Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Mobile marketing is a rapidly expanding tool in reaching consumers.  Its moving so fast, a lot of businesses and organizations haven't had a chance to grasp this tool, let alone keep up with the changes. Is your business planning or ready for this phenomenon?

While only 12 to 14% of visitors are using mobile apps to look at our websites in the northwest, the number is growing with the increasing popularity of smartphones demonstrated by performance such as the phenomenal release of the new IPhone 5. By 2015 it is predicted half of all Internet traffic is going to be over a mobile platform,

The Northwest Innovation Centre, in collaboration with Tourism Thunder Bay, is hosting a one day workshop to help our tourism industry understand the power and potential of mobile marketing opportunities that exist.

Rob Woodbridge of is going to present why it is imperative your business start thinking about engaging its customer base via a mobile platform and an introduction to the power of mobile and pervasive computing along with its impact on your sales, marketing, and customer service teams. Not sure where to start with mobile and don’t have the budget? Rob will introduce low-cost and no cost opportunities that exist for start-ups and small businesses in the mobile space as well as a futuristic view of what mobile marketing will look like in the next 24 months.
Date: Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Cost: Innovator Members $20, General Rate $25 (includes lunch and HST)

Time: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Location: Victoria Inn, Regency A

For 20 years Rob has been immersed in the middle of the technology and mobile revolution in roles ranging from strategic advisor, board member and coach to VP Operations and President & CEO. In each of the companies that he's been involved with, Rob has helped shape strategy, marketing initiatives and product development to extend existing business into the mobile world — or flat out create new businesses leveraging mobile and pervasive computing.
Rob's experience is as diverse as the mobile industry — from a mobile game company targeting consumers to a mobile IT solution targeting enterprises to a video podcast focused on understanding the ins and outs of developing, marketing and selling mobile applications (found at

You can register online here.  Space is limited and its filling up fast.  

As Tourism Thunder Bay continues to build new regional tourism networks within the new RTO model, we'll be working to bring a continual series of digital educational tools to our industry partners.  If there is something you want to learn more about to help your tourism business grow, drop me a line @ and let me know.        

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Fall has always been a challenging season for us to market leisure experiences. 

With a limited marketing budget, we've generally focused on spring and summer leisure as best best seasons where our visitor experiences are at their peak, with fall through to spring being more focused on our convention and sport tourism segments.

However, with the advent of the regional tourism funding model, we've been able to explore new shoulder season markets through innovative (if not sometimes unorthadox) partnerships.  Warmer autumns, an increase in our inventory of fall visitor experiences, changing consumer trends and cost effective transportation all play a factor to allow us to extend our strong leisure marketing season to build new traffic or at the very least, build brand awareness for subsequent programs

This fall sees the launch of two new partnership marketing programs targeting different markets and demographics but both intended to begin building traction for future initiatives.  The First is Ride Northwest Ontario, a Northwest Ontario motorcycle touring campaign targeting the Manitoba motorcycle segment.  We have traditionally done a less than stellar job of attracting Manitobans by ignoring the market potential that this one million plus consumer market to the west posesses.  This program, a collaboration of communities across the Northwest aims to take advantage of the warm weather fall predictions, fall colours and a avid segment not quite ready to put their bikes away for the season.  A multi media campaign targeting Winnipeg daily print, radio and web, combined by editorial support drives to, a landing page that outlines the benefits of riding the region's curvy highways, spectacular fall colours and scenery unlike the prairies.  Riders are encouraged to stop by the Kenora Discovery Centre (a absolutely spectacular must stop interpretive centre recently opened by the City of Kenora) and pick up their regional ride map.  The landing page and map encourages them to explore the fall attractions and links them to and as well.

The second campaign targets both the GTA and Chicagoland markets in partnership with Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, OTMPC and Porter Airlines, focusing on fall weekend getaway packages. The landing page offers consumers a chance to book select two night getaway packages int he three cities and book their porter airfare with a special twenty percent discount.  This program leads with a short intense campaign featuring daily print, web and radio tactical in these two markets. While we expect only modest actual uptake, its developed to build our brand awareness in these markets, test new fall product offerings and push the envelope a bit.  Our Thunder Bay focus in this program is targeting fall hikes and exploration of our parks and protected areas, woven into our urban cultural and culinary tapestry of the north shore of Superior.  We'll be measuring click through rates, uptake on the booking codes and actual bookings to measure both consumer interest in the offer as well as the ever important conversion rate to actual bookings.  With the expected release of our own online booking engine sometime in early 2013, this program should have more traction in the future depending on the consumer interest displayed early on.

Both of these programs are seeing significant financial support from the Northern Partnerships office of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partership Corporation to the tune of one hundred and seventy thousand dollars with the balance of one hundred and twenty five thousand from the various Northern RTOs and municipalities.  For us, a municipal contribution of twelve and a half thousand dollars is very well leveraged.

Right now, we're feverishly working on a regional winter campaign, another season where we've lacked marketing bite and where new visitor experiences are coming on line to make approaching new markets cost effective within the new partnership models.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Delta Announces Thunder Bay Hotel and Conference Centre Development

Delta CEO Ken Greene Admires the Architectural rendering of the new
Delta Thunder Bay opening in 2014.
 Today was a great day for tourism investment in Thunder Bay and a much anticipated next step in connecting visitors to our spectacular waterfront.  Delta Hotels has officially announced that they will be managing and operating the Delta Thunder Bay Hotel and Conference Centre to be located at Prince Arthur's Landing.

The addition of a new 4-star upscale property in Thunder is good news for a hospitality sector that has seen steady year over year growth since 2010 and is poised to continue expanding as the city's economy continues to grow with the growth of the health sciences, mining, transportation and tourism sectors.  With our occupancy rate just shy of 74% in 2011, it remained one of Canada's highest rates and demand this year continues to be strong.

The Delta property will feature one hundred and fifty rooms including eighteen penthouse suites, pool, fitness centre, and nine thousand square feet of meeting space including a five thousand square foot ball room.  The project is being managed and operated by Delta in collaboration with building owner Resolve Group.  The building design is by Brook Mcilroy and will be built by Manshield Construction of Thunder Bay.

It was encouraging to see such a great turn out for the media event this morning as well, with members of the local business community including those from other local hotel properties in attendance to see the renderings and meet Delta officials.  The Delta name has strong brand recognition across Canada and from a brand alignment perspective, strong brands in our market enhances our community's overall tourism reputation that will bring benefits beyond the branded properties.  In a market where we continuously see interest from event organizers to host lager corporate and sport events, more room and meeting space inventory and a culture of hotels working with each other is essential to expanding our community's tourism economic footprint. 

In addition to the obvious benefits, bringing an average of one hundred and fifty to two hundred visitors downtown overnight is critical to downtown revitalization, increases our community's tax assessment revenues and creates direct and ancillary employment opportunities.  Its an investment that has merits well beyond tourism.

In reading the media release issued by Delta Hotels this morning, its clear Delta understands the value of the location and the importance of our natural environment as our major tourism asset.  Referencing Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, the proposed Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and easy access to wilderness experiences, Delta understands how to make the important connection between urban amenities and the outdoor experiences and compliments our tourism strategy that positions Thunder Bay as Canada's premier outdoor city.  Weaving the urban and outdoor experiences together cvan be challenging but Thunder Bay is becoming well known in sustainable tourism circles for being able to successfully undertake this approach. Our natural environment is a backdrop to hosting unconventional conventions that get delegates out of windowless meeting rooms and gives leisure visitors the opportunity to marvel at our world class waterfront, take in a sailing of fishing charter just meters from their hotel and experience the growing culinary and cultural scene in the Waterfront District.

You can read the Delta release here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

U.S. Visitor Traffic to Thunder Bay on the Increase This Year

It is a pretty significant fact that we are a forty five minute drive from the U.S. border and a source market in excess of three hundred and thirty million people.  Despite conditions of the past decade, the U.S. market continues to be important to us.  However, this market has declined over the past decade in a world of security and economic issues, coupled with inconsistent marketing investments to keep our region top of mind.

In light of the slow US economy, passport requirements, border security, high fuel prices and an at par currency, you'll have to understand if we're a little giddy today in the Tourism Thunder Bay office.

The second quarter border crossing statistics came in this week and to the end of June 2012, U.S. visitors to Thunder Bay through the Pigeon River border crossing have increased by 3.5% or about 1068 persons.  While not explosive year over year growth, its slow and steady as the old tortoise versus hare fable goes, and that's what wins the race. 

While same day traffic declined, it was the important overnight visits that increased, improving hotel performance in what is already a strong urban market.  These longer stays translate into increased economic impacts for our community and region and speak to a desire for avid travellers to explore in greater depth. From an economic impact perspective, this translates to approximately $370 596 in new visitor spending and a total economic impact including the multiplier effect of about $592 953.  Overall, that's a pretty good return early on even before the critically important July and August travel data is reported.  By about late October, we'll have a good sense of the true impact of the new investments being made. 

With approximately $1.1 million in new regional tourism marketing investments being made across Northwestern Ontario in the fishing, hunting, broad outdoors, convention, sports tourism and motor touring segments, its encouraging to see some early wins.  From our early indicators, the majority of this upswing is related to touring and outdoor adventure segment campaigns specifically into the United States totalling approximately $275 000.  This included the popular "Ride Lake Superior" motorcycle program, enhanced broad outdoor campaigns targeting Minnesota and Wisconsin and wider reaching US avid outdoor media channels.  We've also been able to host far more media familiarization trips, and build new relationships with US media such as Northern Wilds, Lake Superior Magazine and AAA media channels to grow interest in the area.  Tying the natural environment to the highway corridors is critical to maximizing visitor attraction.  Most travellers are outdoor enthusiasts but very few want to really rough it.  trails and waterfalls, birding, beaches and so forth are all huge draws but visitors want a good meal and comfy bed too.  communicating the epic-ness of Lake Superior - and our hundreds of thousands of other lakes too - will be critical to growing our markets.

The majority of the Northwest's angling traffic flows through Fort Frances so we'll be watching those numbers closely as well and reporting on the broader impacts.

The regional approach to partnership building is critical to continuing to build on these early successes and together with partners like Sunset Country Travel Association, Algoma Kinnewabi Travel and our friends in Northern Minnesota, we'll continue to work together to make the visitor pie bigger for everyone by focusing on epic experiences worth the distance. 

After all, how far would you travel for the perfect outdoor vacation?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Airlane Hotel Unveils New Name and Look

The former Travelodge Hotel Airlane premieres its new name as the Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre on September 1st, 2012. Under the management of Crescent Hotels & Resorts Canada, it has completed a $1.1 million renovation. All are invited to its Open House, held on Tuesday, September 18th from 1pm-5pm.

The Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre will continue to have a strong commitment to providing guest satisfaction, operating with the same dedicated staff in which it has built its strong history and reputation. The property will continue to be managed by Crescent Hotels & Resorts Canada. Open since 1964, the hotel and the hotel staff continue to live by their motto, “A guest when you enter… A friend when you leave.” The current and ongoing renovations will offer guests, some who have been with the hotel for over 35 years, an even more exceptional experience. New additions include:

• Beds and bedding in guest rooms

• Carpet in guest rooms, corridors, and lobby

• Flat screen televisions

• Refrigerators

• Lobby furniture and lighting

• Artwork and draperies throughout hotel

The Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre serves as a regional hub for Northwestern Ontario and is conveniently located at the junction of Arthur Street and Highway 61, just moments away from the Thunder Bay International Airport. There are many places to visit while staying at the Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre, including Fort William Historical Park, Kakabeka Falls, Thunder Bay Museum, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Magnus Theatre, OLG Casino, and the new Arthur’s Landing Waterfront.

With over 10,000 square feet of banquet space, the hotel prides itself on their cuisine and flexible catering, meeting and event services, suitable for any type of corporate or social gathering. The hotel is a leader in in-flight catering, off-site catering, and dining at the hotel restaurant, River Rock Bar and Grill, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hotel employees have been long-time supporters of multiple organizations and local endeavors within the community, including the United Way Employee Campaign and the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital Foundation, whose cabinet includes General Manager Susan Cameron. Currently and throughout the renovation process, the hotel has placed a priority on promoting sustainability and efforts to go Green by donating mattresses, televisions, linens and furniture to Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. In honor of their Green efforts, the hotel has been nominated by Thunder Bay for the city’s prestigious Green Award.

All visitors are encouraged to enjoy a Breath of Fresh Airlane at the Airlane Hotel & Conference Centre’s Open House, Tuesday, September 18th from 1pm-5pm. This event is open to the general public and visitors will have an opportunity to explore all of the exciting new renovations.

About Crescent Hotels & Resorts Canada

Crescent Hotels & Resorts Canada, a Top 10 independent North American Management Company and division of Crescent Hotels & Resorts, owns, manages, and co-invests in hotel real estate. Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, the company currently owns or operates 11 hotels in Canada within Crescent’s North American portfolio of 64 hotels and resorts, aggregating 13,000+ guest rooms. As one of the few management companies approved to operate hotels under the premier hotel brands of Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, Wyndham Worldwide, and InterContinental brands, the company’s distinguished portfolio encompasses properties in the luxury, resort, upper upscale full-service, boutique, convention, and premium select-service hotels and limited service segments. Additional information about Crescent Hotels & Resorts Canada may be found on the company’s website:

Saturday, July 14, 2012


This past week, the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority announced that United Airlines will begin daily direct service from Chicago's O Hare Airport to Thunder Bay beginning February 14, 2013.

This is great news for our tourism industry on a lot of different levels and the teams at the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority and United each deserve a huge applause for working diligently towards bringing this service to the city and region.

As many know, I'm a big advocate of brand alignment in advancing our community's tourism reputation and that can successfully occur on both passive and active levels.  United has a global presence, strong brand recognition and an extensive network of cities served.  Chicago's O Hare is one of the world's busiest airports and located itself in a major catchment area of some 8.5 million consumers.  The connectivity to this market through United raises our reputation as a "go to" destination.  As news of the new service was circulating this week, I've had discussions with provincial tourism colleagues and consumers from across North America commenting to me how positive this news is and how this development reflects positively on the community.

Chicago has long been a major source market for the region's angling and hunting experiences and its massive population coupled with its weathering of the recent US economic downturn has made it an attractive market to pursue.  Our industry made huge marketing cuts in the wake of the events of 2001 and this market, regrettable, lost a lot of market penetration.  New regional tourism investments has allowed the industry to capture some of that market back.  United offers a quicker way to get here fromt he U.S. markets, saving anglers, hunters, kayakers, canoeists, campers and hikers a  minimum10 hour drive in each direction.

The air connectivity allows our angling and broad outdoor industry to reach out to a broader market of avid enthusiasts willing to travel a longer distance for that epic experience.  Thunder Bay is a hub to Lake Superior water adventures, stunning scenic coastal touring, accessible wildlife viewing and hundreds of thousands of angling lakes served by hundred of angling resorts.  These experiences are what we do best and there is a market further afield than the 8 hour drive radius who put a value on these experiences.  United opens us up to the entire United States market and beyond, allowing our experience focused campaigns to target avid consumers more precisely.

Better air connectivity helps us reach them and our city can improve its role as a hub providing accommodation, rental vehicles, supplies and culinary experiences to these visitors before they head out into the region.

United's arrival in the city will be a convenience for local and regional travellers heading south. Thunder Bay's accommodation and culinary industries will benefit from this outbound market as much as for the inbound traveller.  Given that we're the hub for a regional catchment area of some 40 000 residents and a lot of them seek sun destinations, we can expect some increases in winter leisure traffic through our community as a result, perhaps as many as an additional 2000 to 4000 room nights annually

United begins daily service on February 14, 2013 arriving at 8:40 PM utilizing 50 seat CRJ200 jets.  The inaugural departure will be at 6 AM, February 15th and continue daily on that schedule.

Welcome United.  We look forward to working with you!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Out on the Big Water with Northern Wilds crew aboard's Frodo.  Clockwise rom left are Kate Watson, Shawn Perich, Captain Gregory Herioux, Amber Pratt and Paul Pepe.  Jim Boyd is behind the lens.
 This year is shaping up to be another amazing year for travel media interested in our area.  These journaists have discovered us through a numnber of sources and tourism partners and we've connected with them to create unique itineraries that they'll showcase in web, print and television.
As of today, we're up to twenty journalists covering everything from motorcycle touring to sailing the Big Water, kayaking, the growing local music culture and our culinary diversity.

Travel media is such a critical part of our marketing strategy and is becoming increasingly a larger element within our operating budget.  attracting journaists through any number of Canadian and US travel media showcases such as Canada Media Market Place or Go Media to name but a few.  We also get a lot of travel media inquiries from our friends at OTMPC and even other tourism marketing organizations such as Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association. Travel media tells stories in more detail and authenticity than an advertisement does and often ends up costing less.  We typically cover their expenses while here and many of our partners featured offer discounts and complimentary admissions in exchange for the publicity they receive.  In 2011, we welcomed twenty two journalists and we received over $7325 000 in earned media value (determined by what we'd have to pay for the equivilant print, web or television space.)

A few weeks back we hosted four Minnesota based journalists writing for Northern Wilds but also representing interests beyond the popular Northern Lake Superior lifestyle.  Today I had a chance to see the first two digital outcomes of the 4 whirwind days they spent, not only in Thunder Bay but up as far as as Terrace Bay and Rossport, really giving our coastal region a lot of attention.  In fact, we want to welcome them back later this year to see even more of the region.

You can read the identical articles either at North Shore Community Radio's website or at's site.

While the group was in Thunder Bay, The Tourism Division had a great time playing host as a couple of them weren't that familiar with the area.  Shawn Perich, Editor of Northern Wilds, along with staff writer Amber Pratt, North House Folk School Marketing Coordinator Kate Watson and freelancer Jim Boyd absorbed a lot of different experiences while in the area and really loved the food culture, the waterfront redevelopments and our urban connection to our natural environment.  For me, the most important element of the familiarization tour was getting to stregthen our tourism relationships and freiendships with folks across the border.  Lake Superior and the highway corridor around it is our single largest tourism asset and it takes all of us working together across three states, one province and two countries to grow the industry in any meaningful way.

Of course, it wouldn't have been made possible without the assistance of over sixteen other local and regional tourism partners who took time to show them around their attractions and respective communities.

Tomorrow is another day and we're welcoming a California based travel culture journalist , followed on Monday by a Vancouver based blogger, a crew from Inside Motorcycle and MAV TV...and this is all before the Bluesfest weekend!  We have another twelve booked in for the balance of July and August.

If you see a film crew or photo journalist around the city this summer, take a second to welcome them.  They'll love it!

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Cycle tourism, both the human and petrol powered kind - are both increasing in popularity across North America and Thunder Bay has the assets to capitalize on both in big ways.

Today, I'm going to talk about the human powered one.  Bicycle tourism is on the rise for a number of reasons.  A greater awareness of living a healthy lifestyle, rising fuel prices and greater awareness of avid travellers to experience destinations in ways that are harmonious with he natural environment.

Thunder Bay's investments in bicycle infrastructure in the past few years is to be applauded.  The active transportation strategy and the work of the city's own Adam Krupper is helping move this forward in a big way.   While it has not always been easy, anything worth doing never is.  Its part of Thunder Bay's transformation from car loving culture to one that is very rapidly evolving into a hip and eclectic urban culture.  (Don't get me wrong as I myself love my automobiles too).  The city is finding its place and its an exciting time to be here if you're in the community and economic development fields.

The creation of dedicated bicycle lanes began two years ago to much acclaim and a bit of criticism from a minority of the motoring public struggling with the idea of being attentive at the wheel and following traffic lines.  The lanes help define shared road space and ingrain drivers with the awareness that sharing the road with bicycles is important and the law.  This network of lanes and sharrows has expanded in each of the programs two subsequent years and we're now seeing it link the main routes together as well as link to the network of recreational trails.  The lanes make sense where we have wider than average roadways and where creating dedicated recreational paths just is not financially nor logistically feasible.

This past week, our active transportation strategy made a great link to our cultural scene with the unveiling of the new bike rack program.  Local businesses and organizations can purchase bike racks that feature artwork created by the local visual arts community, providing dedicated bike lock up space, promoting the local arts community and further building awareness in bike use.

The work in recent years to map out the single track at Shuniah Mines and promotes cycling on the city's ever expanding recreational trail system also add to our critical cycling asset inventory.  Bike racks installed on the entire fleet of city transit buses beginning in 2009 also add to our cycle friendly environment.

When one looks around, the private sector investments in cycle tourism are pretty impressive as well. We have businesses like Nipigon's Epic Adventures and Thunder Bay's Superior Bike Tours, we have Superior Pedicabs and retailers like Petries and Rollin Thunder offering bike rentals.  The Thunder Bay Cycling Club even has online information catering to bike visitors and the Black Sheep Mountain Bike Club are widely known for their promotion of that segment of riding.

In the bigger picture,. these investments say "welcome" to the cycling visitor.  In a community whose tourism mission statement is to be regarded as Canada's Best Outdoor City to attract the 62% of North Americans who seek outdoor adventures as their travel motivator, these investments compliment the tourism strategy wonderfully.

This all leads to the next question. Who is the cycling visitor anyway?

Typically, 50% are between 30 and 50 years of age, 46% have an income over $75 000 annually and 51% are female. The cycling market includes leisure families, recreational riders, mountain biking, touring cyclists.  Economic impact in Niagara is $148 per person excluding accommodation which can add anywhere from $50 to $75 per person.  The cyclist wants a nice meal, a comfortable bed and unique attractions to stop at along their riding tour.   Naturally, they want their bikes, often expensive - to be safely and securely cared for. In Quebec, Cycle or "velo" tourism contributes $134 million annually to the provincial economy.

Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls have all been promoting cycle tourism for some time and currently, Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury are working on a connecting link.  Closer to home, the Kinghorn line, formerly a CN rail corridor over 100 km long is been studied by a consortium of partners lead by the Trans Canada Trail group for the transition to a four season trail network connecting Thunder Bay to Nipigon.  The route has incredible potential, not only for its sweeping course through the boreal forest but also for the inclusion of the pass lake trestle, adding an incredibly unique scenic element to the route.  Now that spring is here, its not that hard to find bikes on cars, trucks, SUVs and RVs all over the city many with out of Province plates.  Its simply a growing trend we need to accommodate.

Sadly, our Provincial Ministry of Transportation in the Northwest has not included shoulders of any kind along the TransCanada in its enhancement projects nor has been willing to entertain parallel bike routes along right of ways - in essence taking a bigger picture approach to the corridors as transportation corridors and not just automobile corridors.  A current master transportation study for the North hopefully begins to address this and look at transportation more holistically moving into the future.

We're looking forward to the development of a regional cycle tourism strategy and seeing further investments, both public and private sector - made over the long term to strengthen our tourism brand as a premier outdoor city that values authentic and fun visitor experiences. It all adds to increased value in our brand and more visitors tot he community over the long run.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Tourism Thunder Bay has launched the first three in an ongoing series of new HD experiential videos showcasing some of Thunder Bay's most iconic visitor experiences.

Set against the backdrop of Prince Arthur's Landing as part of our tourism week open house, we welcomed over forty tourism industry representatives from around the community to enjoy persians, coffee, networking and of course, the launch of the new videos and the Youtube platform that anchors them.

These new digital assets replace our last video production, cobbled together four years ago and already outdated given changes to the tourism landscape.

Working with our creative agency Generator Advertising, Imaginarium Studios and Dining Room Studios, the total project from inception to launch was a little over 14 months.  We're proud to have been able to completely support our local cultural industries in the production of this.  The three launch videos were shot at over 46 locations and used 100 actors and over 100 extras.  Sound, provided by Dining Room Studios featured the works of local musician Jean Paul DeRoover.

What makes these videos particularly valuable is that they serve a purpose vastly different from traditional municipal promotion videos that featured identifiable businesses and focused on the "place".  Careful consideration was given to focus on the experience in the emotional sense, the human element of people enjoying the experiences.  Remember that the bast majority of people plan their travel for an experience, with the geological destination being the secondary deciding factor.

The video also factored in the careful avoidance of identifiable local businesses.  I was asked about this this morning as to why more individual businesses were not high lighted. The reality is that the tourism landscape changes with partners coming and going. As soon as an identifiable partner leaves the business scene, the video loses relevance quickly.  With over 1300 tourism related businesses, its difficult to feature every single one.

Its also important to remember that this project is not static and we're already planning the next chapters including cultural events and attractions, culinary, sport tourism and a convention planning video tool.  There is a lot to cover and we aim to continue adding content over the long term.

The videos, in Youtube and Vimeo channels as well as on DVD, are available for free use by our community's tourism partners.  Its already been posted to the VisitThunderBay's  facebook page, on twitter and is received significant media attention today from local and regional news media.

A big thanks goes out to Generator's Jack Hudolin, Barry Smith, Robin Moss, Heather Cranston and Maureen Mills.  The project could not have been executed without the exceptional talent of Piotr and Milosz at Imaginarium and the gang at Dining Room Studios.  The could not have been done without Tourism Thunder Bay's Marketing and Partnership Coordinator, Rose Marie Mancusa, who stick handled this from start to finish. 

Last but not least is our tourism partners who took the video and will be adding it to their websites, social feeds and hotel lobby screens to help promote the city.

Stay tuned for more videos over the next two years and also the inclusion of great visitor made video selected for the channel.  In the meantime, enjoy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


The first full week of June marks Tourism Week in Ontario. 

Being on the cusp of the start of the busy summer leisure and VFR season, its a chance to remind our communities of the economic importance of tourism.  In Thunder Bay, we welcome over 527 000 visitors annually, which in turn generates over $127 million annually in direct receipts.  Almost 1300 businesses, ranging from hotels, attractions, retail, culinary and related services rely in whole or in part on visitors for their living.  Thousands are employed as a result ranging from summer student and seasonal positions to entrepreneurs, career culinary and management positions. 

The tourism industry is critical to our community's cultural fabric.  It helps shape capital infrastructure investments such as Prince Arthur's Landing and the proposed new Multiplex, it helps influence public art and support of our cultural industries, and it makes a strong case for the beautification of our community that builds a sense of local community pride.  At the end of the day, all of these elements help create a platform to support entrepreneurship in the development of new and enhanced visitor experiences.

One gratifying thing a hear more and more from folks is just how much Thunder Bay is evolving since their last visit.  One of my favorite little games is to drive around the city with "visitor goggles" and see the city from a visitor perspective.  Driving around and looking at the investments in public art and gardens, road rehabilitation and street cleaning, spectacular public architecture, trails, bike lanes, new culinary influences, enhanced business improvement areas, airport expansion, and so forth

Yesterday I had the privilege to spend the day with fellow members of a group called the "Heart of the Continent", a bi national forum of Minnesota and Ontario tourism, parks and community leaders working in collaboration with one another to enhance our economic development and conservation efforts in a sustainable economic development framework.  The region encompasses an area from Duluth to Thunder Bay over to Fort Frances/International Falls.  I took them on a tour of the new Prince Arthur's Landing and it was spine tingling to hear the responses from our Duluth tourism partners who were incredibly impressed with what we have accomplished in short time frame.  The balance of public and private spaces and investments achieved is truly a model to showcase and be proud of.

This week we're offering a few events to celebrate tourism week and remind local citizens and business partners of the importance of tourism in pour community. 

Monday June 4th sees the start of our spring tourism education road trip, an all day education session for front line tourism partners.  Provided by Lake Superior Visits with lunch generously sponsored by the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel and Suites, this all day motor coach road trip explores the various areas of the city.  We have a full bus load this year representing over 15 tourism businesses who see the value of having well trained front line staff who can play concierge and help visitors explore the city's hidden gems and major attractions.  This all aids in visitor retention.  If we can encourage our 527 000 visitors already coming to the city to spend as little as an extra ten bucks on a lunch or hand crafted pair of earrings or some country market produce, we're injecting over $5 million new dollars into the local economy, creating employment for up to 75 people.  That's easy to do and delivers big results.

On June 6th, we'll be launching the first three episodes of our new hi definition promotional videos and Youtube Channel.  I'm not going to let any cats out of bags quite yet but we're pretty impressed with the year long collection of imagery.

On June 8th, look for your copy of "My TBay" citizen newsletter featuring a centre spread encouraging local residents to get out and explore their community and play host to their friends and family this summer.

For our local and regional tourism partners, its a great week to celebrate and reflect on your contribution to tourism.  Here's looking forward to a successful summer ahead.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Thoughts on Ice Cream and Tourism

This past week saw the first commercial tenant move into new digs at Prince Arthur's Landing, just in time for the start of the spring and summer visitor season.
TJ's Ice Cream Shoppe opened in the Pond Pavilion building, a seasonal commercial space located just across from the Skate and BMX Plaza. TJ's, who have their main operations at the corner of James and Arthur Street is operated by Ted and Cindy Slongo, two well established local entrepreneurs in every sense of the word.  I've known Ted for well over twenty years and he's one of this city's biggest boosters in terms of promoting all that is great about our city.

I had the chance this week to stop by, grab myself some frozen lunch and chat with Ted who is very much hands on every day in his four businesses (in addition to the two Ice Cream Shoppes, Ted also operated the Robin's Donut's Franchise and a hockey equipment supply and service business.  He's enthusiastic about the opportunity to be located in one of the city's prime summer locations, mere feet from the world's greatest lake and meeting all sorts of great people in the process.  While there, Shaw Cable appeared to interview both he and his wife for an upcoming segment on Channel 10 locally.

Ted is also a solution focused guy.  Lets face it. Small business is difficult and I have a ton of respect for those in the private sector who make their own way in the economy.  I've been a bureaucrat for over 15 years and a business owner for almost the same.  I've seen both sides and appreciate the challenges businesses face everywhere in navigating the rules, policies and procedures established by various levels of government with relation to commerce.  Its not easy.  Ted is one of those fellows who finds the opportunities and can navigate through the regulatory requirements to make things happen by being focused, creative, positive and professional in his approach.

So what does this all have to do with tourism, you ask?  Plenty.   For starter's, the Ice Cream Shoppe is part of a major visitor attraction for a lot of people...the waterfront.  Its a destination for those who want to see the big lake, awe at the Giant, take a fishing or sailing charter, check out the public art installations or take in one of the many festivals held there.  It extends a visit to the city for thousands more.  A lot of these people will leave an economic impact while they stroll the park with ice cream in hand.  At the end of the day, it all adds up to create some seasonal employment for our youth and help a local entrepreneur grow.

Equally importantly is that Ted has always been a promoter of all things city and that includes the visitors who stop by any one of his businesses.  While chatting with him, a Minnesota couple, who had never visited Canada prior, stopped by for a treat.  Ted, as always, had his A-game on.  He was able to explain the park's improvements to them, suggest a local eatery within walking distance for a late lunch and local attractions of interest.  He speaks of pride of the city, is supportive of the investments made to improve both the economic and aesthetic values of our community. Its what every entrepreneur and single front line employee in the tourism industry should do.  Period.

A stop by the waterfront and TJ's is a must, for visitors and locals alike.  Its worth it for the ice cream.  If you see Ted himself at the window, its worth it for the conversation too. Here's wishing him much success with the new location.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fort William Historical Park Makes Capital Improvements

Fort William Historical Park continues to make capital improvements to its site, further solidifying its place as Northern Ontario's premier entertainment park.

The Fort has recently purchased several residential and agricultural properties on Broadway Avenue and is in the design process to develop a new entrance into the historical site from Broadway Avenue.  Although Kings Road, the long standing entrance into the park has served the historical site's access exceptionally well since the park opened in 1971, it does pose limitations during the Fort's occasional large scale events being held in its amphitheatre.

While details of the new entrance's look have not been released, the houses were leveled several weeks back and neighbourhood consultations are underway.  Its expected that the entrance will be ready in advance of the 2013 season.

For information on the fort's upcoming event schedule visit their site at

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Online Tool Helps Finance Creative Start Ups

A successful sustainable tourism economy is made up of thousands of experiences . Some grand. Others very small. The small experiences may not on the surface ever be considered a valuable addition to a tourism economy. In fact, they are often the most important element.

Arts, food, design and events all add depth to a visitor's experience. They add value and choice for visitors. These seemingly small visitor experiences can pack a huge combined punch and support local artisans, create local jobs, support supply chains and are part of the sustainable local economy. When one looks around the city and region, it does not take long to create a list of unique micro experiences that when combined, create an impressive inventory that can appeal across a wide range of consumer interests. It is the country markets, organic food purveyors, community theatres, local galleries, creators of local music and countless local artisans that add layers of cultural fabric to our city and provide it with a sense of warmth. The more experiences a community offers and the more the tourism industry can cross promote them, the greater the opportunities to increase visitor retention.

Getting these unique, boutique and artistic elements off the ground is no small feat in smaller or rural communities but many have done it through sheer determination and a passion for what they do. Persistence is key to success, as well as developing a loyal following, remaining consistently true to the art and of course the required financial resources. Recently, the Ciy of Thunder Bay undertook a new culture planning strategy and it identified the economic importance of Thunder Bay's cultural industries and highlighted their importance as tourism values.

I recently came across a great site called Kickstarter, that taps into a global community of financial patrons to help launch innovative and creative ventures in the fields of design, arts, theatre, music, technology and more. It begins when an entrepreneur has a great idea and posts their idea online with a financial fund raising goal in mind. From there an online community can scroll through and contribute to their idea with their credit card. A scroll through the site reveals a plethora of small ventures that have garnered significant support.

Its a great concept where thinking locally, acting globally takes on an authentic meaning. In the many conversations I have every week with local budding entrepreneurs and artisans, it becomes evident very quickly how this tool can help them raise the equity among investors who truly get what they're doing. I hope to see local and regional creative projects up on Kickstarter soon and see more layers added to our cultural tourism tapestry.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Motorcycle Touring Around Superior Gets a Boost

Motorcycle touring around Lake Superior is gaining a lot more marketing and partnership attention over the past year with the development of the "Ride Lake Superior" initiative. With the movement moving very quickly in early 2011 from an RTO driven capacity building exercise to a full on bi national development and marketing partnership, this project has galvanized the entire lake basin's tourism industry and fostered some great new dialogue and partnership discussions across borders.

Recently the program gained a huge boost from our good friends and partners at Lake Superior Magazine. Paul, Cindy, Konny and Bob and their entire team recently featured motorcycle touring in their latest issue of the magazine in an article aptly titled "Looping The Lake". The Lake Superior Circle Tour has been around as a brand for well over forty years but its only been recently that its specifically targeted the motorcycle segment. Its was critical not to create a confusing or competing brand in the process but to bring in partners with strong leadership ties to the brand and create a complimentary brand that speaks specifically to the needs and wants of the rider. We quickly found enthusiasm from Lake Superior Magazine, the leaders in promoting the lake and keepers of the Circle Tour brand.

The article is an excellent in depth look at the lake's epic touring route and what it means to riders and the industry. An sidebar article also highlights the Ride Lake Superior initiative. On a personal note, the article references my hidden passion for riding as I've been collecting and storing gear at my office for some time - hiding it from my wife who believes(and probably rightfully so) that my attention deficit disorder does not compliment motorcycle ownership. While I've never held a licence, I used to ride around in farmer's fields as a teen and this year I'm going for my licence and taking the course.

Each region around the lake draws from a specific source market. Thunder Bay from the northwest and western Canada, North Shore of Minnesota from the Twin Cities, Michigan's upper Peninsula from Detroit and Chicago and the Sault Ste Marie area from Southern Ontario. These are all huge markets to tap into and its unlikely any single region would have the resources or success to tap into all of them individually. To the motorcycle visitor, they will be drawn into various starting points around he lake and travel through each area, extending the visitor experience and impacts to individual communities. Attracting ten thousand new riders to the lake can result in up to sixty thousand new hotel room nights, tens of thousands of meals and attraction person visits. The new economic impact can easily reach upwards of $9 million annually for the lake basin's tourism economy. Given that approximately 85 visitors create one full time job in tourism, the impacts become even more important.

The initiative is important in that it unifies the individual tourism regions around the lake to foster the growth of a specific travelling demographic that is on the rise and knows no geo political boundaries. Its an important catalyst in improving tourism communication across borders and aims to grow a segment in a way that makes the pie bigger for the entire industry. Water is our largest tourism asset and Lake Superior is the nucleus of that. Opportunities exist to grow the bi national partnerships, collaborate and share knowledge and resources to create a much larger impact. Having allies like Lake Superior Magazine makes the process that much easier.

This year, Ride Lake Superior partners will be expanding the marketing reach, attracting motorcycle journalists to the the region and continuing to provide local and regional training for the tourism industry on becoming "motorcycle ready"

Pick up a copy of Lake Superior Magazine or check out their site. If you are planning on doing the epic ride, visit for trip planning information to make your journey one sweet epic adventure.

Urban Angling Abounds in Canada's Best Outdoor City

he re-branding Thunder Bay as Canada's Best Outdoor City gains more and more equity with every small complimentary contribution from our industry and media partners.

Capitalizing on the fact that we are on the shore of the world's largest freshwater lake, overlooks one of Canada's most spectacular Provincial Parks and is gateway to some of the Continent's best known parks and protected areas makes for a logical fit.

Along the way, its always been important to ensure that this outdoor branding does not alienate our urban tourism partners and opportunities. Urban angling is one such experience that doesn't get enough attention. With no fewer than five rivers winding through the city and emptying in the big lake (Kaminisitqua, Neebing, Mcintyre, Current Rivers and McVikar creek) and ample opportunities along the Lake's shore itself, one does not have to go far to find good angling. In 2009, the Angler Young Angler North American tournament record walleye was caught right in the Kam River.

The idea of being able to catch great fish without trekking out of the community is a simply awesome thing to consider. Not only does it make angling more accessible to youth and local residents without the budget for boats and extensive gear, it can offer visitors something unique that they can fit into a relatively short stay or if they don't have the time to head out on the water with our charter operators (which, by the way, offer some pretty spectacular big lake fishing experiences - a must do). The local spring tradition of smelting is in a lot of our bloods. Imagine the fun for visiting mining, education or health care executives to partake in the spring smelt run while here or cast a line with a local down at the Lake. Its something that extends a visitor's experience in the community.

One such great angling location is Prince Arthur's Landing and its great to see anglers continuing to drop lines there. I think its a fantastic experiential addition to the enhancements made to this park and will offer visitors and residents another activity to participate in while there. This past week, urban angling got some positive attention from the CBC's own Gord Ellis, a national icon in the outdoor world and someone who is proud to call the city home. In the clip, Gord chats with two teenagers pike fishing down at Prince Arthur's Landing last weekend. Its a great story for a couple of reasons. It showcases another activity to partake in while at the park, its another way to connect to the lake and it shows how Thunder Bay's youth are excited, not only about the park but in enjoying outdoor experiences here. You can catch the audio clip here.

Engaging youth in the outdoors and in our city's activities is critical to building good citizens and encouraging them to consider their future opportunities in the city. Encouraging our young citizens to appreciate and enjoy the city's many opportunities can encourage them to consider building their futures and careers here. While they may migrate to the big cities and schools, a lot are returning to raise their families and find career opportunities in the entrepreneurial, mining and health sciences sectors in particular.

Its our connection to our unique natural environment that sets the city apart and makes it a great place to live and work. AS the city celebrates its current cultural and economic renaissance, out intimacy with our natural surroundings will be critical to our growth and sustainable success.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thunder Bay Marathon Expands in its Third Year

The Thunder Bay Marathon - Miles With the Giant, is now entering its third year and growing with a goal to become one of this region's premier fall annual sport tourism events. This past week, a couple of developments will help solidify that vision.

The marathon was conceived a number of years back by a group of local community and tourism leaders eager to fill a void in both the local fall sports scene and the traditionally slow fall tourism season. The creation of a high quality, well executed event that would grow annually was the vision established. Marathons are big sport tourism business. Duluth's Grandma's Marathon, an iconic race operating every June for decades, draws some twenty six thousand runners, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and attractions during race weekend. For Thunder Bay, with its bold dedication towards developing an active transportation strategy, dedicated trails and the overall promotion of health and fitness, this is a nice fit.

Based on feedback from the past event's runners and experiences gained through the logistics side of the event over the first two years, the route has been changed from two 13.1 mile loops to a single 26.2 mile route that will take in more of the community to include Confederation Collage and Lakehead University campus. The event will still start and finish at Prince Arthur's Landing and include the Boulevard Lake loop but it will offer some new territory and expand the appeal to runners. This will also be the year that the organizers work to have the race certified by Athletics Canada to become a Boston Marathon qualifier, an important certification to attract more running visitors from outside the community.

The second welcome development this week is the announcement by the Ministry of Tourism that the event will be receiving $40 000 from the Celebrate Ontario program to expand their operational capacity and build a much larger sustainable event. Tourism Thunder Bay has supported this great event since it was conceived with marketing support and we'll continue to help promote it through our media channels this year as well as co sponsor some of the costs associated with promoting the event at other Marathons in key close haul markets.

Of course a big thanks has to go out to the volunteer board of directors who give passionately to building this into an iconic annual event, the local Hotelier's coalition for their support and recognition of sport tourism development and our co workers at the City of Thunder Bay including events, police, engineering and our own sport tourism folks who have helped make the reality of a 26.2 mile course using a multitude of city streets possible. Nothing compliments our tourism vision to become regarded as Canada's Best outdoor city like a marathon that features the big Lake and the Sleeping Giant as a backdrop and winds through the city's parks, lakes, classic neighbourhoods and historic downtown core.

Registration is now open and the new route is posted on the marathon website. You can check it all out at

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Closure of 75% of Provincial Travel Centres in the Northwest Unacceptable

As many of you know, I often focus my blog posts on good news that can move the industry forward. However, every once in a while, a policy issue hits our industry and we need to respond. Today, I'm requesting that our tourism industry partners throughout the region help us out. In last week's provincial budget, the Province announced the closure of three out of four gateway travel centres in the northwest. More alarming is that every one of the centers is located in the sunset Country region.

Ontario is a huge province that borders a lot of different close haul domestic and U.S. markets. This year, OTMPC's main target in their provincial campaign is families and targets the southern Ontario market, New York State and Detroit. With the exception of the southern Ontario markets, these are not key markets for the northwest and we opted out of the marketing program, indicating our interest to grow our marketing inner regionally and into the Manitoba and Saskatchewan markets. The reality is that we have different visitor experiences, cater to a different traveller demographic and have different source markets. We've made a lot of progress to develop partnerships with OTMPC to make wise investments so its a shock to see the region abandoned by the closure of these gateway centers from Minnesota, the Dakotas and Manitoba and Western Canada.

On Friday, in my capacity as the Regional Chair for the Northern Ontario RTO, I wrote to Minister Michael Chan - Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Ronald Holgerson, the Interim CEO of OTMPC to express the regional industry's collective concerns with this poor budgetary policy. We're requested a meeting with the Ministry to look towards creative partnerships to resolve these closures and recognize the importance of these centers in the gateway communities of Northwestern Ontario. In a year where over $1.5 million in new RTO and Provincial tourism marketing investments are being made in the Manitoba and US Midwest markets, the shuttering of these centers in 2012 will be an embarrassment to the industry, the region and the Ministry.

Don't get me wrong. We enjoy a great partnership with OTMPC. But we also owe it to the industry to take a stand to question matters that could have a negative impact on the communities and operators that count on these centers to provide visitors with the essential information on the region. We have quickly been able to attract support from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and letters of support from North Central and Northeast Ontario.

We're looking for more support from the region and industry so please write or email to Minister and Mr Holgerson to express the value these travel centers have to growing the region's tourism industry.

Hon Michael Chan
Minister - Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
900 Bay Street, 9th Floor. Hearst Block
Toronto, ON
M7A 2E1

Mr Ronald Holgerson
Interim CEO - Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation

Friday, March 16, 2012

Efforts to Build the Great Lakes Cruise Shiipping Industry Continue

The cruise shipping industry is a global tourism powerhouse valued in the billions of dollars and attracting tens of millions of avid cruise consumers annually. Although the industry remains dominated by the big liners focused on the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, a niche segment is growing in the small ship market. While the large vessels and standard island itineraries are great, a growing segment of the cruise consumer is seeking something more intimate, more educational and more experiential.

This past march marked the fifth consecutive year Tourism Thunder Bay has been present at SeaTrade's Cruise Shipping Miami as part of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition. This nineteen member bi national organization is focused on the development of the Great Lakes as a vibrant cruise shipping destination, catering to the speciality cruise markets.

Miami is undeniably the home port of the world's industry with most cruise operators, ship owners and industry influencers having their head or branch operations. The annual event, held this past week, attracts hundreds of vessel suppliers and destinations and attracts thousands of cruise line executives, deployment directors, tour operators and retail travel representatives. This gathering of the globe's key cruise influencers makes it the one single marketing.

The growth of discovery and expedition cruising globally is largely focused on areas such as Central and South America, the far east, Australia, Galapagos, Antarctica, New Zealand and the rivers of Europe. There is no reason that the Great Lakes, with its mix of exceptional natural environment and rich cultural and industrial heritage, can be a long term destination right up there with some of the planets other exotic regions.

The history of passenger ship travel on the great lakes goes back to the eighteenth century and ended in the mid sixties with the improvements to the highway and air infrastructure to move people and goods more quickly and efficiently. It was not until the mid 1990's that passenger travel returned to the lakes with the likes of of the C. Columbus and later, Le Levant, ACCL (now Blount Small Ship Cruises) and Travel Dynamics. The strength of the Great Lakes includes fresh water, a cultural identity

Since 1997, the C Columbus has visited Thunder Bay twenty six times, Travel Dynamics twenty two times and a handful of visits from Ponnant Cruises' Le Levant. While this year appears quiet for the commercial ships visiting our terminal, we continue to work with industry and communities to build itineraries that can appeal to their clientele. There are two essential elements to developing cruise shipping destinations. The first is having shore experiences that consumers are seeking and the second is the establishment of an economically and environmentally climate for the operators. Cruise ships are expensive expensive to operate and lines are very mindful of the plethora of costs associated with seaway fees, the mandated use of low sulphur bunker fuels, shore excursion rates, food supplies, wharfage charges, customs and immigration fees, etc, etc.

This past year, we focused on meeting with the small ship owners, charterers and travel trade associated with the expedition industry. We also had a chance to meet representatives from most of the world's shipyards to find out what small ships are on the build sheets so we can plan our efforts into the future to get on the radar screen of their itinerary and deployment planners. It was also a chance to meet with the cruise media and sell them on the Great Lakes to build consumer and industry buzz and generate more leads and hopefully, more demand from ship owners to add capacity.

Cruise shipping generates approximately 1% of our annual tourism receipts for the region and while that sounds paltry to be putting efforts into this, our dedicated resource budget to the cruising is about 1% of our overall annual budget. When leveraged with the nineteen other cities and ports, Federal and Provincial contributions and RTO funds, it provides a solid base to promote the entire region. Considering that expedition and discovery cruising is a high yield, high value attraction, it raises the profile of our region and provides unique media opportunities.

More and more tourism industry officials believe that the great lakes has the potential to be the planet's next big discovery and expedition cruising territory. It will take an ongoing collective effort and resources from great lakes partners on both sides of the border and business friendly shipping policies to make that a reality

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


There is no doubt that the city's mining related economy is on the upswing in a big way. With the community being a base for gold, palladium and diamond mines, and extensive exploration efforts including the much hyped "Ring of Fire", the community is seeing the economic benefits of the supply chain associated with this industry in a big way...and its only going to grow in the next twenty years.

The city has successfully re focused our brand position as one of Canada's Best Outdoor Cities and on the surface, many would draw the conclusion that the very experiences we promote are in conflict with the resource extraction reputation of the mining industry. They can and do co-exist and we have to approach our overall economic future in a balanced multi disciplinary approach. There's room for everyone to play and good land use planning permits that focuses on highest and best sustainable use of natural resources in a given geographic region can permit that co-existance to flourish.

The tourism industry benefits from this sector. We're seeing the positive impacts on both the hotel and airport performance. But how about the other tourism related businesses in the city. We're seeing a wide range of professionals from around the planet arriving in the city to work or stage their trip into the region and they are no different than the leisure markets that are often considered the only tourism market.

These professionals are often here for days or even weeks at a time. They rent cars and truck, utilize air services, eat and will take in local attractions while here. They do have leisure time to explore. A number of years ago, I worked to mediate a conflict between an exploration firm and a remote tourism operator north of the city. What started as a conflict of land use values turned into a unique partnership whereby the exploration company became guests of the lodge but also offered to provide interpretation of their drilling program to some of the outfitters clients. It turns out that gold exploration in the heart of the Candian shield and boreal forest is something that is interesting to some people.

The city is primed to host regional, national and even international mining related conferences, trade shows and meetings. Mining is a major segment of our meeting and convention strategy. Look at the annual Northwestern Ontario Mining Symposium held here every year, how it continues to grow and attract delegates, not only from our region but from across North America.

The other night, I was returning from Toronto and got to chatting with a seat mate from Salt Lake City travelling to the region on mining related business. He was interested in our geography, activities, winter and cost of living. While on the ground, he was going to rent a vehicle, stay overnight and eat at local establishments. He was inquiring about skiing and dog sledding, too. We've heard from industry partners that groups of mining executives going out on fishing or sailing charters, exploring the art gallery or taking a group kayak tour of the waterfront. These are the traditional visitor experiences - the leisure market oriented ones - that everyone thinks about. The bottom line is that the thousands of mining related professionals arriving in the city also enjoy the traditional tourism attractions making it a valued market segment of our tourism economy.

Here is where we in the tourism marketing role in partnership with our front line partners in the taxi, hotel and restaurant industry can play a role in maximizing the visitor experience. Its about recommending the great restaurants, knowing the major attractions and hidden gems and selling them on what makes Thunder Bay great. Brag about all the NHL stars we grow, being on the world's largest freshwater lake, home to the world's largest fur trade post or one of Canada's top natural wonders. Share with them that we have some of Canada's most affordable housing, long summer days and access to outdoor experiences minutes from downtown.

Remember, many of our mining industry visitors are looking to the city to establish branch operations, plan extended work stays or even relocate themselves and their families. A well informed tourism industry can play a role in influencing positive visitor impressions and positive economic impacts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Fish Shop is One Amazing Culinary Tourism Roadside Attraction

Thunder Bay's tourism industry has a lot of great things developing. Two of my favorites are the blossoming local culinary scene and the awesome tourism entrepreneurs that call the city home.

This weekend, I'll be headed to Toronto to meet with tourism partners and be a part of the Toronto Outdoors Show where we're helping OTMPC with its Superior Adventure Contest. As busy as my schedule is with the various hats I wear, getting out and connecting one on one with visitors reminds me why we're all in the tourism industry. To serve great experiences to great people.

We're going to kick it up a notch this weekend and bring 90 pounds of our Northwestern Ontario culinary delights with us. Six varieties Thunder Oak gouda, smoked Lake Nipigon Lake Trout Fillets, whole smoked Lake Superior whitefish, some rainy river elk summer sausage and of course, Thunder Bay persians.

Why? Because food is the ultimate conversation starter and Northwestern Ontario entrepreneurs produce a myriad of great offerings that are talk worthy. We'll have a chance to talk with thousands of Torontonians about our area's incredible outdoor visitor experiences and ease of getting here while noshing on some great samples from our lakes, woods and fields. Its also great at getting media attention. Friday morning has us doing a live session about our culinary gems for Breakfast TV while Sunday morning sees us chatting it up with CP24.

This afternoon, as we we pulling the stories of our food suppliers together, I had a chance to talk on the phone with Liisa Karrkainen, the second generator proprietor of The Fish Shop, located on highway 11/17 at Crystal Beach. I can't believe I had never been there before. I made a beeline out there at the end of the day to meet her and her husband, Willy, in person.

The shop opened in 1970 by Lisa's mother and is run by Liisa and Willy today. Today they featured smoked trout, whitefish, herring and salmon, all sourced locally. What was even better is that they smoke their fish outdoors, using green alder for a completely nitrate or preservative free result. Sampling the trout fillet, its simply amazing. While talking with them, a long haul trucker pulled to the side of the highway to pick some smoked fish up. A first time customer, he'd heard about it over the airwaves as a must stop while passing through town. Thair fish is known all across Canada.

Liisa and Willy are indicative of the entrepreneurial spirit in our local culinary tourism industry. They are amazingly positive, upbeat and great ambassadors for the city and area. For all the time I spend at the screen pouring over trends and stats and performance indicators, nothing can compare to just having a chat with some of our local tourism partners to get a sense of visitor traffic and expenditure patterns.

If you're a restaurant in Thunder Bay who already serves their fresh and smoked fish, you're adding value to the local culinary industry. If you're a restaurant not serving local fish, what the heck are you waiting for? Its an amazing treat and a great part of our culture.

If you want to check them out, they are on highway 11/17 at Crystal Beach (about 15 minutes drive east of the Terry Fox Lookout) or you can learn more about them at

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Thunder Bay's economic transformation includes the explosive growth within our culinary sector, with new and innovative locally owned and themed establishments popping up on the landscape regularly and rapidly becoming financially (and in many cases environmentally)sustainable.

One such much anticipated addition to our eclectic culinary scene is Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. The brainchild of Kyle and Andrea Mulligan and Rob and Kerry Berlinquette, this new craft brewery is currently renovating space in the intercity area of the city and aims to have some great new beers ready for consumers in the spring of 2012. Its always great to see new entrepreneurs investing back into the community and showing confidence in our upward direction as one of Canada's Best Outdoor Cities.

I've had a chance to sample their brews and they are all exceptional. I really like beer so perhaps I'm biased. They're launching with three beers, all thoughtfully crafted and carry names with local connections such as 360 Degree Ale, Elevator Wheat and Skullrock Stout.

While it may not be obvious at first, Sleeping Giant Brewing Company is a welcome addition to our tourism industry in that it adds another local dimension to our culinary culture. More and more adventurers like to sample local beers when travelling and its a great opportunity to pare this with some of the delicacies at our many local restaurants to promote

One need only look at the popularity of brewery or winery tours in other jurisdictions and its easy to see how they play a role in enhancing a visitor's experience in the community. Even a single brewery in a community can build partnerships with the culinary scene to expose it to a wider audience and hekp tell the stories of a community. I can't wait to see their great "hometown proud" logo around local restaurants and in the LCBO and Beers Stores soon.

You can visit their website to learn more about them, their inspiration and most importantly, their beers.


A Simplistic Guide to Increasing Tourism Revenues

The Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Report and new Provincial strategy has one pretty big overarching goal: To double tourism receipts in the Province by 2020 to approximately $40 billion - yes - billion. The fact that tourism in Ontario currently adds $20 billion to the economy is a big hammer that drives the point home that tourism IS an economic driver.

In a simplistic form, there are two ways to increase tourism revenues. Increase the number for visitors or increase the yield - the per person spending. Both methods have their advantages and challenges in our current economy but a good tourism strategy needs to employ both methods to succeed.

Increasing the number of visitors can present a problem and its important to know what you have to offer in the way of an asset inventory) and match it to the consumer demographics that want what you have. Our strategy has focused on our connection to our natural environment. Its our biggest strength that becomes more obvious when matched to fact that outdoor experiences are the number one travel motivator among North Americans - at approximately 61%. That's the hook that gets them here. Creating itineraries that weave these core destination drivers (the main experience) with the culinary, accommodation and ancillary attraction options creates the yield. Tying touring along the highway , water or trail routes to outdoor adventure experiences strengthens the reach. The key here is having relevant visitor experiences that visitors want. An attraction is only an attraction if people are attracted to it.

Its important to choose media channels that speak to the avid markets carefully and be able to measure their success, something that is not always easy but electronic media facilitates this. I am hugely over simplifying this but you get the point. Match what you have with the customers that want it.

So now you've gotten the visitors here. How do you increase their spending in the community and hence the yield? Given that Thunder Bay's tourism economy is valued at about $151 million annually, even increasing visitor spending by as little as 5% adds another $7.5 million to the economy.

Increasing it by 5% or even 10% is easy to accomplish if tourism industry partners consider this measurable goal in how they operate. Here's a few suggestions to getting visitors to spend more, stay longer and return satisfied.

Well trained front line staff are a key element in this. Front desk clerks, restaurant servers and gas station attendants can all play a critical role as they are often the ones who get asked by visitors that key opening question "what is there to do here?" Front line staff should memorize their local and regional travel guides and know the restaurants, attractions and events going on. Even a business traveller-a huge part of our tourism market - wants to find a good meal, something for the partner of children, or check out a unique attraction while they wait to fly home. Even a $15 purchase adds up when multiplied.

Tourism related establishments can ensure that their local and regional tourism information is displayed prominently by the counters or front doors where its easy to access. We have one of Ontario's best print visitor magazines and in this day of digital media domination it still plays an important role and we know from the feedback we receive from attractions and hotels, that people have it in their hand when they cross the threshold. When hotels tuck their tourism information displays in the dark corners of the lobby, they serve no purpose than to keep that section of the floor dust free.

Cross promotion is critical. Don't look at the guy across the street as your competition. Your competition is another travel destination. Its important that tourism businesses scratch each others back, recommend clients back and forth and create a unified approach to improving the visitor experience. Drop the notion that "If I can't have them, no one can" if you cannot accommodate them. That only drives the guest somewhere else - likely another destination in the future. No one wins.

Get to know others in the industry and create networks. Every spring, Tourism Thunder Bay charters a motor coach and offers a day long guided tour of the community's attractions to front line staff, complete with on board commentary on rudimentary customer services skills. Its absolutely free to the industry. Our hotel partners even sponsor the lunch. All businesses have to commit is to pay their staff for 8 hours to take this training. The result is front line workforce that know each other's businesses on the tour and know more about that's available in the community. We offer this workshop as many times as demand dictates.

Create packages. This isn't offered nearly enough in the tourism industry but linking accommodation with attractions, event, car rental or other experience for a combined single rate (ideally discounted) provides value to the consumer and gets them thinking about doing things they might not always do. A few years ago, we erroniously printed in our hotel guide that a certain hotel offered continental breakfast when they in fact did not. When we caught the error, we immediately offered to compensate the property for anyone requesting the added value service. Something funny happened, however. They received a boost in business. In this case, bundling the modest delivery cost of toast, coffee and cereal into the room rate generated new leads.

Increasing yield is also about improving retention. Encouraging visitors to remain in a community or the region longer by offering them more to do increases the yield. Even if they don't take in an additional experience on this trip, they'll be more inclined on a repeat trip to make time for something intriguing. This comes back to a well educated workforce, cross promotion, packaging and quality service. At the end of the day, we have to remember that this is not a cash grab and increasing the value of our tourism economy needs to be respectful that consumers work hard for their money. They will invest it in the things they really want but its all about delivering value to them. Its about making them feel special, welcomed and going home satiated, telling their friends and family positive stories of their experience and planning their return trip itinerary.

These are simple ways for the tourism industry to ensure we're delivering an exceptional level of service and value to all of our guests and grow the tourism economy. It builds a stronger reputation as being a must visit destination with more to do than meets the eye. Ultimately at the end of the day be have a more sustainable vibrant and community minded sector of the economy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valhalla Inn-Door Golf Open In its Second Year of Supporting the Community

In addition to being a great place to stay or host a conference event, The Valhalla Inn has always had a great reputation for its commitment to the community. So its no surprise that they're once again hosting the Valhalla Inn-Door Golf Open on Friday April 27th in support of the United Way of Thunder Bay.

This is the second year of the event and its a great way to have some fun, raise some money for a great local organization. The best part is that the weather is always perfect. It might be hard to image but think of a colossal mini putt course stretched through most of the main floor of the hotel. From the ball rooms, meeting rooms, halls, lobby and even the pool area (think massive water trap). The cool thing is that the course sponsors design their own holes and its pretty amazing to see the creative lengths they go to.

In 2011, Tourism Thunder Bay partnered with Golf Thunder Bay to host a hole and even field a team. Its a great way to boost our network within the community. The event raised over $12 800 and 100% of the proceeds went to the United Way.

I encourage other community tourism partners to consider sponsoring a hole, prizes or fielding a team for this event. For our corporate visitors in the city that week, why not stay over an extra night and hang out with the locals on the course. Space is limited to 36 teams.

To register, click here. For more information contact Bill Dell, Sales and Marketing Director @

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Unconventional Convention" Campaign Takes Off.

Our "Unconventional Convention" strategy is generating some positive attention from our friends at Northern Ontario Business.

The February issue features a number of articles on Thunder Bay's corporate partners, Lake Superior Visits and Sailsuperior. There is also a robust article on our new strategy developed in 2011 that aligns with our overall vision to be positioned as Canada's Best Outdoor City and distinguish ourselves from other municipal convention destinations. Where most people are zigging, we decided to zag. We've focused on the details that create inspired meetings and conferences. Things like the food, the pre and post activities and the unique off site, corporate retreat and break out options. The convention business is hugely competitive between cities across Ontario and we felt it important to break the mold a little, have a little fun and get planners thinking about how they great they'll look when they've delivered a successful and unique event. We've also looked beyond our traditional municipal boundaries to include unique corporate retreat experiences in Nipigon and Red Rock.

Our 2011 Meeting and Convention Planner has all the conference planner info at ones fingertips-from room capacities, hotel room inventory, unique locations and the like but kicks it up a few notches to showcase the culinary masterminds of the convention hotels, unique off site and team building experiences and things to do while waiting to fly home. What do you remember from a conference? Was it the great food? The team building sailing or kayak tour or just catching a great local band in a club at the end of the day? Most people don't remember what the meeting room looked like.

The strategy draws heavily on our biggest asset. Air connectivity. With Westjet, Air Canada, Porter, Bearskin and Wasaya serving the city, we're becoming top of mind for provincial and national meeting planners. Easy to get to, affordable hotel rates and all the services available in larger centres opens a lot of eyes in the conference planners world.

In 2011, we began an in flight marketing campaign with all five national and regional airlines to speak directly to the corporate audience. Lets face it. Everyone reads the in flight magazine when flying. They flip through it, read it backwards and memorize the ads. The strategy also included a refreshed and inspiring trade show expo and participation in some of Ontario and Canada's top convention planner shows. We even had a lot of fun coordinating the cover shoot last summer at the newly opened Prince Arthur's Landing where we staged an outdoor meeting at the end of pier 2 on a clear July night with sailboats cruising around in the background.

An important element of the convention strategy is to improve the cross pollination between our corporate and leisure segments. Encouraging business travellers to explore our restaurant and live music scene, integrate a visit to the art gallery or hit the slopes increases yield and improves the overall economic contribution of the tourism industry. It also makes business travellers enjoy their time more and perhaps they'll return with family on vacation.

The plan also focuses on a number of best bet segments within the corporate travel market that have a logical reason to do business in Thunder Bay. Mining, health sciences, government, NGO, education and First Nations groups are all important to our municipal corporate travel market and contribute significantly to our overall annual tourism economy.

The strategy is already delivering more bid inquiries through our office and more interest in both the online site and printed convention planner. From the industry performance side, increased airport usage and hotel occupancy rates in 2011 support the notion of increased business travel to the city.

If you're a convention planner looking for something different, contact our Conference Planner, Rose Marie Tarnowski at