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.