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.

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