Friday, June 17, 2011

Cold April Influences U.S. Traffic Results

The Spring spike in fuel prices and miserably cold weather (remember multiple snow falls and record hail in April prior to this year?) are being reflected in the early spring performance of our U.S. source markets. U.S. visitor traffic through the Pigeon River crossing declined 17% in April over the same month a year previous.

In April 2011, 1 792 US residents crossed into Canada south of Thunder Bay versus 2 163 a year previous. Same day traffic dropped most significantly to 643 this year compared to 924 in 2010. Single night stays rose to 172 from 151 and multiple night stays decreased to 977 from 1088 a year ago.

We're certainly hoping this isn't a trend we'll see continue. In 2010 we noticed a increase in U.S. touring traffic through Thunder Bay accommodation providers from mid spring to fall, signalling a shift in travel segments. Motorcycle and auto touring gained in popularity while the hunting and angling markets remained soft throughout the region. A continuing soft U.S. economy, $4 a gallon fuel and a horribly cold and snowy spring combine to influence early spring travel.

Based on last year's patterns and strong consumer response to our media channels, we continued to invest in US Midwest touring marketing such as AAA Living and Home and Away to build awareness in touring. To counter the current economic environment in attracting U.S. visitors, it is imperative that we focus on the calibre of the touring route around Lake Superior as an epic iconic "must see" experience that targets the avid educated and affluent traveller.

With a 330 million person source market beginning only 45 minutes drive from the city and indicators like the increase in motorcycle sales this year, we need to explore opportunities to shift strategy and seek new U.S. markets utilizing travel motivation and economic consumer trend data.

Artists and Vendors Wanted for Waterfront District Street Fair

Plans are underway for the Ontario Provincial Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.®) Rally to be held in Thunder Bay July 28, 29, 30, 2011. This event invites H.O.G.® members from across Ontario, Canada, the United States and Globally to participate in a fun-filled weekend focused on riding and ridership.

It is anticipated that 600 participants will register and attend the event.

The Waterfront District BIA is planning to host a free summer event called the Waterfront District Street Fair on Friday, July 29, 2011 in conjunction with the H.O.G. Rally. This free street event will take place on Red River Road between Cumberland Street and Court Street and will host a display of antique cars (pending) for all visitors to our event to enjoy as well as artists, vendors, crafts, inflatable bouncers and other activities for children. The Waterfront District Street Fair will take place 10:00am – 6:00 pm in conjunction with the other activities taking place that day, including a show and shine plus live music one street over at the Casino.

If you are interested in renting 10x10 booth space as a participating Vendor or Artist where participants (and local residents) can shop, they invite you to participate in this event. A BIA member participating in this event will receive their space at no cost; however, will be charged a $25 tent rental fee if one is required. A non- BIA member is required to pay the cost of the space rental ($50) as well as the tent rental ($50), if required. Attached is a vendor registration form. Please complete this form and return it to the address provided. Spaces are limited and will be assigned on a first come first serve basis. Full payment must accompany your application (cheques made payable to: The Waterfront District BIA).

If you require more information, please contact Natalie O’Doherty, BIA Coordinator, at or 807-343-9032.

Applications are first-come first-served and the final deadline is June 30th, 2011 Space is limited.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thunder Bay April Hotel Occupancy Remains Strong

Thunder Bay's April hotel performance continues to demonstrate growth with one of Canada's highest occupancy rates for the month.

April occupancy grew 4.8 points to 73% from 68.2% in April 2010 while RevPar increased 3.7 points to $67.68 from $65.28 a year ago. Average daily rate dropped however, from $95.74 to $92.71, signalling continued price competition within the marketplace that's ultimately benefiting the consumer. The Canadian average occupancy rate was 56.9%, up only .6 points from April 2010's 56.3%. Only the red hot Regina market and Yukon outperformed Thunder Bay on the occupancy level.

A continued strong meeting and convention segment, including the Northwestern Ontario Mines and Minerals Symposium, drove the April economy followed by a series of modest sport tourism events that, combined, contributed significantly to the city's overall occupancy performance. Thunder Bay's reputation provincially for hosting unique quality sport and corporate events combined with our significant air corridor coverage continues to be our strength in growing these important tourism segments.

Tourism Thunder Bay reports local accommodation performance from data provided by PKF Consulting. Tourism partners seeking greater detail of information should contact PKF directly

Tourism Thunder Bay Welcomes European Cruise Executives.

This past weekend Tourism Thunder Bay had the privilege to host five European cruise and group tour executives in the City as part of a Great Lakes industry familiarization tour coordinated by the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition.

The Coalition, of which Thunder Bay is a member, represents over twenty Canadian and U.S. ports, cities, vessel managers and tourism organizations. This bi-national group is successful in leveraging resources to attract the global cruise shipping industry to consider the great Lakes for future itinerary development.

Representatives from German, French and British operators were accompanied by Stephen Burnett, our great friend and GLCC Executive Director as part of a ten day tour. Chartering a Amphibious Caravan from Watson's Skyways, they were able to land on the water at Red Rock (another GLCC Member) before continuing on to Thunder Bay for an overnight stay and tour.

While here, we escorted them around in style to showcase the calibre of shore services and transportation we're capable of providing as a community. We utilized Prestige Limousine's limo bus and driver Rob for the two days, providing the perfect platform to showcase the best our community has to offer them.

After settling into their hotel, they were taken up to Hillcrest Park, the Pool 6 Cruise Terminal and the new Prince Arthur's Landing development. From there it was onto Gargoyles for an epic dinner reception with some of Tourism Thunder Bay's partners in cruise shipping attraction. Doug Morrill, Gargoyle's owner and chef out did himself with a custom menu featuring all locally sourced ingredients including bison, pickerel, fresh greens and more. This was backed by some exceptional service from Gargoyle's team.

Following a great rest and breakfast at the Valhalla, our guests toured Fort William Historical Park, Kakabeka Falls, and finishing off at Whitewater Golf Club with a course tour and lunch. From there it was off to Wasaya where a chartered Pilatus whisked them onto Duluth to continue their fact finding journey.

Later this year, we'll welcome the C Columbus for two visits. While we have no commercial cruise vessels yet confirmed for 2012, we continue to work regionally in attracting vessel operators for the year and subsequent cruising seasons.

A big thanks goes out to all of Tourism Thunder Bay's partners involved in the familiarization tour. This familiarization tour was also made possible through funding provided through the Regional Tourism Organization and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture. We continue to work with local and global industry partners in growing the cruise segment that enhances Thunder Bay's reputation as a port community.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Get Ready For the Motorcycle Market!

Thunder Bay sits comfortably on the shore of the world's largest freshwater lake and along one of North America's iconic coastal touring routes. Growing our tourism economy depends on doing more to promote this route through a regional approach.

Motorcycle touring, in particular, is a growing trend being noted by everyone from border staff to hotels, attractions and visitor centers. U.S. motorcycle sales up 7.2% in the first quarter of 2011 with some 102 000 motorcycles sold in the US during the first three months of this year. Leading the growth is the scooter (49%), dual sport (24.3%) and road bike segments (6.9%). more people are getting out riding and more boomers are hitting the road.

We, like many others around the lake, want to position the Lake Superior coastal touring area as one of the world's best motorcycle touring routes and that means offering more than just good roads and scenic vistas. It means a completely motorcycle friendly tourism industry ready and willing to welcome and serve the needs of motorcyclists. One need only to be an avid follower of Lake Superior magazine to understand what a stunning part of the world this is.

As part of our commitment to industry education, we've teamed up with Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association, RTO13 and Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture to bring a motorcycle touring readiness workshop to Thunder Bay June 21st. The session takes place at the Victoria Inn, coincidentaly the host hotel for this summer's Ontario H.O.G. Rally.

We've contracted Chris Hughes of BC Hughes Consulting, one of the Province's best known experts in experiential tourism, an avid enthusiast of all things 2-wheeled and is the follow responsible for Bruce County Tourism's spectacular presence on the Ontario tourism scene prior to setting out to share his knowledge with others.

This workshop is open to any tourism establishment interested in becoming more welcoming to the motorcycle touring segment and committed to enhancing the visitor experience along one of the continent's best scenic drive routes.

If you're interested in attended the Thunder Bay session, check out the online invitation here or email to register.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tourism Thunder Bay Celebrates Tourism Week

Tourism Thunder Bay is celebrating Tourism Week in Ontario with a number of initiatives developed to encourage local residents to rediscover the great attractions and events around the city this summer.

On Tuesday June 7th, Tourism Thunder Bay, in collaboration with the Prince Arthur Hotel, is hosting a day long city familiarization tour for front line tourism professionals in the city, attracting visitor center, hotel, restaurant and retail front line staff from across the city. The tour features stops at major attractions around the city and provides tourism industry professionals with information that improves their ability to be a tourism ambassador for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each year.

Guide services are provided by Lake Superior Visits and the on board lunch supported by the Prince Arthur Hotel. The tour will be departing from the Terry Fox Visitor Centre at 8:30 AM on Tuesday June 7th.

“The annual tourism tour is a popular and educational event that trains our city’s tourism professionals about the great attractions and events around the community. Our goal is to develop a well-educated tourism workforce that can provide visitors with the information that encourages them to see more and stay longer.” according to Tourism Division Manager, Paul Pepe.

On Friday June 10th, the Terry Fox Visitor Centre will be celebrating Tourism Week with persians and coffee. Visitors and residents are encouraged to stop by between 10 AM and 3 PM to meet with visitor services specialists, pick up a copy of the City’s visitor experience magazine and learn more about the city’s wide range of experiences.

The June 13th edition MyTBay features information on the city’s events and attractions. With almost one quarter of visitors to the city coming to visit friends and family, local residents play an important role as tourism ambassadors. Understanding the city’s many cultural and culinary attractions and events helps residents entertain their guests and helps grow our tourism economy at the same time.

For more information on Thunder Bay’s summer attractions and events, visit

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

March U.S. Traffic Update

U.S. visitation to Thunder Bay showed a decline over the previous year, pointing to a continued challenge in attracting close haul markets in the shoulder seasons.

2 180 US residents crossed into Canada at Pigion River this past March, down from 2 813 residents in March 2010.

We saw reductions across all three catagories. Same day traffic dropped to 681 from 916, one night stays dropped to 172 from 193 and multiple night stays dropped to 1 327 from 1 704. Our March U.S. visitation is generally focused on the Cook County source market that sees families and couples head into the city for shopping, theatre, culinary and other getaway activities. Our second market is sport travel, highlited by the popularity of the Sleeping Giant Loppet with U.S. ski enthusiasts as well as hockey, curling and swim events that attract U.S. participants in modest numbers.

High fuel prices and currency parity are issues that have likely contributed to this decline. However, weather is also a factor not to be overlooked. March 2010 was well above seasonal, with a complete snow melt along the highway corridor occuring prior to spring break. This past March, continual cold and snowy weather left the corridor less than ideal for road travel, likely prompting many potential visitors to stay home.

We continue to monitor the economic environment, changes to travel motivators, and evaluating our competitive advantages. This guides us in making adjustments to our marketing and PR strategies in the U.S. source markets. Given that the U.S. is a 330 million person source market starting only 45 minutes south of the city, its foolish to eliminate out US marketing strategies. Rather, we need to continually refine our focus in engaging avid experience seekers who's travel passions and interests align with our product strengths.

Fort William Historical Park Offers Great New Adventures

Fort William Historical Park continues to evolve its already fantastic programming by taking advantage of one of the city's most incredible urban park settings to improve visitor retention.

This year, the Fort is promoting outdoor adventures, including canoe and kayak rentals (Don't worry, they're new so you don't have to worry about patching birch bark). This is a great way to introduce new paddlers to the sport or cater to adventure seekers who want to pack light while touring the region.

The Fort is also promoting overnight tent and RV camping at its recently opened campground and has created nature trails on its own 25 acre island located upstream from the Fort on the fabled Kaministiquia River, a critical water trade route to the exploration and expansion into Western Canada.

And of course, with a full summer schedule of summer weekend events kicking off with Rendezvous with Italy on June 11 and 12 and the historic site open daily, there's more to keep adventure seekers here in the city longer.

Of course, Fort William Historical Park is already one of Canada's top outdoor attractions. The addition of this programming enhances that reputation and builds strength into Thunder Bay's tourism position as one of Canada's Best Outdoor Cities.

Porter Increases Flight Capacity to Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay's reputation as a popular leisure, business and sport tourism destination continues to grow and increased air capacity into the city is expanding with it.

Porter Airlines has increased flight frequency to the Thunder Bay market from Toronto City Centre Airport. Weekday frequency increases to five flights per weekday from three. Sunday frequency increases to four flights and Saturday frequency remains at two flights.

Weekday departures times from Toronto to Thunder Bay are now 7 AM, 9:15 AM, 2:05 PM, 5 PM and 6:55 PM.

Porter's convenience and exceptional reputation for quality has been an asset to helping us attract avid leisure, sport and corporate guests to the city and region. In fact, the April/May edition of the Re:Porter, the airline's in flight magazine, features a full page advertisement promoting Thunder Bay as an ideal city for meetings and conferences. Our evolving MC and IT strategy weaves our reputation as one of Canada's Best Outdoor Cities into our urban capacity for hosting unique corporate events and offering pre and post conference experiences as diverse as skiing, fly in angling retreats, biking, hiking or just exploring. Conference planners looking for something different seem to welcome the departure from the concrete jungles of large city convention halls.

For more information on planning your "Unconventional Convention, visit our site.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Multiplex Citizen and Industry Input Sessions Coming Up.

The City of Thunder Bay will be looking for citizens’ views, comments and suggestions on preliminary facility configuration and site options for a proposed Multipurpose Event Centre (Multiplex).

"We want to hear from the public as the planning phase moves into its next stage," said Mayor Keith Hobbs. "We will be narrowing down site locations and business models for more detailed study." The Multiplex is proposed in the City’s Renew Thunder Bay Plan as a high priority, major legacy project over the next five years. The next set of Open Houses will allow the public to provide their input on where the facility should be located and how they would like to see it operated.

"This facility could be a major economic development catalyst for the City, but it must also be affordable to taxpayers and have a strategic location that maximizes opportunity to draw events, users and visitors at a regional, national and international level," said City Manager Tim Commisso.

There will be two Open Houses held, with presentations at 7 pm followed by a question and answer forum and feedback opportunities:

Wednesday, June 1
6:30 – 9 pm
DaVinci Centre, Marco Polo Room, 340 Waterloo St. S

Thursday, June 2
6:30 – 9 pm
Italian Cultural Centre, Main Hall, 132 Algoma St. S

For more information or questions, contact Stacey Levanen @ 625-3650.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thunder Bay Makes Tripadvisor's Top 25 Canadian Destinations List

Thunder Bay continues to improve its brand position as Canada's Best Outdoor City and a increasingly desirable destination or gateway for visitors seeking some of North America's best outdoor experiences, sport tourism or conference experience.

TripAdvisor, the hugely popular online consumer travel portal, has recently announced Canada's top twenty five city destinations based on traveller reviews and Thunder Bay has made that list with a number twenty four ranking.

This is the first time we've made the list and is testament to the City's transformation in recent years to a culturally rich and eclectic urban centre with intimate connections to its natural environment. Looking at the City's spectacular waterfront transformation, growth in the university and college sectors, a growing reputation as a leading edge health sciences, research and mining centre, the explosion of our culinary and arts scene and major attraction investments in the National Marine Conservation Area, Provincial Parks and attractions, its easy to see the momentum that is propelling our industry and reputation upwards. The leadership and investments being shown in various economic sectors highlights the importance of an interconnected economy and how they can contribute to a stronger tourism sector.

Certainly, our goal is to continually improve on our position and rankings in this and other consumer measurement channels by building equity on the Canada's Best Outdoor City vision statement. We'll achieve this through a stable long term approach that focuses on our key asset strengths yet demonstrates flexibility to adapt to shifts in the consumer market segments.

March Hotel Occupancy Continued its Occupancy Rate Rise.

March 2011 continued to be a strong month for Thunder Bay's accommodation sector with occupancy levels among the highest in Canada. Healthy increases are reported over March 2010, which in itself was stronger over the previous year. Lets face it. 2009 was a year most of the global tourism industry wants to forget anyway.

Hotel occupancy rose to 72%, up 2.7 points from 69.3 in March 2010. Average daily rate, however dipped to $92.32 from $96.54, signaling price competition among various properties to attract guests. This price competition translated into a slight dip in revenue per available room by 0.6% to $66.43 from $66.86 a year ago.
Overall, Thunder Bay's hotel performance continued to outshine the nation average of 57.6% and our growth rate outpaced the 1.6% national average. Revenue per available room locally, however, remains lower than the national average of $70.82.

A strong March is likely due to strong mining and health sciences related domestic corporate travel to the city, and reasonably strong sport tourism attendance for the annual Sibley Ski tour. While spring break brought some regional domestic leisure traffic into the city, the strong Canadian dollar has translated into many heading into Minnesota.

We report hotel performance based on data supplied by PKF Consulting. For our tourism partners seeking more detailed data, they can contact PKF directly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


In Celebration of National Tourism Week – June 6 – 12th, 2011, Tourism Thunder Bay is giving away an incredible Blues Festival getaway for two in Thunder Bay.

The Thunder Bay Blues Festival is one of the largest and most anticipated events of the summer.
Blues fans gather on the shores of Lake Superior to enjoy a spectacular line-up of well known international musicians and an all-star line-up of national and local talent.
Now in its 10th year – this event scheduled for July 8th – 10th at Marina Park - promises to delivery more of the best fans have come to expect!

The Prize Package coordinated by Lake Superior Visits includes Round-trip airfare for Two people to Thunder Bay; 4 day Car Rental with National Car & Truck Rental; 3 nights accommodations at McVicar Manor B&B; two weekend VIP passes to the 10th Annual Thunder Bay Blues Festival; gift certificates for the world-famous Hoito Restaurant, the Prospector Steak House and Lot66 Restro Lounge & Wine Bar; a Thunder Bay harbour tour by with great views of the Sleeping Giant and the Blues Festival; Unique Personal Transportation to and from the Festival and/or bike rentals courtesy of Superior Pedicabs and all applicable taxes.

“This campaign encourages locals to become ambassadors and invite their friends and family to visit Thunder Bay this summer with a fun contest theme that showcases just how much there is to see and do in our great city.” According to Tourism Manager Paul Pepe.

Out-of-town friends and family can enter the contest at
The contest opens at 12 noon May 17, 2011 & closes at 12 midnight June 20th. More information about the 10th Annual Thunder Bay Blues Festival can be found at

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Small Businesses Playing an Increasing Role as Tourism Ambassadors

I've noticed something positive lately around the community with respect to the growing number of businesses, some peripheral to the core tourism industry, displaying and distributing our Thunder Bay visitor information.

This is great to see and speaks to a growing movement within our business community to be local ambassadors for all the great activities and experiences that exist in and around the city. This information is being picked up, not only by visitors but by local residents too and that's important by educating locals, increasing their pride in the city and becoming ambassadors themselves.

For the past few years a deliberate element of our media strategy has been the placement of our visitor information in grocery stores during the summer and Christmas seasons. With over 26% of visitors to our city here to visit friends and family, and those visitors needing to be fed, its a logical distribution point and one that has proven effective in increasing local awareness of our range of popular attractions and hidden gems. It gets people out exploring, extends their stay and improves the overall economic impact of the local industry, resulting in greater economic sustainability.

Our Visitor magazine is showing up, however, in a wider range of locations than just hotel lobbies, gas stations and grocers. I'm seeing them on the counters of small neighborhood restaurants. Golden Crown Pizza and Hodder Greeks on North Cumberland and 31A Junot Cafe on Junot St are but three examples I'll single out and recognize for their role in helping us sell the city. All are fantastic little neighborhood operations that I frequent on a regular basis. On separate occasions, I've noticed the Thunder Bay Experience magazine on display in their businesses and eventually I asked the owners what made them consider having them on display.

These three small neighborhood businesses see themselves as part of our larger tourism economy. I've been interested to learn that in addition to the local markets they service, they are all popular stops for visitors to the city looking for a quick tasty meal and even wi-fi access. All are on or near major arteries near the highway and relatively close to motels and hotels. Its been informative to understand the tourism value to their small businesses and value added the provide their clients by having our high quality 96 page magazine available for free.

One younger employee of one of these establishments remarked to me, holding the magazine in his hand "I don't know how anyone can say there's nothing to do here after reading this book." And that is our intention with this strategy. Converting locals to be ambassadors and help visitors find their desired experiences.

According to Stats Canada, over 1315 businesses in Thunder Bay rely on tourism receipts for some or all of their revenue. It becomes easy to see how so many businesses can and do benefit from tourism and how many others playing a role to help inform their clientele.

What has been also interesting has been to hear the owners and employees of these establishments talking with pride about what they learned from reading our visitor information about their own back yard how its increased their pride in the city and how they've proceeded to educate others (customers, friends and family) on what we have to offer. I've always said that to sell Thunder Bay to the world, we have to sell it to ourselves first. We have to be proud of where we're from and what we have, confident in our community and celebrate our uniqueness and even our quirks. These small businesses are helping us play a major role in getting the message out. Its exciting to think of our entire business community all being tourism ambassadors, educated on the wide range of our experiences and making visitor's stays more enjoyable and ultimately increasing the economic impacts through increased visitor retention.

If you are a small business that is interested in being a tourism ambassador, contact our Coordinator of Visitor Services, Rose Marie Tarnowski at who can arrange pick up or delivery of our 2011 Visitor Experience magazines.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

January Visitor Centre Traffic Up in January, Down in February...What More Can We Say?

With the four laning construction work and new entrance being built into the Terry Fox Visitor Center, the winter's been a little hectic around there.

That is why its good to report January's visitation to the centre was up 53% over Janaury 2010. This year, 717 Visitors, largely from Ontario (458), followed by Manitoba (91), visited the centre, versue 468 the previous year. The reason is very likely tied to the Ontario Winter Special Olympic Games held here in the city that saw hundreds of participants and family members froma cross Ontario attend. Canadian traffic dominated at 89%, US traffic was 61 residents (9%) and overseas traffic accounted for 18 (or 3%) visitors. This percentage breakdown is normal for January as US traffic and long haul transient traffic slows during the winter months.

February, however, was not so great and we did see a decline in traffic over the previous year by about 19% to 547 from 676 the year before. Once again, Canadian traffic accounted for 89%, US traffic at 10% and overseas at about 1%. February saw a significant number of snowfall days over the previous February, likely resulting in less highway traffic along the north shore. Snowfalls days can generally decrease daily visitation by up to 70%.

As we move into the spring and summer, the construction in the area will be ramping up even more so than it has through the winter months that saw a lot of rock blasting in the area. Expect some detours in the area and eventually a new park entrance roughly 800 meters to the east of the existing entrance towards the highway 527 intersection. I suspect the detour situation may compromise our statistical The new entrance will create safer sight lines and dedicated turn lanes, replacing the current location on a curve that when compounded by the four name divided road, would become too dangerous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

January U.S. Visitation Down Overall But Economic Impacts Steady Through Increased Retention.

U.S. visitation to Thunder Bay in January 2011 posted a slight decrease over 2010 but the positive story is that more visitors stayed longer.

While the continued decrease overall is cause for concern, with 1408 U.S. residents crossing into Ontario versus 1476 the previous December, a closer look at the numbers reveals something interesting and somewhat encouraging with respect to increased visitor retention. Obviously, the longer a visitor stays in the city or region, the greater their economic impact so keeping the visitors we have staying and exploring longer, the more that tourism partners benefit.

While the January numbers overall were down, single and 2+ nights saw significant growth. Single night traffic rose from 82 to 130 visitors in 2011 over 2010 while 2+ nights increased from 624 to 720 over 2010. Same day traffic took the the full force of the decline, plummeting
to 558 from 770.

Using Ministry of Tourism regional tourism profile data for the City of Thunder Bay, the average U.S. resident spends an average $238 per visit on overnight trips and only $160 for day trips. Therefore the total economic impact for January 2011 is $291 580 versus $291 228, an ever so slight increase over the previous year. It drives home the point that while the number of visitors is one important measurement, total impact is equally if not more important. Looking beyond the surface, analysing shifting visitation trends and understanding the economic impacts of those shifts is critical to looking at the bigger picture with greater accuracy. Of course we still want to see increased visitation AND spending but its important during these challenging economic times for the overall industry, to celebrate every victory.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Selling Great Lakes Cruise Shipping Potential to The Travel Trade At Cruise Shipping Miami

This past March 13-17, Tourism Thunder Bay once again has a visible presence at Seatrade's Cruise Shipping Miami Conference as part of our active involvement in the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, a twenty member bi-national partnership of US and Canadian Port Authorities, Tourism organizations and vessel management firms operating within the lake system.

Seatrade's Cruise Shipping Miami is thew world's largest annual gathering of cruise shipping industry executives, destinations and cruise shipping industry supply chain representatives, attracting over 8000 delegates and over 900 exhibitors selling everything from pre packaged foods to destinations, vessel furnishings and even entire vessels.

While the event is still largely dominated by the big six large cruise shipping giants, which represent big ship cruising and make up the bulk of the global industry, the last few years have given the small cruising market a foothold at the show, beginning in 2010 with educational segments dedicated to the expedition and discovery cruising segments, a small but growing niche that attracts more active avid cruisers who have tried large ships and want something smaller or simply want itineraries that are more authentic and personal.

Expedition or more appropriately "Exploration" and Discovery cruising is what the Great Lakes is all about. Seaway dimensions limiting vessels to 740 feet in length by 78 feet in beam effectively restrict the large ships from entering the locks above Montreal but a small but growing fleet of smaller intimate cruising vessels are plying the world's waterways, hungry for new cruising destinations.

Some interesting trends this year pointed to an overall growth projection across all cruising segments and several new builds and recent transactions of the existing discovery fleet, estimated at around 63 vessels, prove that the market has tremendous futurity. For the Great Lakes, we remain a relative hidden gem among more well known destinations globally. however, having a tremendous source market close at hand, air corridor connectivity, safe cruising waters and unique natural and developed attractions (such as the locks themselves) form the ingredients to create memorable and value enriched itineraries for ship owners and tour operators alike.

The exploration and discovery markets are traditional avid, upscale adventurers who want to learn about the areas they visit, to absorb authentic experiences, see something the masses do not and do so with an expectation of an incredibly high level of quality service. Many of the tour operators that cater to this segment are in the 50-250 passenger realm. Over the past thirteen years, we've seen visits by the Clelia II, a 100 passenger vessel, Ponnant Cruise's "Le Levant" and Hapag Lloyd's C.Columbus, which will be returning to the City later this summer for two stops.

Our coalition this year was represented by our Executive Director, representatives of the U.S. Seaway Authority, Toronto Port Authority and yours truly, providing a broad scope of information to prospective new ship operators by being able to accommodate their vessel logistics, inspections and itinerary queries. This year our cruising coalition saw Wawa and Red Rock join, ensuring that five of our twenty members are from the Lake Superior area alone, joining Duluth, Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, a testament to the potential everyone around the lake sees in growing this segment.

As in past years, our mission was to promote the potential of the lakes to the cruise operators and vessel owners, learn best practices and source ideas for improving our own destination marketing and development opportunities. Our coalition's work culminated in our Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Dinner Reception, held at the famed Delano Hotel on South Beach where members of the Coalition met with the executives of several discovery lines and vessel mangers over supper to discuss cruise opportunities and entice them to consider the region as a profitable new destination to serve their loyal existing clientele and attract new markets.

While Cruise Shipping represents a little over one half of a percent of Thunder Bay's overall tourism receipts annually, its a strategic segment in that it is high profile and aligned with respected and renowned brands in cruising and unique and exotic visitor experiences. In 2010, ten vessel visits generated approximately $423 000 in local and regional economic impacts, including passenger, crew and vessel services and supplies. In Thunder Bay alone, over 36 companies were positively impacted by our cruise ship industry from attractions to retail galleries, transportation, security and vessel supply firms. We spend several thousand dollars annually in landscape upkeep to the terminal and our marketing and promotional budget allocated to cruise shipping is a little under $8000 annually, representing slightly less than 0.8% of our operating budget. The collaborative partnership nature of the organization and the need to promote the entire region to operators, rather than a single city, allow our modest annual investment to leverage significant support from other partners and orders of government.

At the Pool 6 Cruise Ship Terminal (I really hope to find a better name at some point) we've invested close to a quarter million dollars in transforming a former grain elevator dock and brown field into a safe, secure and aesthetically pleasing and security compliant passenger terminal. While much work still needs to be done over the coming years, we've adopted a pragmatic incremental approach to making investments in what is already a tremendous asset of an 800 foot log deep-water marine slip. We've painted, created a park like setting, planted flowers, flown flags and welcome banners, installed complimentary wi-fi, created a shore side crew lounge, provided crew transportation, and ensured a customer first approach to delivering exceptional customer service, making guests, crew and vessel operators alike feel welcome in the community.

The development of the future Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, our significant air connectivity to source markets, our unique cultural composition and our own spectacular transformation of our waterfront are but several examples of the evolving assets on the lake system that have the potential attract vessels into the future and can very well boost the economic impact of the cruising market for our area and raise the profile and reputation of the community and region as a unique and exotic cruising destination like any where else on the planet. Quite simply, this is how we have to think about the assets we have and position ourselves to the market. I've often said that we have to be confident and bold. In fact, our entire tourism strategy speaks that language every day in our vision to become regarded as Canada's Best Outdoor City.

There are two good times to plant a tree. Twenty years ago and today. Taking a long term collaborative approach will generate greater interest in the lakes and grow a financially and environmentally sustainable cruise over time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


One of Thunder Bay's newest fall sport tourism events is back after an incredibly successful inaugural race in 2010. The Board of Directors of the Thunder Bay Marathon - Miles with the
Giant are pleased to announce that registration for our second annual event on September 18, 2011 is now open. Individuals can register their participation in the marathon, half-marathon or 10K races at Registration costs start at $90 for the marathon, $70 for the half-marathon, and $40 for the 10K.

“Our first event in 2010 was a great success with 846 runners from over 75 communities across Canada, the US, Sweden and Kenya,” said Barry Streib, President & Chair.
Once again this year, organizers are pleased to confirm the return of running legend Dick Beardsley. Beardsley is best known for his incredible race in the 1982 Boston Marathon. That race, on a very hot day, was dubbed the “Duel in the Sun” as he battled world record holder Alberto Salazar down to the finish line.

“I’m very excited Thunder Bay to be coming back for a second year to kick-off the Miles With the Giant races in September,” says Beardsley. “Last year’s event was extraordinarily successful, and I know that the Thunder Bay Marathon is well on its way to becoming a world renowned event.”

Beardsley will be the guest speaker at a pre-race Pasta Dinner at the Da Vinci Centre on September 17th. Dinner tickets are available through the online registration form or by calling (807) 627-7770.

Participants also have the option to raise pledges for their favourite charity through the
Run for a Reason Charity Pledge Program by simply choosing a charity during the registration process. The participating charities are: Camp Quality, Easter Seals Society, Habitat for Humanity, Heart & Stroke Foundation, and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation.

Sponsors and volunteers are still needed to make the Thunder Bay Marathon - Miles with the Giant a huge success. Visit for more information.

Monday, March 7, 2011

City Tourism Partners Win City Green Awards

Two city tourism partners have been recognized this month for their efforts to reduce waste and energy consumption. As many know, I am an advocate of seeing Thunder Bay's tourism industry becoming leaders in urban sustainable tourism. Its been great to see so many local tourism partners embrace these principals and understand that environmental and economic sustainability can co exist.

The Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel and Suites, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, recently installed new boilers that have reduced energy consumption by a whopping 30% and installed a new commercial dishwasher that cuts both the amount of water and detergent use by almost half. The old washing unit was recycled for its stainless steel value. During the recent room renovations, the hotel donated their older furnishing to Habitat for Humanity, ensuring they could find a new life and support a great local charity rather than end up in the city landfill.

And once again OLG Casino Thunder Bay was recognized for its work in reducing energy consumption by 12%, rounding up over 62 000 pounds of used electronics for recycling and planting, maintaining and donating the vegetables from their own community garden.

Congratulations to these two local tourism partners that embrace environmental sustainability. For more information on the City's environmental programs, click here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Local Outfitters Profiled in Chicago Market with ESPN Radio

Over the past few years, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership has been increasing Northwestern Ontario's presence into the US Midwest markets, primarily around outdoor and more specifically, angling experiences.

In Chicago, the program is aptly titled "Canada's Great Outdoors" and thanks to an investment partnership between the Regional Tourism Organization and OTMPC totalling almost $600 000, the program has continued to grow in 2011.

Prior to 2001, Northwestern Ontario was well known in the US Midwest and it was a major market for summer outdoor experience seekers. Obviously, security and economic changes post 2001 created a new environment and the marketing efforts disappeared. Curtailing marketing efforts at that time did little other than reduce and almost eliminate our brand awareness into the Illinois market.

This year we have a multi media mixture of web, radio, bill board and print to help regain market share in a significant close haul market where research has indicated over the past four years, a large, economically solid foundation of outdoor enthusiasts. The call to action is, a portal developed to help outdoor enthusiasts in the US and other international markets navigate to find their desired experiences and provides individual tourist operators the chance to link free to the site, helping consumers find their way to them. Operators can list free of charge on the site and it gives them another opportunity for potential new clients to find them.

In addition to having Thunder Bay's Patrick Sharp and Babe Winkleman, one of the US's most well known as respected outdoor personalities, as radio spokespersons, we have also sponsored Chauncey's Great Outdoors, a Saturday morning radio program on ESPN 1000. As part of the twelve week sponsorship, we've offered twelve spots to Northwestern Ontario tourist outfitters to tell the avid outdoor enthusiast, their stories.

I've had a chance to meet Chauncey Niziol a few times over the past year and he's one of the most passionate, down to earth, fun and outgoing outdoor personalities I've met. his weekly radio show is heard by tens of thousands and his pod casts by thousands more. He also knows where to find me Chicago's best roast beef sandwiches...but that's another story.

After week two of the sponsorship, we've already been able to feature two great area outfitters. Last weekend, we kicked off the sponsorship with an interview with Alan Cheeseman of Wildernesss North and yesterday, featured John Covello of Dog Lake Resort. Both of these operators are high quality class acts, the kinds of folks we want to highlight for the exceptional angling experiences they provide, their amazing approach to customer service and their entrepreneurial spirit.

What I really love is that both Alan and John understand the connection between the urban and outdoors in our area and both plugged Thunder Bay as their gateway cities and the air connection from the Chicago area, particularly using Porter Airlines. It's important that we work closely with the world class angling providers outside our city limits because it helps raise the profile of Thunder Bay as Canada's Best Outdoor City and helps increase the economic impact in the city when our outdoor visitors stay a night, buy dinner, rent a car, or buy gas, bait, etc.

You can listen to the Wilderness North interview here, starting at the 17 minute mark.

You can tune into Dog Lake Resort's interview here, starting just after the 19 minute mark.

We'll be featuring Lake Superior Salmon fishing soon and there are still opportunities for lodge operators to take advantage of one of a few remaining sponsorship spots. There's no cost to participate. Anyone interested can contact me at

The Canada's Great Outdoors is probably one of the best brand positioning efforts I've seen in a long time and there is tremendous opportunity for us in the Northwest to grow it and make it fit our specific experiences and markets. This can very well expand beyond its current geographic placement in Illinois and be prominently promoted through US and global avid outdoor media channels that will increase the position of the Northwest and from there, drive new exposure opportunities for individual operators. Its unfortunate that the uptake by the regional marketers to this program or interest to make it their own has been limited but thankfully we have a growing segment of the outfitter's market interested in pursuing new and innovative approaches to positioning our outdoors as it should be positoned - as world class.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Porter Improves Thunder Bay Flights to 5 per Day

Porter Airlines is increasing flights to five daily roundtrips from three on its Thunder Bay-Toronto City Airport route. The new schedule takes effect May 25, and operates year-round.

“Thunder Bay has been a consistently popular route and we are often at capacity on those flights,” said Robert Deluce, president and CEO of Porter Airlines. “The opportunity to add service at this time speaks to the joint efforts of Porter and Thunder Bay International Airports Authority to promote air service in the region, as well as the great support we get from people looking for competitively-priced travel alternatives.”

Porter began flying between Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Thunder Bay in 2009, as a seasonal route. Year-round service was added soon afterwards in response to the route’s success.

Thunder Bay International Airports Authority Inc. President & CEO, Scott McFadden, welcomed the news of increased Porter flights, saying, “With this increase in service, Thunder Bay and the region will enjoy more high quality air service options than ever before, and our low cost, no passenger fee strategy will continue to ensure the Community enjoys the lowest possible air fares.”

Highlights of the new schedule include:
· 5 roundtrip flights each weekday
· 4 roundtrip flights on Sunday
· 2 roundtrip flights on Saturday

Connecting flight schedules via Toronto to Porter destinations such as Montreal, Ottawa, Sudbury, New York, Boston and Chicago are also improved with this increase in frequency.
Known for its affordable, premium service, including complimentary in-flight wine and beer, extra legroom and comfortable departure lounges, Porter operates a fleet of 70-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft. It features high cruising speed, revolutionary cabin noise-reduction technology and environmentally-friendly engines.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is conveniently located just minutes from downtown, providing easy access to the financial and entertainment districts.

Flights are available for booking through travel agencies,, or Porter’s Call Centre at (888) 619-8622.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Direction Ontario Offers Francophone Tourism Market Toolkit and Workshop

Direction Ontario, the Provincial organization responsible for marketing to to the Francophone market, is conducting workshops across all thirteen RTO regions to provide a better understanding of the potential of the Francophone market, both within the Province and into Quebec.

For the Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario region, the Francophone market remains a small segment of our overall Canadian travel demographics. Based on registration data collected at our visitor centres, and compared with Ministry of Tourism's regional profile data, the Francophone market currently makes up approximately 3.5% of the 435 000 Canadian travellers to the city annually. However, given the significance of French influence in the development of the modern economy of the region and a strong french cultural fabric in the area, there is a core product that is or is close to being market ready to attract the Quebec touring segment.

A Webinar session for Region 13C is scheduled for February 24th, 2011 from 8:30 to 11 AM (EST).

The session will provide an better understanding of the toolkit they've developed to help Ontario's tourism industry understand the Francophone market. The workshop will also provide an analysis of the travel motivators of the Francophone traveller and will give an assessment of the state of Ontario's Francophone ready product and provide evaluation tools to help our tourism industry respond to the needs of that segment of the market better. The session will wrap up with a round table discussion of emerging product that could become market ready and an overview of the services Direction Ontario provides.

To Register, contact Louise Lacroix At by Wednesday February 23rd.

To participate in the conference, visit and enter Direction Ontario as the Meeting Host and enter "francophonemarkets13cworkshop" as the meeting name. To connect a land line, call 1-866-737-8517 and pass code 9860105

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thunder Bay's Hotel Occupancy Ends 2010 on a High Note.

The December 2010 hotel performance numbers are in and Thunder Bay continued to show improved performance right to the end of the year, particularly interesting given how difficult December traditionally is to fill hotel rooms when convention traffic winds down prior to the Christmas holidays and Christmas leisure traffic generally stays with friends and family.

Thunder Bay's hotel occupancy rate in December was 55.4%, up 5.2 points over the previous year and we reported the highest occupancy for the entire country. Average daily rate increased 4.6% to $95.48 and revenue per available room shot up 15.3% to $52.91. The average Canadian occupancy rate for December 2010 was 44.8%.

Year end results continue to support growth in the hotel segment, with the city posting a 70.5% occupancy rate, up 5.2 points from 2009. The City saw modest growth of 1.1% on Average daily rate, and a 9.2% increase in RevPar to $68.81. By contrast, the Canadian industry posted a 60.3% occupancy rate for the year.

This data is from PKF Consulting Trends Report. For tourism partners seeking more detailed information, please contact PKF at for their range of services to the tourism and hospitality industries.


Tourism Thunder Bay, in association with local and regional tourism organizations and operators, is bringing back Canada’s ultimate outdoor adventure campaign–Seven Days With The Giant.

This summer, one lucky winner and three friends will enjoy an all expense paid weeklong adventure exploring the city and North Shore region. Winners will start with paid return airfare from anywhere in North America, digital camera package, camping gear and a beautiful Thunder Bay print. From there, they will create their own adventure with the assistance of Lake Superior Visits to include exploring Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Kakabeka Falls, Fort William Historical Park, sailing and angling on Lake Superior, mountain biking, hiking, culinary and cultural adventures, and many more customizable outdoor and urban activities.

This year’s program, valued at over $15 000, expands to include, not only Thunder Bay experiences but those from the Dorion and Nipigon areas as well, opening up even more opportunities for the winners to explore the variety of adventures that suit their tastes and abilities. The campaign’s target reach is also evolving to focus on more experiential Canadian and US travel media including Explore Magazine, National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, AAA Living, Lake Superior Magazine, Northern Wilds and Canoe and Kayak print and digital media channels.

This year’s sponsors include Ontario Parks, Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture, OTMPC, Best Western Norwester Hotel and Conference Centre, National Car Rental, Lake Superior Visits, Fort William Historical Park, Gear Up for Outdoors,, Epic Adventures, Lot 66, Caribou, 5 Forks, Thunder Bay Observatory, Archie’s Charters, Golf Thunder Bay, and many other local and regional visitor experience providers.

“The Seven Days With the Giant” campaign began four years ago and has become a popular foundation of our marketing strategy, drawing interest from avid outdoor adventure seekers. The program weaves our connection to the natural environment with our great urban culture and contributes to our vision to become regarded as Canada’s Best Outdoor City. This year, the program has expanded to showcase some of the exciting regional experiences beyond our city limits and utilizes some of North America’s most respected outdoor adventure media to attract avid travelers to our area.

Contest entry is available online at beginning at 12 noon, Tuesday February 15, 2011 and ends at 12 Midnight, May 31, 2011.

For more information, email me @ or call me @ (807) 625-3880

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Promoting Motorcycle Touring into the US Midwest Market

This past weekend, Tourism Thunder Bay, in partnership with the Thunder Bay chapter of the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.)TM were promoting the upcoming "Thunder In the Bay" Provincial rally at the Minneapolis International Motorcycle Show.

This is a new marketing and promotional direction for Tourism Thunder Bay and the partnership with the owner's group has been essential to its success. Having riders at the booth answering questions gives the program a level of authenticity and allows for greater marketplace reach. The consumer uptake early in the weekend was overwhelming with interest, not only in the rally by Harley owners, but in touring the lake in general.

In addition to the event and city information, copies of the Circle Tour guide and Lake Superior Magazine's maps were hugely popular among the hundreds of avid motorcycle touring enthusiasts who stopped by to chat with us. In fact, Friday night alone saw a steady traffic jam in row 1100 just because people were stopped at the booth three deep to get more info on the event and route.

I want to send a huge shout out to John Trevisanutto, John Aiken and Susan Macey of the local Harley Owners Group who have been enthusiastically active ambassadors for the rally and the community. John's organization of volunteers to help promote the rally, the city and the touring route at the Minneapolis Show is greatly appreciated and it would not have rolled out so well without their volunteer contribution.

The rally itself, being held from July 28-30, will see upwards of eight hundred riders in the community and is expected to have an economic impact in excess of $275 000 for the city. Because riders will be travelling regionally to attend, or spending time at the front or tail end of the rally, an additional regional economic impact of some $200 000 will likely be seen by north shore Ontario and Minnesota communities.

Motorcycle touring presents one of the best potential new growth segments for Thunder Bay and every other community around the Lake Superior basin. The route, comprising some 1300 miles of some of the most scenic geography and interesting smaller communities is considered one of the continents top 10 driving routes and the north shore, one of Canada's top three motorcycle routes. Even the Globe and Mail has identified riding the North shore of Superior as one of one hundred things to do in a lifetime.

The motorcycle market is one that is a prime avid segment and they're the ones we want to work at attracting, both from the Canadian and US source markets. With close to 5.2 million US and 550 000 Canadians touring by motorcycle, its a segment worth capturing. This is a segment of higher than average income earners who have a passion for exploring and travel and they are more likely to keep travelling when the economy is tighter. While touring, they are more likely to generate a greater local and regional economic impact as they move from community to community, staying multiple overnights within a region, dining and exploring attractions.

The Ministry of Tourism has invested in travel motivational research - the all important demand generator stuff - and the studies are available on the ministry's website. Its even specifically broken down into the Canadian or US motorcycle markets.

For the city and coastal region, it's a segment that starts towards the end of May and extends to early October and while our urban motel occupancy has been hovering around 84% over the past summer, it still leaves about 300 hotel rooms available on average each evening, not to mention those in other communities around the lake. Promoting to the motorcycle market is a great way to fill the rest of the rooms. Furthermore, many motorcyclists travel in groups that can reach into the dozens or even hundreds of bikes, making this one of the emergent group travel markets.

While we are in the Minneapolis market promoting the rally specifically, a regional lake basin approach to product development and marketing to this specific segment is essential to the success of growing the market. It takes an understanding of what riders seek in a journey with respect to scenic viewscapes, interesting and well maintained roadways, regular refueling points and overnight accommodation spaced about 400-500 km apart. They also seek the comforts such as secure and covered overnight parking, wipe down cloths, fuel stops, restaurants within walking distance of accommodation, and other related conveniences that make them feel welcomed into a community.

Given discussions we've had with some of our other tourism partners around the lake and others planned in the coming months, we hope to see a more aggressive Lake Superior coastal touring route program develop over the following few years to take advantage of this important travel segment.

for more information on the 2011 Thunder In The Bay Provincial H.O.G. Rally, visit their website.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vote Thunder Bay Destinations for Canada’s Great Places Contest

Canadians across the country are now competing to put their favourite location on the map in the Great Places in Canada Contest sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Planners. Three Thunder Bay locations are in the running including, The Sleeping Giant, Thunder Bay’s Waterfront and the Current River neighbourhood. Residents are encouraged to go to and vote for the Thunder Bay locations, or nominate their preferred local destinations, and encourage others to vote.

The competition is open to everyone – just go to where you can nominate, write about, and post images of the place that inspires you. And by making a nomination, you’ll be entered into a draw for prizes. Votes will be tallied in real time to make it easy to track the leading locations.

“It would be fantastic to see one of Thunder Bay’s spectacular destinations win,” said Mayor Keith Hobbs. “I encourage people to take a few seconds to vote and demonstrate their hometown pride to make Thunder Bay a leader in this friendly competition. It will be an exciting contest as people enlist support for their entries and communities compete with one another.”

To vote for the Sleeping Giant, visit the page directly at

Nominating and voting will close March 25, 2011. A panel of judges will then select the finalists in late April, and the winners will be announced in May. Each winning location will receive a plaque, presented to the local mayor or reeve, and winning nominators will also be awarded.
For more information, visit

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Canada' Great Outdoors Program Partnership Continues into Chicago this Year

This Thursday January 13, we're going to be at the Pheasant Run All Canada Show in St Charles Illinois to promote a new enhanced partnership with OTMPC around their "Canada's Great Outdoors" tactical strategy promoting the northwest's iconic outdoor experiences into the U.S. midwest market.

Last year, we partnered up with Porter, OTMPC, Thunder Bay Airport Authority and others to align with Canada's Great Outdoors with our own "Canada's Great Outdoors Begins in Canada's Great Outdoor City" program and web portal landing site to encourage US midwest anglers and soft outdoor adventure seekers to consider Thunder Bay as their hub and to consider the convenience of flying into the region versus driving.

This year, through our RTO transition mandate, we've expanded the partnership, taking a lead on the program with Tourism Kenora and NOTO, and input from Sunset Country and NOSTA, to keep building upon the "Canada's Great Outdoors" brand, positioning our region as the best outdoor adventure destination in the country. Its a great partnership by numerous organizations that understand that in the northwest, we have common experiences and common markets, making it essential that we collaborate on a regional level versus working in our traditional organizational silos, often based on geo political boundaries. That is what the RTO is about. Leveraging each other's equity and resources to present the region to the consumer most effectively.

The All Canada Show is only one channel and a good chance to meet with regional tourist operators, conduct some research with respect to the experiences offered by other regions and build some awareness of regional collaboration in an RTO world. Other tactical channels of this campaign will roll out between the end of January and end of May, 2011, primarily into the Chicago area wish a focus on avid outdoor adventure markets.

Globe and Mail Profile's the Sleeping Giant Loppet...and Our Nordic Culture

building and maintaining a high profile in the travel media is a significant element of our overall marketing strategy and we're off to a fantastic start this year, with three travel media requests coming in on our first week back to the office after Christmas break.

The Globe and Mail had a short piece in their online weekend edition this past weekend, profiling the Sleeping Giant Loppet, Kamview and Lappe as part of our nordic culture, including favorite Apre' ski traditions including - you guessed it -the Hoito and Kangas Sauna.

The bundling of the core ski experience with the northern European culinary and cultural components is an example of the visitor experiences being picked up by our media partners continuously now, building strength on our outdoors focus while presenting a well rounded visitor experience as well. The skiing is the experiential driver, while the urban components, woven into the presentation, fill out the visitor experience and demonstrate that urban economic impacts are achieved by an tourism strategy that focuses on our connection to our natural environment.

Following on this weekend's highly successful Haywood U23 World Cross Country ski Trails, our reputation as a winter playground for the avid outdoor enthusiast is gaining steam. Winters in Canada attract a very specific avid outdoor adventure seeker and over the years, we've gained more insight into who they are, what they want and where they live. Its still a niche market but its one willing to travel farther for an iconic high quality experience. Just ask the winners of this year's Winter Win contest, who are from British Columbia.

Proof positive we are always deliberately building upon our community's reputation as Canada's Best Outdoor City.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thunder Bay Hosts Noram 2011 Cross Country Ski Event

Thunder Bay continues to show off its stellar international reputation for hosting world class events with the sports community's latest achievement, the Hayward Noram Junior/U23 World cross country ski championships. The event is also encompassing the World Sr Distance Trials, Tech Sprint Series, Canada Games Trials and the Ontario Cup # Two Races. All in all, this is the one stop for competitive cross country skiing this season.

Over 320 elite skiers from around the world are in the city for over a week training and racing out at the Lappe Ski Centre. In total, including coaches, trainers and support staff, over 500 people are here for the event. We've estimated the total direct and indirect economic impact to be over $680 000 for the community and region.

The organizers, representing both the Big Thunder Nordic and Lappe Nordic Clubs, have done a spectacular job at putting together an event that has attracted broad sponsorship and a significant volunteer base to coordinate and execute a flawless event. The City of Thunder Bay is a Gold sponsor of the event, supporting it through the Event Development Grant. One of our tourism partners, the Prince Arthur Hotel and Waterfront Suites, is the host hotel.

This is also a great sport event in that it draws on the principles of sustainable tourism. Being a silent sport that has a intimate connection to the natural environment around it, embracing sustainability makes perfect sense. It is also great to see event organizers develop programs that support our view that even sport tourism events connect to our "Canada's Best Outdoor City" positioning and sustainable tourism principles.

The local artisan community has been engaged in the creation of the various prizes and the event has been certified by Ecosuperior as a "green event" by promoting recycling, reducing litter, excessive packaging, composting, and a reduction in paper consumption through online registration.

Welcome to all the participants from around the world and best wishes for a successful week.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ministry of Tourism and Culture Unveils New Website.

Just prior to Christmas, 2010, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture rolled out their new website to reflect the merging of the tourism and culture portfolios.

Tourism is a moving portfolio and it's policy home, at all levels of government in most jurisdictions around the globe tends to bounce around. Sometimes its a stand alone and often, its merged with Parks, Culture, Economic Development and other related portfolios. Currently, its merger with Culture reflects the important role cultural tourism such as historical attractions, culinary, and performing arts play in the overall tourism industry in Ontario. I never get too hung up on its alignment and merger with other portfolios so long as the tools and resources are there at the appropriate levels to move our industry forward.

Because of the merger, the new website takes an additional click to get to the real meat of the tourism industry information. However, once there, the information resource selection is a little more streamlined and all the relevant information the industry needs to make most major and minor business development and marketing decisions are still right there.

A tool within the site we use extensively is the TREIM model, an online customizable research tool that allows event and attractions organizers estimate the economic impacts of their activities. Its one of the main reports we run for every major event being planned with our involvement or advice.

There are some quick links and some new customized research options now available to assist regions, census and metropolitan areas understand their main geographic visitor markets a little more quickly, albeit with some gaps, particularly with respect to the US markets. I was having some fun over the Christmas holidays playing with the new Geotravel stats tool and if you take the time to understand what the data means, its easy to apply to your own operational decisions.

Unfortunately, the regional tourism profiles, one the old tourism sites best "quick reference" features, is currently not linked up and hopefully that gets sorted out quickly as its been one of most trusted quick sources of information when providing an overview of the economic impacts of tourism, something all of us in the industry have to continuously educate our communities on. However, there is no lack of relevant local and regional data there in the meantime.

For anyone in the regional tourism industry, the Ministry's site should be bookmarked on your computer, (right alongside this one, of course) for quick reference. Its probably one of the industry's best tourism research tools in Canada.

Trans Canada Trail Ontario Retains New Trail Intern

Tourism Thunder Bay is part of a regional community partnership working with the Trans Canada Trail Organization to connect Northwestern Ontario's vast geography through multi use trail development. This is an exciting regional partnership that has evolved over the past two years and demonstrates the importance of collaboration and the tourism values that trail infrastructure can bring to the region.

One project is looking at the abandoned Kinghorn rail line between Thunder Bay and Nipigon for conversion to a multi season, multi use trail that will improve local recreational and tourism opportunities.

The second project is connecting the trail from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba Border, using the historical water and portage routes. As with the King horn, the project aims to look at improving local recreational opportunities but also identify new tourism opportunities for adventure seekers.

One need only drive a short distance into Northern Minnesota from here to see the expansive trail networks that exist and in particular, the well developed trails linking many of the Lake Superior lodges and communities that are full of cyclists, walkers, horseback riders and cross country skiers.

Trans Canada Trail Ontario has announced that a Trail Intern, Shawn Karsten, has been hired to coordinate the feasibility study on the Kinghorn project and help coordinate contractor efforts with respect to the water trail inventory and mapping.

Shawn comes to us from the North of Superior Tourism Association and is a graduate of Confederation College, holding a diploma in Business Marketing, Human Resource Management and Business Administration. Shawn is well known to many in the regional tourism industry and will hit the ground running on January 10th, working from Tourism Thunder Bay's Administrative offices and the Township of Nipigon municipal office.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Building Business In the U.S. Market With a High Canadian Dollar.

The Canadian dollar opened 2011 on parity with the U.S.

It wasn't too many years ago when our dollar was worth about 70 cents on the US dollar and the Canadian tourism industry milked it's low value as a key element of its marketing strategies and Northwestern Ontario was no different. The heart of the sales pitch was "a Canadian vacation is 30% off" or whatever reasonably safe exchange difference could be printed.

We used the value difference as a crutch for a long time.

In a world where our currency is on par and at some points, above par, we have to shift to the quality of the experience and speak to the consumer's desire to have that experience. While we are focusing a lot more on the domestic markets, the U.S. market and its approximately 80 million valid passport holders is only a forty five minute drive away from us or a flight time of a little over a couple of hours.

Know Your Client. It amazes me how many operators don't keep tabs on their client demographics or the trends and shifts that occur right before their eyes. Where are they from? Who do they travel wish? What is their profession or income level? How did they hear about you? What are their special requests? What do they like about your experience that keeps them coming back? Client relation management is easy to do and reasonably priced customer relationship management software programs help you manage client relations by tracking and reporting information back to you to help you make better marketing and product enhancement decisions.

Focus on the avids. There are large segments of the motivated travel markets that want the experience and price will not necessarily feature prominently as a deciding factor. Whether its a trophy fly in angling trip, a motorcycle or roadster tour around Lake Superior or kayaking the Rossport Islands, there are a lot of travellers that place a value on the experience beyond the currency difference. Researching these markets is not that difficult. The Ministry of Tourism publishes travel motivator studies on most major avid segments and that is a good starting point. These avids belong to clubs in their home communities, chat on experiential forums and read print or digital media specific to their interests.

Just remember, when engaging potential guests in on line forums, always request the permission of the moderator. Some forums frown on commercial activities, some have areas set up specifically for commercial activities and some would reasonably expect some financial sponsorship in exchange for promoting your business activity

Reconnect with your existing and former clients and have a conversation with them. It takes less investment to retain clients than attract new ones. Reconnecting can be as simple as a news letter, sending them a birthday email or offering them value added incentives to keep returning. You can offer a direct cash discount or value added extras "free boat rental with cabin stay, free breakfast or some other promotion that keeps them loyal.

Be careful with the cash discounts as they may, if accepted in great volumes, have a impact on your operating revenues and may, in the future, make it trickier to bring your rates back into line. Value added additions often don't always cost you the full value to provide but still give the guest additional value and a sense of being appreciated for their business.

A lot of travellers want value and value should not always be confused with "cheap".

Quality is easier to sell. I've said ad nauseum over the years that high quality experiences and products are easier to market. Now is the time to look at your operation from the outside. Its human nature for us to become complacent when we see something the same way every day so bring in a third party or better yet, survey your guests. Look at the physical appearance or first impression your operation gives. Is it clean, well kept, safe, secure and inviting? Do your facilities look and smell clean? Does everything work? How comfortable and crisp is the bedding? I could go on forever but you get the message.

Review your experience, appearance and customer service standards through on line forums like Trip Advisor, Travelocity of Restaurantica and see what customers are saying. Use that as a starting point for making improvements. Look to the Ontario Tourism Education Corporation as a starting point to find training programs to enhance your and your staff''s customer service skills. Acting on consumer feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to keeping quality standards high. Engage in the online discussions and follow up with the sources of comments to let them - and the rest of the online reading world- know that you've taken it seriously and acted on their comments.

Hopefully, as you start the new year, you'll reflect on just the few basic pointers I've mentioned. You could already be doing some of this without giving it much thought or this might give you incentive to start doing things differently. At the end of the day, if every tourism partner does one thing to improve the calibre of their experience, the entire reputation of our local tourism economy benefits.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Time to Reflect on Tourism Resolutions for 2011.

Its New years Day and I'm sitting in my den, looking out over the "Big Lake" with a coffee relaxing. And by relaxing, I mean putting my thoughts and resolutions into this digital space.

First off, Happy New Year to all of our tourism partners locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. 2010 was a whirlwind year with lots of challenges and thankfully many more rewards and as we take this long weekend breather before diving into a new regional tourism management world in 2011, its good to reflect on our accomplishments and plan for the future.

My main professional new years resolution is, after much thought, pretty simple. To build new partnerships that help us deliver the visitor experiences consumers want.

For me, the past week has not been entirely spend eating and socializing. With RTO work continuing through the holidays, seeing our 2011 Thunder Bay Visitor Experience Magazine and e-zine off to production, responding to media requests and coordinating upcoming outdoors tactical strategies with OTMPC, our year end and the coinciding deadlines for the year's tactical plans make for a busy time. But it never really feels like work, however.

Its also a time to reflect on my last four years in my current role and how enjoyable it has been to be part of a dedicated corporate team always moving forward to make this community great. Given my passion over the past decade for bringing entrepreneurial values into the public service economic development environment, I can honestly say that its been very rewarding to see that bureaucratic and entrepreneurial values can coexist in the public sector. As a department, my team has ushered in a consumer research and experientially focused planning model, adopted a whole new vision and for the local tourism industry through positioning the community as Canada's Best Outdoor City and embraced regional collaboration beyond our city limits to speak to consumers and tell stories that excite them.

We've done all this as an industry by taking calculated risks and pushing limits and challenging the status quo. Its been a four year adrenaline rush.

For 2011, we will continue to steer the ship on its course, building greater equity into the core "Superior By Nature" brand, moving ever closer to the "Canada's Best Outdoor City" position in the market place and everything we do will reflect that vision by new and creative means that weave our connection to our natural environment with our urban cultural and culinary fibres.

The coming months are going to be amazing, if not insanely busy for our tourism department. We'll be promoting the city and region's experiences in the Toronto, Winnipeg, Chicago and Minneapolis markets, we'll be launching the fourth generation of our Seven Days With the Giant experiential leisure program, generating greater cruise shipping industry awareness for the Lake Superior basin and continuing to build the RTO framework that will change the way we collaborate and communicate. We'll be rolling out an enhanced Meeting and Convention and Incentive Travel tactical creative plan sometime mid year and will continue to increase our digital presence by engaging the latest trends in creative digital social channels.

Most importantly, we're going to continue having fun getting to where we want to go as a tourism economy.

To all reading this, enjoy the day with family and friends and I encourage everyone in the tourism industry to adopt your own professional resolution for the coming year with respect to what you are going to contribute to growing the tourism economy. If we started writing them all down, I'm pretty positive it would paint 2011 as a challenging yet rewarding year for the tourism industry.