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, and are up and running and provide meeting minutes, transition information and other relevant information to help the tourism industry understand the process.

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