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.