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