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.

1 comment:

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