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 @

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