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.