Saturday, January 16, 2010

Canada's Great Outdoors Begins in Canada's Great Outdoor City

On Friday January 15,th, Ontario Tourism Minister Monique Smith kicked off a new and innovative partnership program with a host of regional, provincial and national partners, both private and public sector, to expand upon our region's strategic tourism direction that will help position Thunder Bay as Canada's best outdoor city.

"Canada's Great Outdoors" is OTMPC's U.S. market multi media marketing campaign to promote Northwestern Ontario's outdoor experiences as being the best. This is a natural alignment with our local strategy and has provided a great opportunity to increase brand awareness in key U.S. markets.

This year, Canada's Great Outdoors is sponsored by Tourism Thunder Bay, ensuring our position as a gateway city is front and centre throughout the campaign. We've gone one step further by proclaiming that "Canada's Great Outdoors Begins in Canada's Great Outdoor City." through a dedicated landing page at This site takes visitors to all of the suppliers and services that relate to their outdoor experience. There's even a special sector for travel deals for visitors who fly in and need to provision themselves in the city and links to both Sunset Country and the North of Superior Travel Region (

This campaign is being supported by a number of private sector partners including the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority and Porter Airlines, companies that have great brand recognition and share our vision for innovation and an entrepreneurial approach to new market development. Porter Airlines ( is offering 10% off air travel from the Chicago area to Thunder Bay all summer long for travel booked by January 27th. We'll be launching several radio campaigns with sponsors Porter, Wilderness North ( Golf (, Golf Thunder Bay (, Valhalla Inn (, National Car Rental and others that will improve our name recognition and brand and create unique suggested itineraires that combine outdoor and urban experiences.

So why would a city sponsor a pan northern program dedicated to the outdoors? What's in it for the city?

The answer is. Lots.

It starts with an economic development theory called clustering. Many of Thunder Bay's 1400 businesses that rely on tourism receipts have a connection to the outdoor experience in some way. This forms a tourism industry cluster of businesses that all have some degree of role and support each other in many cases.

At the core is the experience. In this case, outdoor experiences. The primary ring around that is attractions that cater to the core experience such as parks, lodges, trails, charter boat operators and the like. The next ring are the supporting businesses such as hotels, restaurants, outdoor equipment and power sport retailers with the next ring being comprised of ancillary and complimentary attractions that can include golf, events, urban attractions and other things. The final or tertiary ring is comprised of all the businesses that work behind the scenes to support tourism including insurance and legal, food supply chain, screen printers, marketers and others that the consumer does not see yet whose success depends on the health of the tourism economy.

Almost equally important is that the Canada's Great Outdoors program aligns with our strategy around the outdoor experiences. This is the #1 travel motivator for North American leisure markets and the top experiences encompass what we offer at our door step. Thunder Bay is a natural part of their travel pattern, a hub if you will, and tens of thousands of visitors going into the region pass through the city. We have an opportunity to maximize the economic impacts through improving visitor retention. There are services and attractions here that the smaller communities closer to their experience don't have. In many cases, the experience themselves are on our doors steps such as parks, angling and a number of outfitters who use Thunder Bay as a base.

Our alignment with this program, through the Northern Ontario Tourism Strategy, recognizes the commonality of tourism experiences and markets in Northwestern Ontario. The visitor does not care about travel regions based on political boundaries. They simply want a trophy experience.

Our participation in the program has leveraged over $450 000 in marketing value support from OTMPC, CTC, and other partners. In these days of fiscal restraint, a 10 to 1 leverage ration is exceptional value.

Strategically, we have a longer term big picture approach to this program. The recently announced realignment of Ontario's Travel region will mean that the Northwest region will have to work closer together around our commonalities to develop product, educate our industry and market our experiences with a more unified and professional approach to ensure we are successful on the global stage. Our regional involvement is a show of support for the entire regional industry and our contribution to a program that will bring benefit to the whole region. When the region does well, the city does well and vise versa. Its imperative that we put our natural protectionist tendencies around our traditional boundaries aside and pull our resources together.

We've had great response so far at the Pheasant Run All Canada Show from operators across the region, even those whose clients don't typically use Thunder Bay as a gateway but understand how we have to pool our resources together in the northwest constructively and creatively.

Consumer response has been great as well. Being the only city at the show, we're getting a lot of positive comments and interest from Chicago area consumers, including a few celebrities, so our brand awareness with avid and affluent consumers is increasing.

We have the ingredients to become known as one of the planet's most exotic travel destinations for the outdoor avid markets. We just need to combine those ingredients to speak to our consumers with a confidence that what we have is world class.

We've seen a lot of success already in two years of partnerships with OTMPC and others and this is another example of what we see as innovative partnership building to move our city and region ahead. Its not going to happen overnight but as I like to say: "There's two good times to plant a tree. 20 years ago and today."

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