. We're going to be positive, innovative and self confident in 2011. Remember, Success begets success.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

RTO Development Continues to Build Regional Support

The Regional Tourism Organization framework continues to develop throughout the Province and Region 13, the area encompassing most of Northern Ontario, is no exception.

The regional approach to tourism in Ontario is a long overdue change in thinking and reflects the need for the industry to begin to collaborate, coordinate and align with one another and the Provincial strategy to maximize resources and deliver services that have the consumer in mind. There have simply been far too many independent tourism organizations duplicating each other's efforts and at the end of the day, not really using their given resources effectively in reaching consumers.

What I personally like about the regional approach is two fold. It reduces the duplication and silos created in the past among organizations and it focuses on the entire management side of the tourism industry. The four pillars include marketing, product development, capacity building and investment attraction. There is more to tourism than marketing. Its about making educated research driven decisions that match product to the consumers needs and desires. This regional process begins that trans formative journey.

As many know, Thunder Bay is one of 19 signatories to the Region 13 Transition Plan and I am the executive lead for region 13C, Northwestern Ontario, working alongside Tom Pearson (Lodge operator and Sunset Country President), Don Pearl (North of Superior Tourism), Heather Paterson (Tourism Kenora) and Harold Lohn (Lodge operator and Northern Committee member)

We've been busy working on the draft bylaws, terms of reference for the regional strategic plan and solicitation of priority projects. As has been previously announced, of the $65 million in annual transition funding for Ontario, $4.2 million is earmarked for region 13 and $1.554 million for 13C, the region stretching from White River to the Manitoba Boarder and from the US Border to Hudson's Bay. This is a massive territory with dozens of communities and thousands of tourism stake holders. Reaching out to everyone in the past 6 months has not been a quick or easy task but we're making our way around.

To date, we've received approximately two dozen projects ranging from marketing to product development and capacity building. Some are under way and some are in the planning stages. One of the first successes of the transition process however, has little do to with any one specific process but rather, the fact that it has communities in the northwest opening up discussions with each other more than at any other time in my memory of the industry. We're collaborating more, sharing information and resources and looking for ways to capitalize on each other's strengths to reach new markets.

We've established several online communications tools to help the industry keep pace with the process as we move towards the establishment of the permanent office and inaugural board of directors. The Transition team website, RTO13.com and twitter.com/rto13 are up and running and provide meeting minutes, transition information and other relevant information to help the tourism industry understand the process.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bringing Sustainability to the Culinary Industry Helps Raise our Standard

Growing a tourism economy begins with establishing a higher standard for ourselves.

For me, raising Thunder Bay's standard includes sustainability. Sustainability goes hand in hand with our vision to position Thunder Bay as Canada's Best Outdoor City around a strong "Superior by Nature" image.

I've spoken before about sustainability, both in financial and environmental terms and both are equally important. The financial sustainability is what the industry desires and goes to what I spoke of a couple of weeks back about our need to redefine what an attraction is and should be in an accountable environment. However, when we talk about the city's tourism image, its the environmental sustainability and its connectivity to the brand that consumer sees....and folks, that's who has to see us first.

The definition of sustainable tourism is simple. The heart of it is "to promote visitor experiences that conserve the environment while bringing positive economic impacts to local economies." I've said it before and I've repeated it again. Its not that we have to give up promoting the visitor experiences we are known for but about doing so in the most environmentally responsible methods we can.

I spend a lot of time, seven days a week, looking for tourism industry news, looking at best practices and searching for new and innovative and provocative ways to promote the city to the target markets that match our visitor experiences.

Today I came across a fantastic online video showcasing the sustainability philosophy of Arthur Potts Dawson, a British restaurateur, where he discusses achieving sustainability in the culinary industry. Our city's culinary culture has blossomed in recent years and has become woven intimately into all we promote. We have some great examples of sustainable culinary experiences in the City. Growing Season Juice Collective, the Thunder Bay Country Market and the Thunder Oak Gouda Farm are just some that provide culinary experiences based on locally produced ingredients and create local employment. We need more, however. In fact, what if our entire local culinary industry embraces environmental sustainability to some practical extent?

I'm not going to say much more about the video or topic than the fact that it was absolutely enlightening. Watch it for yourself and if you're in the local culinary industry, you'll to come away enlightened too.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thunder Bay Being Promoted at the 2010 Toronto Motorcycle Show

2011 is going to be a big year for the motor cycle touring market in the Thunder Bay area.

Thunder Bay has been chosen to host the 2011 Ontario Harley Owner's Group (H.O.G.) Rally.

Organized by the Thunder Bay Chapter of the Ontario Harley Owner's Group, the event, aptly named "Thunder in the Bay", will take place from July 28-30 and is expected to see hundreds of enthusiasts descend on the community to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow riders and experience some of North America's best scenic touring routes while getting here.

This weekend, local event organizers are at the Toronto Motorcycle Show promoting the event to Harley Davidson enthusiasts in the GTA area, encouraging them to plan their summer road trip to Thunder Bay and register early for a chance to win free accommodation at the event's host hotel, the Victoria Inn, during the rally.

We're thrilled to be helping out with the event and visitors to this weekend's show will see our Thunder Bay visuals around the booth and be able to pick up a copy of our Experience magazine, promoting all there is to see and do in and around the community while they are here.

Also, a staple at this year's show are our friends from the Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association, promoting the Lake Superior and North Channel areas to riders. For many Southern Ontario and Michigan touring riders, they will likely travel through that region to reach us and Carol and company from AKTA do a great job promoting the region and are progressive thinkers with respect to the regional approach to visitor attraction.

Motorcycle touring has seen significant growth in recent years and sales statistics on new bikes in Canada demonstrates the popularity of this form of transportation. We live on the shore of the world's greatest lake, ringed by one of North America's most scenic ribbons of highway. While promotion has been increasing in recent years, we are only really scratching the surface to reach out and attract new riders to the region. A big part of increasing awareness is the role local enthusiasts and clubs play in hosting rallies and events and promoting the region by speaking the language of the motorcycle enthusiast.

Motorcycle tourers travel light, like to stop often to take in scenic views and attractions and embrace comfortable accommodation, great food and safe and secure parking for their bikes. Our goal is that this event galvanizes the Thunder Bay motorcycle and tourism community to continue to work together to develop some sort of annual event and general tactical strategy that will increase opportunities for accommodation, culinary and cultural attractions to grow new markets.

If you're in the Toronto area this weekend, stop by the Toronto Motorcycle Show and look for the great folks at the H.O.G. display. They'll whet your appetite for planning your 2011 summer road trip to the Lake Superior area.

(Harley Davidson and H.O.G. are registered trademarks)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Maximizing the Unconventional Convention Experience

The convention market is a significant contributor to Thunder Bay's tourism economy, particularly driving our accommodation, car rental and airline partners throughout the fall winter and spring when leisure markets are traditionally slower.

When we began our strategic Renascence several years ago to position Thunder Bay as Canada's Best Outdoor City, we looked at the challenge of integrating the convention and sport tourism segments into that brand position. Marketing those two segments in Canada can be a very generic process for most communities our size and its important to find a way to stand out.

We have woven the nucleus of the local convention industry - meeting and accommodation space- with the connection to the natural environment around the community to create the "unconventional convention destination"

Its about communicating to convention planners, the plethora of cultural and recreational activities that exist in and around the community that create exceptional value added opportunities to create unique convention itineraries. Its about getting participants away from the power point presentations, out of the meeting rooms and exploring the community, as either part of the meeting itself or "personal time"

In testing our new direction back in 2008, we created a series of value added side trips for participants in the city for the Canadian Armed Forces SAREX Operations (Search and Rescue) They could take a side trip to the Fort, play a round of golf, go kayaking or charter fishing on Lake Superior during some structured downtime built into the conference. It got conference participants out into the community, exploring cultural and recreational attractions and maximizing both positive reflections of the city and economic impacts. I still hear from participants of that conference that it was the most memorable for them because of that feature.

It can be a side trip to the Fort or the art gallery, a dog sled excursion, an hour of trying cross country skiing, salmon fishing, a flight seeing tour, some golf or a reception at a unique local venue integrating local culinary icons and live local entertainment.

Its also about capitalizing on unique local meeting spaces including Fort William Historical Park, the college and University, and the Hazelwood Lake Centre that are enveloped by the natural environment around them.

For conference planners, its easy to integrate side trips to local galleries, cultural attractions and our parks. For individual conference participants wanting to slip out after supper and explore on their own, its essential that they have the information in their hands to find what they want. We provide over 30 000 visitor magazines and delegate bags to conference participants annually but there is also an opportunity for hotel front desk staff and taxi drivers to know the range of experiences constantly available in the city and this can be achieved by keeping the visitor magazine in the cab or having our website bookmarked on the hotel front desk computers.

The bottom line is that the convention market for Thunder Bay does not need to exclude our cultural and natural resources and in fact, integrating them into our strategy and that of local conference planners gives us a competitive advantage to winning bids and attracting corporate events that leave participants with a more positive impression of just how sophisticated and eclectic our urban environment has evolved into over the past five years.

If you want to know more about making your convention bid that much more competitive or want to discuss ways your tourism business can play a role in growing our convention industry, contact our Meeting and Convention Coordinator, Rose Marie Tarnowski @ rtarnowski@thunderbay.ca

Star Tribune Offers Great Insights in Thunder Bay's Winter Experiences

Earned media exposure in key experiential and geographic markets is a enormously critical part of positioning the city's tourism brand and we've recently scored more great Minnesota based media.

This weekend's Minneapolis Star Tribune travel section includes a great article on Thunder Bay's outdoor winter experiences with a focus on both the downhill and cross country ski venues as well as the local dog sledding scene. A second article, entitled "Thunder Bay Geography Lesson" explains the city's location with respect to the Twin Cities and a bit of back ground. This double helping of media coverage in both the print and online editions of the Star Tribune, continues to align with our positioning of Thunder Bay as "Canada's Best Outdoor City"

We've got some great winter experiential product being developed in the city in the last few years, catering primarily to niche outdoor enthusiasts, the group that will travel, are not turned away from snow and cold and want to experience something authentic and unique.

While the U.S. economy is still somewhat tender, the mid west remains a vitally important market to Thunder Bay. With over 30 million US residents, 8.5 million of which hold passports, living within a 12 hour drive of Thunder Bay, its a market we intend to keep pursuing with well researched, strategic focused programs speaking directly to those travellers looking for the experiences we excel in offering.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snow Mobiling Season is Just Around the Corner. Are You Ready?

The Thunder Bay Adventure Trails snowmobile club has released its 2010/2011 trail map for the city and area, signaling that the sledding season is just around the corner for the region. The earlier snows and freezing weather points to a potentially longer season than in the past few years.

The maps and snow mobile permits are available at the following snow mobile dealers in the city

J and J Sports

Understanding the trail network and permitting process is something those in the visitor services and accommodation industry should be paying attention to. We should all be able to answer visitor inquiries about the trails and give them the information that will encourage them to choose our area.

Contrary to perception, there is still a market for enthusiasts looking for spectacular wilderness riding and while low snow levels and some regressive trail corridor policies courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation have eliminated trail access through the city itself, riders do not need to travel far from the community to stage from and ultimately enjoy hundreds of kilometers of trails along the north shore and west of the city. In fact, sled trailering services exist to help sledders get through the gap.

Travelling sledders often travel in groups and while they are out on the trail all day, they want good food and good accommodation. Some will use Thunder Bay as a daily staging ground and some will ride town to town on a multi day excursion.

Its also important that the tourism industry come together to work on trail connectivity, package development and lobbying to influence policy changes around trail corridor development. What's always impressed me about Adventure Trails (and OFSC for that matter as well), is their willingness to work with other trail stakeholders, both motorized and non motorized, to advocate the development for multi use all season trail corridors. Its this multi use partnership and strength in numbers that can help strengthen the trail network while creating new multi season outdoor infrastructure.

Here's some tips for local accommodation, gas, restaurant and visitor services partners to consider in helping welcome snowmobile visitors to the city and area
  1. Get a trail map and study it.

  2. keep the map at your front desk or counter and make available to visiting sledders

  3. Know where they can purchase permits locally. For the 2010/2011 year, seasonal permits are $250.00, 7 day permits are $140.00 and 3 day permits are $100.00. Permit applications are also available online.

  4. Check the trail website periodically to understand trail conditions

  5. offer secure storage for sleds and trailers. It can be a fenced in compound or even an area with security cameras in open sight

  6. For hotels, make rags available (old wash cloths and towels) so sledders can keep their sleds clean and grease free

  7. know the location of local sled service dealers.

  8. Be welcoming and able to suggest places to eat, fuel up and relax.
For more information visit the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) website.

Monday, November 29, 2010

October Visitor Centre Data shows Seasonal Increase over 2009.

October saw a significant increase in visitor traffic at the Terry Fox Visitor Centre, with 1788 registered guests seeking local travel information versus 1253 in October 2009, an increase of approximately 30%.

Door counter traffic also increased to 4017, up 13% from 3513 last October.

The travel motivations of our October visitors varied significantly, with visiting friends and families, recreation, circle tour, passing through and events being predominant reasons for travel to the city.

Registrations reflect visitors stopping to talk to our travel councillors and register in our system while the door counters count total traffic using the centre, including rest rooms.

A warm October with ideal fall colour viewing conditions, coupled with aggressive fall drives promotions through OTMPC's Great Fall Drives program and continued CAA and AAA partnerships helped propel traffic upwards. Given that the stretch of highway around the centre is in the midst of a major 4-laning project, the expected inconvenience of construction did not play out and had no negative impact on visitation. Hats off to the contractors for minimizing rock blasting and excavation disruptions for our guests to the community.

There are no surprises or emerging markets to report with this data, supporting the trend of our close haul markets continuing to be the main travel drivers during what is still a tender economy, particularly south of the border. Leading the way was Canadian traffic, representing 81% of total traffic, (dominated by Ontario and Manitoba), followed by the United States at 15% (dominated by Minnesota) and Overseas markets at 4% (largely German and British markets)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thunder Bay KOA Owners Awarded KOA Franchisee of the Year Honours

Thunder Bay tourism industry partners Michael and Christine Kuper have recently been awarded Franchisee of the Year honours by KOA at the 2010 KOA convention held in Savannah Georgia.

If you've ever met them or toured their great campground just east of Thunder Bay, it becomes abundantly clear very quickly why. They are the embodiment of exceptional customer service and of the innovative, proactive, and entrepreneurial spirit of the tourism industry.
They have a customer first attitude, offering quality services and added value that clients look for, are full of enthusiasm and are always willing to share consumer feedback with us. I stop by a few times each year to chat with them and I am always amazed at their energy and just how much they value their clients. Having great partners like the Kupers offering quality services to their clientelle makes it a lot easier for all of us to sell the community.

In addition to the multiple wooded RV campsites that can handle the smallest to the absolute largest RVs on the road today, they offer tent camping sites, cabins and lodges for those who want the campground experience but don't own an RV.

Its the value added they offer as well. A heated swimming pool, driving range, mini putt, catch and release fishing pond and bike rentals that create a mini destination for visitors and local RV enthusiasts alike. In 2009, they played host to over 225 Texas RV enthusiasts who collectively brought dozens of RVs to the city for their annual Trophy Gardens RV Club summer reunion and this year, they were gracious lunch time hosts during our spring tourism familiarization tour for visitor centre and hotel front desk staff.

Congratulations to Micheal and Christine for being rewarded for the great customer service and hard work they put into building a fantastic visitor attraction in our community. To see their great operation for yourself, visit their website. or plan to stop by in the spring when they reopen for the 2011 camping season.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Developing Packages That Deliver Added Consumer Value

Encouraging tourism partners to work collaboratively together to create experiential packages is a topic that has been around for a long time. The concept behind packaging is to take a consumer oriented approach to marketing an experience by making it easy for the consumer to purchase and receive value.

Packaging can include the bundling of similar or complimentary experiences (an attractions passport for example) or the creation of an itinerary, built around the nucleus of an experience and generally includes accommodation and/or culinary options. Remember, people travel for an experience first, destination second, so building it around an experience is integral.

Its about the consumer paying once for their experience but its also about creating a value proposition. Value can be determined by an overall lower package price by purchasing everything as a bundle or it can mean receiving a special incentive-value added experience those buying the experience al a carte - won't receive. Its important not to necessarily confuse value with "cheap" when laying out a package. Its about making the consumer end their experience feeling satisfied they received their money's worth and want to return and experience it again.

Its also about cross promotion. Packages involving multiple partners logically receive exposure in the various media channels of the individual partners, bringing incredible leverage and ensuring a much greater chance of the package enticing the right targeted audience. In this day of on line media, its that much easier to promote the value. and if you're not using digital media as a tool, call a realtor and hang up the for sale sign by the way)

Countless workshops have been held on the subject. during my fourteen years in the industry but it really does not take a full day education session to get it right. In fact, its as easy for tourism partners as emailing another tourism partner and initiating a discussion to work together. There is great opportunity for hotels to work with ski hills or trails, for cultural attractions to work together to develop a passport

And of course, we're always there willing and ready to promote it. We've done it in a huge way with our annual contest based campaigns including Seven Days With the Giant, our new winter Win program, Bluesfest contests and more.

We currently have a whole section of our website dedicated to packages and prominently features golf packages involving Golf Thunder Bay, Whitewater and the Valhalla Inn, Casino packages and vacations offered by Lake Superior Visits. We could, however, use a lot more and we encourage the industry to work with each other to develop them.

If you're a Thunder Bay or area tourism partner with a packaging idea, simply email our product development officer, John Cameron at jcameron@thunderbay.ca

Thursday, November 18, 2010

July and August U.S. Traffic Review

July and August US traffic to Thunder Bay at the Pigeon River Border Crossing showed declines in 2010, a sign that the U.S. economic slowdown, dollar parity and border identification issues continuing to challenge travel patterns.

In July, 17,570 US residents crossed into Canada south of the city, down a modest 3% from 18 190 a year ago. A 3% decline is not a significant concern given the economic environment. 2916 residents took same day trips, 657 stayed a single night and 13997 stayed 2 plus nights.

In August, however, traffic was 15,082, down a significant 16% from a high of 18 043 a year ago. 2907 were day trippers, while 629 stayed a single night and 11546 stayed 2 plus nights.

In both months, same day and single overnight traffic trends remained largely stable, with the biggest hit coming in the multi night stays, consistent with consumer travel data projections for the year that indicated that many travellers would be taking shorter vacations.

However, the local accommodation industry has reported an increase in summer time overnight U.S. traffic, specifically in the motorcycle and lake superior touring segments. These observations and data point to a shift in the US consumer's travel motivators from the traditional angling experience seekers to the touring vacationers and tells us that our marketing and product development focus should shift somewhat towards the touring markets within the U.S. In 2010, we enhanced our AAA media partnerships within key U.S. mid west states as well as other a continued Lake Superior magazine presence and other touring oriented promotional tools, including a new motor sport rally sponsorship program that supported two events.

The Lake Superior Circle Tour is one of North America's most scenic and unique driving destinations and we have some fantastic regional media channels such as Lake Superior Magazine, the North of Superior Circle Tour initiative and Superior Outdoors promoting the basin's lifestyle and experiences. Significant opportunities to grow awareness of the basin that translate into new visitation exist. We all have to come together in a bi national collaborative partnership to not only support these media channels, but develop a more aggressive and cohesive tactical strategy to fulfill the potential and reach new markets.

As always, we're evaluating traffic and economic trends to determine where the shifts are, where growth potential and new markets exist and what channels are working and not working in reaching these targeted experience seekers.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lakehead Alumni Association Profiles Tourism

Lakehead University is a staple of Thunder Bay's economy and with respect to our role in community development, plays an important role in the regional tourism economy.

The fall and winter 2010 Alumni Magazine is paying homage to the work Lakehead's Department of Outdoor Recreation Parks and Tourism plays in sustainable communuity development and profiles yours truly.

Drs Norm McIntyre, Rhonda Koster and Harvey Lemelen are among the number of faculty working to educate our future tourism leaders while engaging in the vital task of tourism research that gives our industry the planning tools we need to succeed on the world stage.

For me personally, being profiled in the Alumni magazine is an honour and a career high point. Its a humbling experience to be recognized by the school that played a pivotal role in my decision to pursue public service and, in particular, the economic development field. Every year, I make time to share my experiences with students in the Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism and Political Studies departments and find it to be one of elements of my role I truly love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thunder Bay Tourism Partners Do Well At Provincial Tourism Awards

We're thrilled that two Thunder Bay tourism partners have recently received Provincial accolades at the Ontario Tourism Summit's annual awards gala hweld last week at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville.

Fort William Historical Park added another accolade to their trophy case, earning the designation of Tourism Innovator of the Year for the Fort William Historical Park Grand Marais Canada Gateway Centre, an innovative and interactive visitor centre on highway 61 that extends the Fort's reach into the US market, encouraging visitors to the Cook County area to continue along the highway and visit Canada. The Centre carries a Fort theme throughout and in addition to information on the Fort itself, information on Thunder Bay and other Northwestern Ontario attractions and events is featured.

Superior Outdoors Magazine, owned by Darren and Michelle McChristie, was nominated for two images in the best tourism photography category. One of the photos, taken by Gary McGuffin, took top honours. The McChristie's passion for Lake Superior and sustainable tourism deserve credit and the high quality work they do to tell the stories of the experiences and people around the lake helps promote the city and area and is always greatly appreciated by all of us at Tourism Thunder Bay.

Their newest addition to their publishing empire is The Walleye, Thunder Bay's arts and culture alternative. This monthly tabloid offers a a great taste of the diverse and eclectic cultural scene in our community, adding another channel to entice visitors to stay and play a little longer. If you are an accommodation partner in the city, you really need to have copies of The Walleye at your front desks to share with your guests.
Congratulations to Fort William Historical Park and Superior Outdoors!

September Hotel Occupancies Continue to Show Growth

September continued to see strong growth in the Thunder Bay accommodations sector, with occupancies, average daily rates and RevPar all seeing noticeable increases.
  • Hotel occupancies rose 5.9% in September over the previous year to 83.8% from 77.8%.
  • The Average daily rate rose slightly to $99.36 from $97.99 a year ago
  • Revenue per available room rose a substantial 9.1% to $83.22 from $76.25
By contrast,the Canadian average occupancy rate was 70.2% or 2.4% greater than in 2009. Average daily room rate was $131.14, up.6% from 130.31 a year ago. Revenue per available room was $92,02, up 4.1% from 88.37.

This data is extracted from the PKF September 2010 National Market Report and we publish only the local and national data. We encourage our tourism partners looking for more depth of hotel performance data to contact PKF directly for their range of products and services at pkfcanada.com

Thunder Bay's occupancy rate remained one of the highest of any market in the country in September. However, the city is still a relative bargain, posting one of the lower daily average room rate and revenue per room rates nationally. This is certainly a competitive advantage, especially when bidding on cost sensitive sport and convention business. However, there may be room for some modest upward growth in room rates without compromising that advantage.

September proved to be a strong year on several fronts, buoyed by a stronger than normal fall touring leisure market and a strong corporate, meeting and convention market. Usually, September sees a bit of a downward turn locally as the summer leisure market drops and the fall convention travel market hasn't quite picked up from the summer vacation period.

We're pleased to see this upward trend continue, the result of a number of positive developments in the local economy around mining and health sciences, better air connectivity to the GTA with Porter, Westjet and Jazz, capital re investments in a number of properties and a more enhanced focus on the fall touring markets through OTMPC and AAA partnerships.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Four Social Media Channels Every Tourism Business Should Use.

Digital media is the new standard in marketing. Period. Just in case anyone has doubts.

A huge part of the digital environment are the social media channels that create connections between businesses and consumers that are often more authentic and personal. Over 500 million people are on Facebook. Youtube is the worlds' second most searched site and millions more twitter. Why is it so important?

Tourism, like all other industries, is changing dramatically in a digital world. From a marketing perspective, its now so much easier and cost effective to target the clients that want what you have to offer them. With 80% of North American travellers using the Internet as a research and trip planning tool and 75% of travellers looking for an experience, not a destination, not using, let along understanding social media leads to -and rightfully so if I can be so harsh - failure.

People google or yahoo or Bing an experience and it pops up. The more your business or experience offered is tagged in the online world, the greater the chance it has of coming up closer to the top of the search engines. Consumer behavior dictates that they shop starting at the top. Online media channels allow businesses to add content so easily, creating conversations with their guests or clients and adding to the search engine optimization of SEO. (tactics that allow search engines to ensure your business is easily discovered by clients)

The tourism industry regionally needs to embrace the change. I once witnessed a tourism operator stand up in a room of one hundred people declare that the Internet was a fad just three short years ago. I've heard others say they don't have time to return email inquiries because it wastes their time. I witnessed just two days ago a complaint from within the industry itself that we shouldn't use the Internet to communicate with the industry because not every operator has a computer.

While most are connected, the reality is that the regional industry is still largely dominated by a predominantly rural (remember that cell service and high speed is relatively new in our big beautiful wilderness landscape), established, older ownership group that finds the fast pace of digital media evolution a little bewildering. I'm 39 and spend hours every evening at home engaging, tweaking and learning the latest digital media trends and its a continual learning process. That's where we, as tourism professionals, have an obligation to help foster a learning environment and provide access to the solutions and resources.

There are some staples in the social media world that every tourism professional, whether a mom and pop operator or a major hotel chain, should familiarize themselves with.

1. Get a Facebook profile. Spend some time creating one online, invite your guest to join and engage them in online communications. By posting pics, stories and video, and inviting your clients to do the same, you create loyalty and give prospective new clients a window to the experience.

2. Start a blog. If you're reading this, you know what one is. Create one and communicate with your guests. Use the tags to ensure your content is discovered and use links to link to your website or those of your partners. For Tourism Thunder Bay, this is the tool we use to communicate industry news and performance. This is the format that media pick up story ideas from, that gives our industry partners the research links they need to make better decisions and that tells the story of the local industry. We've developed this as our main industry communication platform for a strategic reason and that is to encourage all of our tourism partners to embrace technology if they want to get ahead.

3. Youtube (remember what I said earlier about this being the 2nd most searched website on the planet?). You can buy a HD digital movie camera for $150 bucks, create video and post it to your own Youtube channel. Its easy and gives your guests the visuals they need to help them make a vacation decision. Make it informative, fun and entertaining.

4. Twitter. To me, every single tourism business in Thunder Bay should have a Twitter account (ours is www.twitter.com/visitthunderbay). This is the simplest online social tool you can employ to maximize that important online connectivity with your consumers and increase the search engine optimization of your site and product. I Twitter about 20-40 times per week, using the 140 character micro blog site to tell our loyal followers whats going on in the city, share interesting consumer focused tourism news and share little tidbits about the city. We have only been able to find 5 other local tourism organizations with Twitter accounts to follow and retweet.

Of course, all of your social media should support a well developed, informative and current website that is easily navigable and has lots of visual content.

I recently had someone from the tourism industry in my office dismissive about digital media, instead extolling the virtues of trade shows and destination oriented print guides......I'm not saying that there aren't other media channels that can be effective in reaching you consumer because select print shows are still part of our strategy. however, we increasingly scrutinize those investments and have reduced them, through performance measurement, to those that return on investment. The majority of our investment and effort has been shifting to digital in the past three years, with that shift continuing to comprise the majority of our communication strategy in the future.

If you're a tourism operator and you want to get more comfortable with engaging these great (and often free) communication and marketing tools, we're planning to bring in a series of professionally hosted workshops in the new year facilitated by people who know a lot more than me about social media. But if you just want to chat about social media for a few minutes, my door is always open. Just email me at ppepe@thunderbay.ca

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ministry of Tourism Research Tools Improve Decision Making

I like numbers. Anyone who follows me knows that I'm always advocating - and sometimes pleading - for people to understand the myriad of consumer travel data as it relates to making sound investment and marketing decisions within the tourism industry. As many know, I'm proud that all of our strategic decisions are made using consumer research.

The days of building product for selfish reasons ("well I think its neat, therefore everyone else will" syndrome) and "spray and pray" marketing approaches that hit everyone hoping something will stick are ineffective and irresponsible approaches to planning and execution.

One of the single best free sources of such data to help us all make informed decisions is the Ministry of Tourism. Past and current performance, travel motivator studies (TAMS) and regional economic profiles provide significant ammunition to help both public and private sector tourism partners make informed decisions that enhance chances for success.

With the recent move over to the regional tourism organization framework, the Ministry has even updated data to reflect the regional tourism profiles of all thirteen regions, including Northern Ontario's sub regions.

Even the presentations provided at the 2010 Ontario Tourism Summit have already been posted online so those that couldn't write fast enough at the sessions or couldn't attend in person, has access to the same great insights as everyone else.

When I get asked for advice from operators about making their business more successful, the first question is ask is "Do you have a business plan?" I hear some that do, some that wrote one when they first opened and some who respond "huh?" Having a business plan, including a strong marketing and financial component is critical to starting out (essential if you're applying for financing) and updating that plan annually or even bi-annually is not a bad idea as markets can change rapidly. For an established business, even an annual marketing plan is a good start. At the end of the day, these are some of the most basic questions you need to have answers for.

  • Who is your client
  • What do they value in a travel experience
  • Where do they live
  • How do they shop
  • What are they willing to pay for your experience
  • what will it cost to reach them and deliver on their expectations

...and this is where the research helps you.

In Northern Ontario, we've had, for far too long, a culture of entitlement expecting the government to do everything for us and hand out grant money, all the while berating them for not doing what we want them too. The single most important level of support that can be provided to our regional tourism industry is information. Its up to us to take the initiative, act like entrepreneurs and leaders, and embrace this plethora of information to chart our own future as a financially sustainable industry.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wise Investing the Key to Growing a Sustainable Tourism Economy

There are two key things every single person in the tourism industry needs to abide by.

First. We are in business to give visitors the exceptionally high quality experiences they are looking for.

Second. We're in this industry to make money.

Visitor experiences that create a net loss to the industry do not reflect wise investing and are sadly, often the results of poor planning and an absence of market demand research during the planning process.

In Northern Ontario we've been riding a wave of public tourism infrastructure projects for well over 40 years. Some are great catalyst attractions that are acknowledged to incur an operating loss but provide a net economic gain to the community through increased visitor retention and spending. Provincial and National Parks, Substantially programmed provincial attractions, arenas, convention centers and public/private waterfront development partnerships are examples of these successful models. Some, like the myriad of "heritage" and "interpretive" centres are built with the best of intentions, but evidence has shown repeatedly that they rarely meet their performance expectations and fail to deliver as catalyst attractions as stand alone venues.

Many communities feel the pressure to grasp at any and all public tourism infrastructure projects and hope they are the "hail Mary" passes that transform their community. We've lived with an expectation that government funds are always available to build them...but often forget the the absence of operating grants to keep the doors open when the dust settles.

We need to look at these potential tourism projects with a critical business oriented eye and truthfully weigh their operating deficits - and lets be honest, in Northern Ontario, most do - against their effect of visitor retention and increased community spending. Its called Return on Investment (ROI) and its the first thing every private tourism operator looks at when making a decision.

Financing the capital component is relatively easy from the various programs available federally and provincially. However, if a projected operating deficit in the feasibility study is still greater than the total community impact of the project, it would, in fact, not grow the local tourism economy and put money into the city and region - but actually take money out of it.

When I conduct an ROI analysis, I look at the role of the attraction in terms of consumer demand or interest. An attraction is only an attraction if people are attracted to it.

If there is a expected consumer demand, we move to the next phase - Capital - Can it be financed or funded and what kind of partnerships can logically come together, whether public, private or a mix.

Thirdly - and this is the critical one - operations. and there are three scenarios that can exist. One, will it turn a profit. Two, will it turn a loss but be offset by the positive economic impact by extending visitor stays in the community (an extra half day turns into an additional meal or hotel room stay) or have a viable endowment fund to cover operating losses. Three, the economic impact remains less than the operating loss. Arriving at scenario three, for us, is a red light that stops a project in its track. We look at the number of projected visitors, the average length of visit to the attraction and using Ministry of Tourism localized visitor spending data, we determine the economic impact. Than I add the multiplier of 1.6 - the recognized notion that every new dollar entering a community creates an additional 60 cents in spending through wages and local supplies purchased. This gives us the total economic impact. If that is less than the operating deficit, it doesn't get my endorsement without changes.

I always advise the groups often driving these initiatives that they need to decide if they want to alter the project scope, seek additional programming partners to build critical mass and realize operating efficiencies or simply walk away.

In economic development (of which tourism is a huge generator in these parts) we are not acting responsibly towards the industry or community partnerships by ignoring research and empirical data that could see enormous legal and financial ramifications for organizations or have to endure the embarrassment of another boarded up business or attraction in the community.

The Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Strategy is built on four pillars and one is "Investing Wisely" We need to depart from the economic development philosophy of grasping at every thing that presents itself and make investments that are financially sustainable as profit centres or positive community catalyst investments. I've spend fourteen years in this industry, many of them evaluating multi million dollar proposals for government funding of such tourism centres and I can tell you, honest due diligence is essential to the integrity of the funders, proponents and the consultants often hired to write their business and feasibility plans. We don't do anything constructive by ignoring business plan or feasibility studies that present negative financial and visitation projections.

Now, I'll go back to an earlier statement about providing visitors with the high quality experiences they desire as our number one mission. Many, many of these experiences can and are being delivered by the private sector - for profit. Visitor retention can be accomplished in the same way by a farmers market, boat tour, a culinary or artisan gallery experience or even a self guided historical walking tour. These experiences often require little, if any public funds and our role in getting them rolling and keeping them sustainable can be achieved through giving them the research tools in their planning and promoting them-under the city or regional brand - effectively so visitors know where to find them. Its about rethinking what an attraction is through the visitors eyes, not ours.

We have to achieve a new investment paradigm and rapidly rethink our approach tourism investment and product development in the region to ensure we have a sustainable tourism economy that is built on consumer demand generators.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ontario Tourism Summit Takes It to the Next Level.

Another Ontario Tourism Summit has wrapped up and once again, Tourism Thunder Bay took advantage of the exceptional program offered by OTMPC and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

This year's program, held at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, provided a series of sessions, designed to provide high level strategic tools to help us grow the tourism sector with the theme "Taking it to the Next Level."

And that folks, is exactly what we need to do to compete globally with consumer focused demand generated experiences and focused tactical communications strategies.

Highlights this year included a global economic snapshot by Scotiabank Economist Warren Jestin, An Ipsos Reid Travel Trends address, and a riveting social and online media presentation by Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation. We need to know who our customer is, what they really want and we have to connect with them using the tools they use to communicate with.

We also had the chance to hear Joseph Michelli, customer service expert and author of The New Gold Standard and The Starbucks Experience who really drove home the point on how essential exceptional client care is a cornerstone of raising the reputation of our industry, one business at a time. Its a presentation that everyone in the industry can learn from.

A series of concurrent sessions on the second day provided insights to the larger delegate group on the RTO process throughout the various regions as well as new product development trends in cycle touring and culinary tourism, emerging markets in India, China and Brazil, winning marketing strategies and investment attraction.

The Sunday RTO session brought together the executive leads for all 13 Regional Tourism Organizations in the same room for the first time in the process where we compared notes on progress, learned from each other on the challenges and opportunities presented by the process and the status of the various priority projects being undertaken throughout the Province. As the executive lead for 13C, the Province's largest region by geography, it was a great opportunity to learn and share best practices with others and raise awareness of our region's opportunities and challenges getting through the process.

More than ever, its imperative that we make our tourism investments, whether they be in strategic infrastructure, capacity building or marketing, on demand generated research. Its about know exactly who our clients are, what they want and how they shop for their travel experience.

Most importantly, the conference gave us in the industry a chance to network with each other and have the ears of the Province's senior ministry personnel and elected officials, giving us the venue in which to discuss strategy, learn best practices and raise concerns in a constructive positive environment. Minister of Tourism Michael Chan provided a keynote address on taking our industry to the next level on the recommendations presented in the Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Strategy

The summit is the must attend event each year and never fails to disappoint. We are in an incredibly competitive industry and its essential we work collaboratively using consumer research driven intelligence to make sound investments in product and marketing. Anyone who wants to grow their segment of the industry should be learning from this because the days of political and intuitively driven product development, substandard customer service and "spray and pray" marketing are over, perhaps something worthy of a museum exhibit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

OTMPC Travel Trade Session Opens Eyes on Affluent Travel Trends

The travel trade has been an important link in the tourism industry supply chain for decades and while we've engaged that segment's tour operators, receptive guides and cruise ship operators, the affluent travel trade segment has been something we have not spent enough time as a region working on.

About 18 months ago, I had two epiphanies back to back. The first came to me at the Calgary outdoor show where we shared floor space with African and Kenyan wildlife safaris (both consumptive hunting and photography), wilderness adventures and other destinations offering luxury epic adventures. My thought was "Our natural environment is just as exotic as they are. Why are we not as confident in it."

About a month later, at Cruise Shipping Miami, I proclaimed to a Galapagos Island tour operator that they should reposition their ship to the Great Lakes because we are every bit as exotic as the Galapagos!" Bold words indeed.

Getting there requires an understanding of the changes in travel motivations and emerging travel trends and the willingness of our private sector to make the necessary infrastructure and capacity improvements to attract these avid affluent adventure markets.

I was fortunate to be invited to an Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation travel trade education session today in Toronto, bringing four of North America's premier travel trade operators together in a day long panel to meet with eighty tourism professionals invited to participate from across the Province.

These professionals, Cathy Holler from Virtuoso, Norman Howe from Horizon and Co, Victoria Pearson from Routes to Learning and Nancy Blount of Blount Small Ships Cruising, The session provided valuable information on the educated and affluent segment of the North American market that we haven't given enough thought about. Despite the recession, there are still people working. With over 1 million millionaires and 25 million $100 000 plus households in the United States, many are still travelling and looking for value - not cheapness but experiences they feel good about and are willing to pay accordingly to enjoy them.

One of the common themes that emerged throughout the day by all of the presenters was on natural and cultural environment being a large draw for the emerging travel markets. How about that! We have natural environment that includes the world's largest freshwater lake, largest continual boreal forest and wildlife that is no less exotic than that found around the globe. Thunder Bay is the urban hub for all of this connected to the world by great air corridor connectivity, highway infrastructure and port. In the new regional tourism environment, working in partnership with the areas beyond our city lights is imperative to meeting the desires of the emerging traveller.

Armed with this consumer awareness and the desire for these firms to seek out new experiences for their clientele, the opportunity presents itself to look at our core attributes and identify the infrastructure and capacity improvements we need to make as an industry to attract them. Its the remote angling lodge reached by epic float plane journey, cruising the archipelago of the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area or watching, camera in hand, eagles, bears and moose in their natural environment. These core trophy experiences connect to local culinary creations and a luxurious bed in a B and B, Inn or lodge.

We have a lot of product components already in place and some close to getting there. Critical to our strategy is raising the game of our experiences to the highest level possible by as many partners as possible and tools like today's session help us get there. We'll be following up in the next few months on developing some educational forums for industry interested in reaching these new affluent markets.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Understanding the Regional Big Picture at NOTO

Last week, I had the privilege to attend NOTO's 83rd annual conference in Dryden. for those who don't know, NOTO is "Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario" (formerly Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters.)

I was there to make a presentation on the RTO process currently being developed in Ontario and in particular, the status of the work being done in Northern Ontario or Region 13. It was a chance to present, hear comments, ideas and concerns from the resource based operators that dominate the industry in the northwest. It was also a great chance to see Dryden's relatively new and spectacular Training and Cultural Centre, giving me a sense of the region's meeting and convention product outside of Thunder Bay.

NOTO does a lot of great advocacy work on behalf of that segment of the industry and is not just focused on marketing but rather on capacity building and policy advocacy with the multitude of government agencies whose policies positively - and negatively - impact our tourism industry.

This year, I was able to make time and stay for the entire 2 day conference, giving me a much better appreciation as an urban tourism guy, about the issues, challenges and opportunities facing the outfitters in our region. In addition to the updates on the RTO, presentations on forest fire prevention and combat strategies, bed allocation on remote lakes, land tenure, trending, border issues, recreational off road vehicle licencing, marketing and digital media provided a valuable forum to network and understand the bigger picture. This is certainly a forum and organization more operators in the industry need to know about and get involved with. I've known the organization's Executive Director, Doug Rynolds, for the past nine years and I can say that he works tirelessly on behalf of the industry's interests...and its an industry with a lot of demands. He's also been one of Thunder Bay's biggest supporters from the resource based sector, helping us create those urban/wilderness linkages and mutual respect essential to moving forward as a region.

As an aside, one of my co executive colleagues and friend, Dave McLaughlan of North to Adventure, was awarded the Bob Giles Award for his tireless efforts to grow and promote the north through his work with the RTO, OTMPC's Northern Committee and the Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association. Congrats Dave.

As many know, Thunder Bay is working hard in its tourism strategy to position itself as a gateway city to some of the best outdoor adventures on the planet so its imperative we understand the experiences and markets beyond out city lights and build new potential partnerships.

If you want to learn more about NOTO, visit them @ www.noto.net

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Heart of the Continent Partnership Brings Public Lectures to Thunder Bay

The Heart of the Continent Partnership is a bi national collective of Provincial, State and National Parks, academic and community leaders from Ontario and Minnesota working on some great initiatives that will have a positive impact for the region and help Foster new bi national partnerships based on common goals around balancing community development with neighboring public protected lands.

The reality is quite simply that Thunder Bay is the gateway city to some of the world's best known wilderness parks - Quetico, Wabikimi, Sleeping Giant, the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and even Isle Royale National Park across the border. Creating stronger links with these fantastic natural environment assets is critical to helping grow and diversify our tourism markets. For years, cities have ignored their neighboring parks and protected areas with the mistaken belief that they bring little tourism value to the communities. As demographic shift, a growing number of travellers seek outdoor experiences with a higher level of comfort, with the vast majority appreciating the experience but wishing for softer culinary and accommodation options nearby. For those seeking to "rough it", they need a place to stage, pick up gear and groceries and have a civilized respite at the end of their epic journey. This is where we, as a city, have to link in.

One of the initiatives undertaken by the HOCP is the Gateway Communities Forum, scheduled for the fall of 2011 and a number of us are currently working on the design and development of this conference, to be co hosted between Thunder Bay and Grand Portage - a truly international partnership.

On Wednesday October 6th, the public will have a chance to take in some public forums related to our parks and protected area neighbors and understand a little more about their ecological and economic importance.

Earth wind fire and Climate change : Whats the future of our Northern Forests and Communities, takes place in the University Centre 2011 - Upper Lecture Theatre at 4:30 PM and will explore the key ecological issues of today int he region

Public Conservation - Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands, is an open conversation with members of the Gateway Communities Initiative Design Team and the public to discuss how public lands and communities can thrive side by side in an positive economic framework. This discussion takes place in the ATAC Building Room 5035 from 7 to 9 PM

For more information on the Heart of the Continent Partnership, visit their website @ www.heartofthecontinent.org

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

July US Border Traffic Shows Trend Shift Towards Touring

The July, 2010 U.S. traffic numbers for the Pigeon River Border Crossing show that a shift in the U.S. travel market is emerging, from a traditional reliance on the angling market and larger groups to a new growth in the touring experience and smaller group sizes.

Total number of U.S, residents entering the region south of the city was 17,570 compared to 18,190 in July 2009. ( a modest 3% drop) However, the number of vehicles increased slightly to 6953 from 6904 a year ago.

We've seen modest decreases in 1 and 2 plus night stays from the US market but an increase in same day traffic, supporting the notion that residents are taking shorter trips.

For the year to date, US traffic to Thunder Bay through Pigeon river is down approximately 10% to 51,213 from 56,305 a year ago.

However, U.S. visitation to local hotels appears to have increased this summer, leading to a presumption that, while the traditional angling market continues to be battered by the US economy and war efforts overseas, a new avid touring and adventure market appears to be growing to replace this market loss. The U.S, economy remains somewhat slow to rebound in the U.S. Midwest, our key markets, and a huge number of US families have family members serving overseas in various conflicts, and that's keeping a lot of people from enjoying a proper vacation until they return from duty. That said, its a huge close haul market we cannot, in the short term turn our backs on. We simply have to target our key visitor a little more carefully in the meantime.

We attribute the shift in touring towards an increase in our U.S. touring promotion efforts, including an increased presence in AAA web and print media, Lake Superior and Superior Outdoors magazines and targeted touring and soft adventure markets in targeted state capital markets of St Paul, Chicago and Madison. Work we've done in attracting cruise ship and autosport rallys to the city have also helped create new markets.

This drives home the point that we must know who our client is and what experiences they seek. selling the same thing to the same people using the same channels no longer works. Yet, we cannot ignore the 7.5 million US passport holders who live in our key geographic markets, nor the trends in touring, driven largely by the motorcycle and auto sport segments. We must also invest in new product development and enhancements to attract these emerging markets. Seeing local hotels establish secure motorcycle parking zones and added security features, bike cleaning towels in their rooms and other welcoming investments goes a long way to helping us take advantage of shifts in the market place. Angling has a lot of potential to remain a larger part of the regional experience but the industry must, overall, renew investment in individual resort infrastructure to meet changing demographics.

On the domestic side, we've seen strong Ontario traffic as well as a growth in Manitoba visitation, drawn to the parks and circle tour route. BC and Alberta re driving a lot of the transient single night stay traffic as people relocate east to west for employment purposes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thunder Bay Selected to Host the 23rd Ontario Provincial

The Thunder Bay Chapter of the Harley Owner’s Group (H.O.G®) is pleased to
announce that Thunder Bay has been selected to host the 23rd Ontario Provincial Harley Owners Group (H.O.G®) Rally from July 28-30, 2011.

Hundreds of Harley Davidson® owners and enthusiasts from Ontario as well as Manitoba and the U.S. midwest are expected to descend upon the City for their annual Provincial gathering, enjoying the City’s Superior by Nature Hospitality for “Thunder in the Bay”, the aptly chosen name for this unique event.

This is the first opportunity the City of Thunder Bay has had to host a H.O.G® Motorcycle rally and it will be an opportunity for the city to showcase its natural beauty and many features. During the rally Harley Davidson® riders will take part in a variety of activities, games and tests of riding skill as well as ride our beautiful countryside and simply see the sights. Co-coordinators for the event

Susan Macey and John Aiken both agree that a major feature of the rally will be a parade of “Hogs” through the city which will be great fun for riders and spectators alike. It will be a great opportunity for bikers and non bikers to come out and share the excitement.
The 23rd Ontario Provincial Harley Owners Group (H.O.G®) Rally is being sponsored by our local Harley Davidson® dealer and the Local H.O.G® chapter. The local H.O.G® chapter is made up of 168 recreational biking members all of whom are looking forward to the opportunity to meet fellow motorcycle enthusiasts. H.O.G® is the largest factory sponsored motorcycle club in the world with almost 1,000,000 members in 1400 chapters leading to great rides, lifetime memories and friendships worldwide.

The Victoria Inn has been chosen as the host hotel for the rally and event activities will be centered around the hotel and the Harley Davidson® dealership on Arthur Street.
Recreational motorcycling is becoming very popular throughout Canada and this event will bring a significant economic impact, not only to Thunder Bay, but to other Lake Superior coastal communities as well as riders take in one of North America’s most scenic coastal touring routes to attend the event here. Over a quarter of a million dollars is expected to be generated in local economic impacts with riders staying in the community over the course of the event.
Click here to watch the news clip. www.tbnewswatch.com/video/20069/harley-rally
For further information please contact:

John Aiken
Rally Co-Coordinator
(807) 474-9833

Susan Macey
Rally Co-Coordinator

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Understanding Consumers Interests is More Important Than Regulating Them

The consideration of bylaws that restrict overnight RV parking to private and public camp grounds has been discussed in a number of communities and on the surface, it appears to be a well intentioned initiative to direct all traffic to financially support the camp ground industry. Truthfully, I used to be in favour of them. However, the consideration of implementing such regulations and the unfortunate choice of words used to describe this segment in a recent local editorial fails to look at the larger picture and artificially creates an issue that really isn't leading to any collapse of the tourism industry. In the long run, it hurts us.

What we must maintain as the cornerstone of our entire tourism strategy, is to focus on what the consumer wants…and not every consumer wants or needs the same overnight experience. Thunder Bay has an exceptional array of high quality municipal, provincial and private campgrounds, all well operated and offering different services to attract different segments within the large RV travel market. We invest significant resources to promote these natural environment establishments, encourage their use and direct commerce in their direction but we also can never lose sight of the fact that some of our guests desire a different or basic alternative. No business, in any segment of the economy, can assume the entire marketplace thinks and acts and wants the same.

We approach this segment, like others, in a pragmatic means to grow the market and drive more traffic to all tourism partners, not simply divide it into smaller slices or even reduce it’s overall value. Those who park overnight in free lots reflect a small percentage of the overall RV market.

Defending the decision to ban parking in private parking lots (and come on, this only occurs in one lot, right?) fails to consider that some RV owners arrive in the community late or leave early, may have large relatively immobile units, don’t have needs for ancillary services or may simply want to be near urban dining or retail experiences. We should not, as a business community, condemn this very small market for wishing or needing to save $30 per night given that they still leave an economic impact in terms of food, retail, attractions admissions, repairs and fuel. They are even known to use, for a fee, pump out stations and showers at campgrounds (did I say "for a fee"?) Irregardless of how and where the economic impacts occur in our communities, it is almost entirely to tourism partners who pay property and taxes and employ local residents.

Most importantly, however, its all about creating a warm and welcoming environment and reputation to ALL of our visitors, irregardless of their economic impact. Imposing bylaws that unnecessarily restrict visitor movements and public editorial comments equating this travel segments to “tenants skipping out on rent” and labelling them as “free loaders” is typicval of a ready shoot aim mentality and does more damage in attracting and welcoming visitors. RV enthusiasts communicate on a digital stage and will avoid such destinations. Frankly, I'd rather have the 200 or so RVers annually who park for free but shop and visit local attractions than not have any of them at all. These regulatory tactics and negative customer service attitudes can very well backfire and end up putting the entire visitor oriented RV supply chain further behind in advancing this important and diversified travel segment.

To succeed in growing our tourism economy it is imperative we stop forcing guests through regulation to do what they don’t want but rather understand the scope of our visitor’s travel motivators, range of interests and true impacts and respond to them with exceptional levels of service, delivering value and extending a warm welcome. If we stay to this course, the market will grow and everyone will benefit who has the entrpreneureal desire to.

At the end of the day, knowing and respecting what consumers want and desire is a far more enlightened approach to regulating them to do and see and experience what we think they should want or forcing them to chancge their travel motivators to suit us. To be successful, shouldn't we be doing a better job catering to them? We have to pick our battles when it comes to tourism policy and this one is very ow on the list.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


TORONTO, September 7, 2010 – When WFN: World Fishing Network, North America’s only 24/7 fishing channel, asked Canadians to name the best place to wet a line, loyal anglers from more than 160 different communities nationwide stepped up to tell WFN why their town is Canada’s best place to fish. After more than a month of nominations and public voting, 10 of these towns, including Thunder Bay, Ontario, have earned a spot as a finalist in the search for WFN’s Ultimate Fishing Town.

The 10 finalists for WFN’s Ultimate Fishing Town are: Port Alberni British Columbia; Chilliwack, British Columbia; Dauphin, Manitoba; Nestor Falls, Ontario; Thunder Bay, Ontario; Port Rowan, Ontario; Seeley’s Bay, Ontario; Miramichi, New Brunswick; O’Leary, Prince Edward Island; and Nipawin, Saskatchewan.

To vote for Thunder Bay, or to simply look at its entry which includes videos, photos and testimonials from numerous passionate Thunder Bay anglers, people can visit http://www.wfn.tv/ultimate-fishing-town/Thunder-Bay.
The final phase of voting begins today at www.wfn.tv/fishingtown and runs through September 28th. The winning community, which will be announced in October, will receive a $25,000 donation to be used towards fishing–related cause(s) and have a 30-minute feature show about fishing in their town air on WFN. There will also be over $7,500 in additional prizes awarded.

The 10 cities and towns advanced to the final round after more than 220,000 votes were cast for the 160 nominated towns and cities. The top two vote-getters in each of the three geographic regions (Ontario, West and Atlantic) advanced to the final round. The other four finalists were selected by WFN based on originality, persuasiveness, energy, the nature of the community organization or cause and the number of on-line votes received. Only votes accumulated during the final round of voting will be used to determine WFN’s Ultimate Fishing Town.

“Proud and passionate anglers from more than 160 different towns and cities across Canada tried to stake their claim as WFN’s Ultimate Fishing Town, and after a nationwide vote, 10 are left standing,” said Mark Rubinstein, President and CEO of World Fishing Network. “We hope every angler across Canada who has ever cast a line will now cast a vote for the place they consider WFN’s Ultimate Fishing Town.”

The finalists are encouraged to mobilize their supporters to vote. To help, WFN has created easy to use applications at www.wfn.tv/fishingtown that allow users to customize posters and web banners. The site also offers icons for use on various social communication tools such as MSN, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, BBM and more. The voting guidelines limit voting from one email address every 12 hours. WFN is closely monitoring votes and removing votes deemed fraudulent.

WFN is available nationwide. Check www.wfn.tv/subscribe for a complete list of TV providers and channel numbers.

About WFN: World Fishing Network
WFN: World Fishing Network is the only 24/7 television network dedicated to all segments of fishing with programming that covers instruction, tips, tournaments, travel, food, boating, outdoor lifestyle and more. WFN's wide-ranging programming lineup includes primetime theme nights, regional bureaus from across the nation, a selection of the best international series and the most diverse species coverage of any TV channel. Featuring popular programs hosted by the world's top anglers, the network also delivers a weekly news program, WFN News, and the schedule includes a variety of exclusive lifestyle shows including Hookin' up with Mariko Izumi. WFN also delivers the beauty of fishing in stunning High Definition with WFN HD, a separate network that delivers 100 percent High Definition programming 24/7.
Like millions of anglers across the continent, WFN is committed to supporting important conservation issues and groups that are fighting to preserve North America’s waterways and fisheries. WFN is also dedicated to using its resources and powerful media platform to help grow the sport by promoting and championing groups and organizations that are helping to inspire a new generation of anglers to appreciate and respect the world’s natural wonders.
Originally launched in December 2005, today WFN and WFN HD are available in more than 20 million households through North American cable, satellite and telecommunications distributors. For more information, visit http://www.WFN.TV.

Final Phase of Voting is Open at www.WFN.TV/fishingtown Until
September 28 – Winner Announced in October

Media Contact: Doug Drotman - WFN (631-462-1198 or doug@drotmanpr.com)

Early Summer Performance Identifies Opportunities and Trends

With summer behind us, we turn our attention to reviewing this past year's leisure market performance. While the North American economy still has a long way to go to a full recovery, we are seeing positive signs of growth - and shifts - in the local tourism economy.

Hotel performance to the end of June points to a strong recovery for the city in both leisure and corporate travel. June occupancy rates in the city were 79.7%, up a whopping 12.4% over the previous June. RevPar rose 22.3% to $78.21 per room. For the year to date ending June 30th, overall annual occupancy rose 4.4% to 66.4% and RevPar rose 8% to 63.86. The national YTD average occupancy rate was 57.3%. (sourced from PKF Consulting Inc. We encourage our tourism partners seeking more detailed occupancy performance data to contact PKF directly at http://www.pkfcanada.com for their range of consulting products and services)

We're still a ways from a full recovery in the North American corporate travel markets as organizations continue to send fewer delegates to meetings but we seem to have seen an increase in the number of meetings held in the city this year, albeit with fewer participants per meeting.

Despite some 2009 and first quarter 2010 stability in the US markets, we seem to have struggled a little in May and June, with decreases to the end of June in the 12% range. these are the latest numbers we have on U.S. residents crossing into Canada and we are certainly waiting to see the July and August stats before fully evaluating and commenting on the US travel market. However, given what we've seen from the travel centres and the hotel performance, we are observing a shift in travel motivators from our U.S. guests. While the traditional angling market has fallen off (with demographics aligning with some of the hardest hit economic regions) a growth in the touring market, primarily motorcycle and RV, has offset some of that decline. The lesson here is simply this, we cannot discount the US travel markets but rather start marketing to emerging markets using new tools.

Attractions performance also seems to have stabilized with modest increases reported by some attractions partners. Overall, however, we're not hearing anyone in the city cry that the sky is falling, but rather hearing some positive trends and optimistic outlooks to future performance. One thing is certain and that is that we all, as an industry, have to keep moving forward constructively, positively and productively to take advantage of the changes in the consumer travel motivators so as to keep this upswing going.

With performance data for July and August still outstanding, we'll be preparing a seasonal wrap up sometime in the coming months to coinside with the development of our 2011-2013 strategy.