Sunday, January 15, 2012

Marketing some of the Best Fresh Water Boating in North America

Water is our most important tourism asset. Weather its trophy angling, canoeing, kayaking, sailing or waterfall viewing, its connected to many of North America's most beloved travel experiences.

We happen to have a lot of it around us, pretty special considering we're in the middle of the continent. Investing in the promotion of freshwater based experiences is a big part of our tourism strategy. Waterfront redevelopment investments by the City of Thunder Bay create improved connectivity for residents and visitors to the Big Lake. Just look around Lake Superior and you'll notice almost every community has or is making capital investments in their waterfronts to capture more visitors and create greater local recreational opportunities. The Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area is a catalyst investment that all communities along its route need to be engaged in.

We've been a big supporter of the North of Superior Marina Marketing Association over the past number of years, working in a regional partnership to attract more Canadian and American boaters to this, one of the most road accessible wilderness boating regions anywhere.

In 2011, we worked with the group to bring in Power Boat Television for a week to tape an episode on cruising the North Shore of Superior. A print article based on the taping made its way into the October 2011 Boats and Places magazine and the episode is set to air later this month on Power Boat Television on the Outdoor Life Network. During the taping I was fortunate enough to give the hosts an overview of the works being undertaken at Prince Arthur's Landing. Needless to say,they were suitable impressed with the enhancements and it will be featured in their upcoming episode. One scene involving a unexpected guest swimming out to join the crew aboard is particularly entertaining and reminds us just how exotic our region is to others and we should be promoting it to avid adventure travellers accordingly.

We also partner with the association every year at the Minneapolis Boat Show, a major boating and water sport show that attracts close to forty thousand folks. Being one of only a few Canadian booths and one of the few destination promoters means we're pretty popular, speaking with over twelve hundred avid and dedicated boaters each year, doing presentations for Minnesota based boating and yacht clubs and getting a sense of the economic demographics of the region. In addition to the boating information, we also distribute hundred of Thunder Bay visitor magazines, thousands of maps, and other relevant information for the folks coming through the doors.

While the number of boats that arrive in the city by water is relatively modest - approximately one hundred or so annually - they typically stay an average of three nights in our port. Furthermore, many, many more boaters arrive by highway, towing small to medium sized day and overnight vessels to explore the archipelago. With over eight hundred thousand boats registered in Minnesota and another six hundred thousand in Wisconsin, these are large close haul source markets to tap into. While the vast majority are the sub twenty foot fishing craft, they're easily and avoidably towed here. These smaller trailer boaters stay in local hotels, stock up on groceries, dine locally and pay launch fees, adding to the local and regional tourism economy in important ways.

We're excited this year to be able to announce at the show that Prince Arthur's Landing's marina improvements within Phase 1 are complete and we're able to accommodate the return of the trailer boat market and attract more of the "sail in" market for a full operating season once again at that location. While its important to market the experiences of the community and region, its critical to have high quality experiences and amenities to promote. That's why capital investments in redevelopment like Prince Arthur's Landing are so critical. Investments being made in Nipigon, Red Rock, Terrace Bay and other coastal communities will only make the visitor experience more enriching. Personally, I'm excited to share the news with the domestic and Minnesota boating communities and seeing their impressions of the enhancements undertaken.

This year, we're also fortunate to have a partnership with Canada Border Services Agency who are providing two of their staff at the show booth with us to help US residents understand immigration and customs processes coming into Canada. Having accurate information, particularly for some who's never travelled before or who have concerns about their own backgrounds is critical to helping ease the movement of visitors across the border. The management and staff at CBSA here in Thunder Bay are great to work with and understand their important role in helping grow our tourism industry while performing a very important and sometimes under appreciated border security role.

The show is also a good weekend to meet with our U.S. counterparts to share best practices, work on some new bi-national initiatives and get a pulse on the U.S. economy.

Check out for more information on boating the North Shore.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Motorcycle Touring Trip Planner Featured on

Keeping on the motorcycle touring theme I started earlier this week, I've got something new to add to the discussion in the way of a great new trip planner and some pretty respected attention its getting across North America.

For the past few years, Tourism Thunder Bay has been the administrative partner on an incredible trip planning tool developed and rolled out that will revolutionize how the growing motorcycle touring segment plans and executes their trip. The North shore of Lake Superior, linking Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie was one of the routes piloted in the launch of this tool.

This whole initiative has been lead by Ontario Tourism Partnership Corporation with financial support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and Fednor and began a number of years ago to identify technical solutions to make online trip planning easier for the motor sport touring segments and easy for industry to populate their own information as they relate to those segments. It was envisioned that this tool could load and transmit the information though GPS units and smart phones, an essential travel tool these days for the RV, motorcycle and auto sport touring enthusiast.

OTMPC created the GoRideOntario website specifically to target the North American riding demographic and backing it up with a pretty significant tactical campaign, supporting some RTO driven initiatives as well.

E Solutions Group was our successful technical partner, first identifying the right technical solution and later developing the platform for which this would work. another big player in this has been the team of Peter and Micheal Jacobs, an avid father/son team of motorcycle enthusiasts who spent forty days last summer on an epic northern road trip, mapping and cataloguing the routes and attractions across all of Ontario. They facebooked and twittered their way across the Province and I had the pleasure of spending some time with them last summer sailing with Sail Superior, dining on some massive beef bones at the Prospector and of course, the Hoito pancake breakfast to see them off on their next trip with full stomachs. Peter and Micheal are masters of social media and have created a youtube video explaining the tour planner.

The project's pilot routes were developed - Lake Superior and Lake Temiskaming -because of their topography and suitability to the riding segment. After a lot of work, the platform was launched to much fanfare at the 2011 Ontario Tourism Summit held last fall in Hamilton and has drawn interest not only from the Ontario tourism industry but from south of the border as well.

It must be a pretty evolutionary trip planning tool because today, it was featured on, one of North America's premier motorcycle enthusiast's media channels. Have a look at it right here!

This is a celebratory culmination of the many years of work put in by a lot of partners and Tourism Thunder Bay has been thrilled to be a part of it. A big thanks to John Cameron, our acting Development Officer, who has been knee deep in this project with incredible enthusiasm. Its another example of how partnerships across a region can leverage resources to get great things accomplished for the tourism community.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thunder Bay International Airport Has A Recond Year

Thunder Bay International Airport continues to attract new users and has recently announced that 2011 was a record year with over 719 500 users through the doors, a 4% increase over 2010.

There is no doubt that the airport is an asset our community and regional tourism industry is fortunate to have and is unrivalled across Northern Ontario in terms of air connectivity from major Canadian markets. Having Porter and Air Canada increase their daily seat capacity in the past year, the continued connectivity of Westjet to western and eastern markets and strong regional presence of Bearskin and Wasaya provides travel options not only for the outbound resident but greater inbound options essential to attracting successful conference and sport tourism bids. Its also an asset that is valuable in attracting longer haul leisure markets seeking their epic touring or angling adventure in the region. The city has an important role to play as a gateway to those experiences beyond the city lights. Car rental, accommodation and culinary partners all can benefit as a result.

The installation of a third loading bridge in late 2011, improvements to their parking lots, new private sector investments such as the Pilatus Centre and the massive solar park that will provide renewable energy to the facility are all examples of the Airport Authority growing and innovating to meet changes in the travel industry. The fact that its also continued to resist the charging of "airport improvement fees" is another feather in their cap.

Congrats on a record year and here's anticipating even more growth ahead.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Ride Lake Superior" Promises New Opportunities for the Motorcycle Visitor

Back in the spring of 2011, before I departed on my temporary new assignment, I was working alongside several other partners on the "Ride Lake Superior" project that was equal part capacity building, and consumer marketing strategy.

I should admit right off the bat that I'm not a rider....yet. I probably need to address my attention deficit disorder first. I did ride a few times as a teenager on old Honda 450 Nighthawk and I've been collecting gear for a few years now...hiding it from my wife. My goal in 2012 is to learn to ride and finally get a bike, probably a KLR 650. My story is no different than thousands of other 40 somethings right now.

Motorcycle touring is an area of tourism that has shown incremental growth over the past few years and promises to be one segment that will continue to be a more important element of our diversified strategy. Thunder Bay's growth in US traffic at a time when regional US fishing traffic is in decline, is attributed to this touring segment. The demographic is perfect with the average new rider being 45 years of age, with above average income. The motorcycle touring rider is an avid tourist, interested in a unique experience.

Lake Superior's circle tour route is already an incredible thirteen hundred mile (two thousand kilometer) ribbon of highway around the world's largest freshwater lake. Its this very route, changing scenery and authentic communities that will make it one of North America's epic motorcycle riding destinations.

Last year, Tourism Thunder Bay partnererd with Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association through a new RTO collaborative partnership to begin the journey of meeting this vision. We retained the brilliance of Chris Hughes of BC Hughes consulting to develop and deliver a series of motorcycle visitor readiness workshops ion Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie. The workshop, open to accommodation, attraction, event and other tourism operators provided an overview of the growth within this visitor segment and more importantly, the nuances of welcoming motorcycle culture into one's establishment and community.

Motorcyclists ride all day, stopping frequently to stretch, eat, take pictures, take in road side attractions. At night they want restaurants close to their accommodation and a comfortable nights sleep. They appreciate little details like towels in their rooms to wipe down bikes at the end of the day, concrete parking pads to keep their kickstands from digging into gravel or hot pavement, some prefer to park under canopies, in a secure area or under the watchful eye of video camera. They like to know where to find parts and service in a community and they like to be made to feel welcome with dedicated parking areas and even free on street parking.

Over twenty three local hoteliers and attractions operators attended the Thunder Bay workshop and went through the self assessment process to be declared motorcycle market ready. On the heals of this workshop, we hosted Peter and Micheal Jacobs on their forty day epic Northern Ontario Ultimate Road trip sponsored by OTMPC's motor sport touring folks. They blogged, Facebooked and twittered their way into the minds of avid riders across North America. Its important that the industry realizes just how supportive and dedicated the Ministry of Tourism is about growing this segment. Just check out and you'll see what I mean.

Thunder Bay also played host to the 2011 Ontario Harley Owners Rally. If eight hundred participants and one half million dollars in economic impact don't support the positive impacts of motorcycle tourism, I'm not sure what does.

Skip to October 2011 when we were invited to Calumet in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to meet with U.S. tourism professionals also passionate about growing the motorcycle market on the U.S. side. The meeting was nothing short of amazing, with unanimous support to work together moving forward to eventually create a true bi-national partnership. Its one of the first times in my fifteen year tourism career that we had this kind of dialogue...and the drive down and back was spectacular.

This meeting and desire to work closer together was important on two fronts. The motorcyclist doesn't just visit a single community as their destination. They prefer a linear route with good quality ribbon of asphalt, linking many sights and experiences together. It imparitive to take a regional approach, working together to meet the demands of the visitor, leverage each other's resources to make a bigger impact that ultimitely benefits every community.

The second part is simply that Lake Superior is just plain awesome. If you're in the tourism industry anywhere around the lake and haven't driven the entire circumference, take a week and do it. The lake is our most important tourism asset for all of us within the basin. Great work has been done to promote the circle tour, notably through the exceptional work of Lake Superior Magazine, and the tourism industry and communities, by working together, can take this to a whole new level of international awareness that will bring new economic benefits to everyone. Its exciting times and working together on motorcycle touring is one catalyst to help grow new partnerships.

We've recently received RTO funding for the 2011 and 2012 marketing years and have once again, invested significantly in taking "Ride Lake Superior" to the next level. We'll be extending outreach to engage more partners, host more educational forums for industry and target new consumers through a series of digital, print and consumer show channels. We've retained BC Hughes to coordinate the second phase of the project through the development of a web portal, continuing education, branding and marketing. The new trade show display was launched in December at the Toronto International Motorcycle Show, was featured at the Toronto Motorcycle Supershow last weekend and will be featured at the Progressive Minneapolis Motorcycle Show February 3-5, 2012.

It is exciting times for the growth of motorcycle tourism and touring in general for our region. Let's keep on rolling.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Victoria Inn Invests in its Meeting and Convention Capacity

Thunder Bay has enjoyed some of Ontario's highest hotel occupancy rates over the past year due to growth across a number of segments. The convention and meeting segment, in particular, has grown significantly as the city solidifies its place as the "Unconventional Convention" destination, attracting more local, regional and provincial corporate events.

The Victoria Inn is making some changes to meet the growing demands of Thunder Bay's red hot conference market. The former Scuttlebutt's Grill and Bar space within the hotel has closed after fifteen great years and the space formerly occupied by that iconic watering hole is being transformed into new meeting and convention space. Situated adjacent to the Hotel's existing flexible space ballroom, the new renovation will connect with sliding panels to create a ball room capable of hosting up to seven hundred and fifty persons.

According to Ray Nadeau, General Manager of the Victoria Inn, the new space should be available for booking sometime in April 2012. This transformation follows a series of previous investments the hotel has made in the past several years that include renovated guest rooms and improvements to increase their environmental sustainability, making them a leader in urban sustainable tourism.

This is an encouraging sign within the community's tourism industry to see this capital reinvestment to capture growth within the meeting and convention market. The city's corporate market is a significant contributor to the city's overall tourism economy and is important to ensuring we maintain a successful four season tourism. The corporate and conference market traditionally drives late fall, winter and early spring occupancy in the city in a big way along with seasonal sport tourism events.

They way I see this is that offering more choice in meeting space will open up new opportunities that extend the benefits beyond the host hotel. Larger conferences often rely on multiple properties working together to accommodate delegates and this investment is certain to create potential new accommodation business for the five properties along the Arthur St strip. This will also have the potential to increase opportunities in the airline, rental car and culinary segments.

Congrats to Ray and the Victoria Inn for making this investment into the meeting and convention segment.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Some New Year's Resolutions for Tourism Partners

It is a week or so into the new year but certainly not too late to still make New Year's resolutions. I've made a few professional and personal ones over the holidays to start out the new year with some new fire in my soul. On the personal side, I've been watching my diet, watching the number of lattes I buy each week and hitting the gym with a little more regularity. Professionally, I've been absorbing a lot of new information on reinventing myself, managing in changing times, learning new efficiencies to tackle my growing portfolio and vowing to make more time to reach out to my partners.

There's a number of resolutions everyone in the tourism industry should be considering too. They're all pretty universal and I suggest them as a way to create a road map for the coming year. I like "road map" rather than "blueprint" because along they way, you may find a scenic detour worth or needing consideration that gets you to where you still ultimately want to be.

You should start the year with a fresh mind. Take a look at 2011 and think about what went really well and what didn't. Don't dwell on the business decisions that came up short on expectations but reflect on them and the changes you'll make. Was it a campaign that fizzled, a sudden demographic change in your clientele that caught you off guard or a pesky HR issue you struggled to address constructively? Failures and shortcomings are a part of business everyday. Learning from them makes the successes sweeter.

Get to know your Customer a Little better. Whether its the loyal customer coming back every year or understanding the new consumer needs, get to know what they want, their values, their budgets, their vacation habits, where they live and what they do, how they seek a new experience and what keeps them loyal to you. Spend time with your existing clients to build relationships that translate into improved loyalty. Chat with them, get to understand what they love about your business, what suggestions or comments they have for you and their back grounds. It could be as simple as sending your client a birthday card but they'll be more likely to remember you when booking their future trip.

Get to know your ROI. Return on Investment. Whether its capital improvements to your attraction or property to improve yield or your marketing strategy, it's critical to understand how its driving new business and new revenue to you. A big mistake that a lot of businesses make is not knowing how to invest their marketing budget to reach their client most effectively. The old "spray and pray" tactic of hitting as broad a generic audience as possible doesn't work anymore. Its a crowded advertising marketplace and there are a lot of other competing for your client. This is the next extension of getting to know your client base and selecting the media channels that to speak to them more directly.

The critical element of understanding the return on this investment can come in many forms and is pretty easy to do. Track web referrals to your site. (and if you say you don't have a website, put the "for sale" sign up now.) Ask your leads and eventual clients where they discovered you and analyse the financial foot print they leave with you. From there, you'll have a better idea of what media to ditch and what media to expand.

Start Building Partnerships. Your competition isn't the lodge or attraction across the street. Its one of the thousands of jurisdictions around the globe on line competing for your guest. Its critical to present the community and region in a unified plan to maximize reach and its critical for individual tourism partners to cross promote one another. Creating partnerships, creating mutual understanding of one another's contribution to the city and regional tourism economy provides more opportunities for visitors to explore and stay longer. Its an opportunity for hotel properties to work together to bid on larger conferences or sport tourism events, restaurants grouping together to market with critical mass or events partnering together to promote the city as THE festival destination, it just makes good business sense.

Make this the year to expand networks. It could be an extension of building partnerships but its a simple as creating an environment of mutual learning. No one in the industry is a guru. Everyone has their strengths, everyone has learned from mistakes and everyone has found successes. Learn and share from one another. It doesn't mean giving up the competitive secrets but it doesn't have to be. The more tourism partners that are doing well within a particular destination, the higher the reputation of the entire destination. Everybody wins when everybody is working at their best.

Make this the year to understand engage social media like never before. I might be beating a dead horse here but probably not. This is the new platform to reach new consumers, build relationships with existing ones and understand consumer demographics like never before. Take the time to understand and engage in social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter (not nearly enough businesses use this one), Youtube, Sprouter, LinkedIn. Bear in mind that these platforms are not static and are always changing. you have to continuously monitor and reinvent them. I will readily admit that I know that one all too well and this year, even we're re engineering the ones we once lead with but need some reinvestment in time and energy.

Invest more in your people. Tourism is still an industry of personal contact. Having well trained, knowledgeable, valued and happy employees is good for the bottom line. Perhaps its investing in training for them, acknowledging their contribution to your operation through positive reinforcement and ensuring they have the tools to meet your client's expectations. Make this they year to communicate more with your staff so they understand their role in the organization, the vision, expectation and values. Staff that feel connected are going to be happier, take more ownerships and likely stay around longer. When everyone in the organization is rowing together, good things happen.

Learn something new every day. Wake up every morning and view your business with fresh eyes. Tackle a problem that's been hindering your confidence level, learn a new business practice, learn how to fix things yourself around your business, understand how tourism policy works in your jurisdiction or understand emerging consumer trends. It can be anything but go home at the end of the day just a little smarter than when you started.

I could keep going but these are a few of the big things tourism industry partners can grab onto and apply to their own organizations. They're easy, they're achievable and they're often result in tangible benefits.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ontario Tourism Launches "The Superior Adventure" Contest

Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership has always been a big supporter of the incredible outdoor experiences that exist in our city and region and the launch of their latest contest based campaign is no exception.

This morning, they officially launched the "The Superior Adventure" contest to show off its newly refreshed Outdoor Adventure travel website.

All adventurers are invited to enter the contest which features seven days of unforgettable experiences on Lake Superior's north shore with celebrity hosts Thunder Bay's own Darren and Michelle McChristie of Superior Outdoors magazine (and the Walleye, I might add).

After gearing up at Mountain Equipment Co-op and Henry's Cameras, the winner and three friends will set out to explore the scenic waters and rugged headlands of the world's largest freshwater lake, travelling the coast in the comfort of a Suburu Outback.

Highlights of the contest include return airfare with Porter, flying the winners into Thunder Bay to get started. They'll enjoy a guided hike through Pukaskwa National Park, wildlife viewing in Slate Islands Provincial Park, an Agawa Canyon train tour, kayaking, stand up paddling, sailing with Thunder Bay's own Sailsuperior, and an exclusive helicopter tour of the lake and spectacular shoreline. This trip is so epic, its valued at around $27 000 CDN. OTMPC and the various partners invite avid outdoor enthusiasts to enter online at

Other local partners include Fort William Historical Park, Marostica Motors Suburu, Beyond the Giant Retreat, Rose Vally Lodge and others.

In addition, every contest submission automatically enters one for a chance at winning a Kodak Playsport Zx5. I own one personally and they are incredible little HD video cameras and their waterproof, shockproof and dustproof casing makes them rugged little travel companions to capture your epic adventure.

Steve Bruno, OTMPC's Outdoor Partnership Coordinator, is a great friend to the Thunder Bay and regional tourism industry and is one of our early supporters when we launched Seven Days With the Giant some 4 years back. He's the dedicated genius responsible for pulling this great campaign and the partners across the entire north shore together.

This campaign is a prime example of the importance of taking a regional approach to tourism development and marketing. Its done by taking what is undeniably one of the continent's great coastal drives as the foundation to build unique, high quality itineraries for outdoor enthusiasts who want to access the myriad of experiences along the coast by automobile. Looking at the calibre of the prize package, it drives home the point that we are an up and coming premier destination for the avid explorer.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reflecting on the Successes of 2011.

I'm Back!

I've taken a six month hiatus from my tourism industry blog while I stepped back from my tourism role to undertake a development assignment with the City's Waterfront Development Office. Its great to be back at my tourism desk and getting caught up on my blogging has been something I've looked forward too. It was an amazing opportunity to be part of tourism's capital development side of things and provided me with a greater appreciation of the work that goes into building something world class.

With the year ending, its always a good time to reflect on the past year in the local tourism industry and celebrate milestones and successes. Where to start?

Tourism Thunder Bay unveiled its new Meeting, Convention and Incentive Travel (MC & IT) program branding Thunder Bay as the "Unconventional Convention" destination by focusing on our connection to our natural environment as a more inspiring meeting location with unique meeting alternatives, focus on culinary and interesting corporate retreat and "off site" visitor experiences to stretch the corporate visit. The new look, punctuated by spectacular imagery, struck chords with meeting and conference planners immediately. Given our air connectivity to Canada's major centres, we're becoming a meeting location of choice in the health care, mining, government and NGO sectors.

Industry performance was driven by growth in a number of segments, most notably the sport tourism, conference and group travel markets. The Ontario Winter Special Olympics gave our winter hotel occupancy and attraction attendance a boost. The Harley Owner's Group Rally in July brought some 600 out of town riders to the community for a extended weekend event and we welcomed the M V C.Columbus and a total of over eight hundred European visitors to the new Pool 6 Cruise Terminal for two visits. We also played host to thousands of Northern Ontario residents this past summer as forest fires threatened their remote communities. All combined, we enjoyed Ontario's highest hotel occupancy rates right into the fall.

On the travel media side of things, we had unprecedented volume of media familiarization tours. We welcomed National Geographic's Andrew Evans, who spent a few days exploring everything from Fort William Historical Park and Hoito to a fly in Fishing trip with Tip Top Lodge and a visit to the proposed National Marine Conservation Area. We hosted Power Boat Television in August for the taping of a segment to air later this January and welcomed travel journalists from the Minneapolis area, Germany, France, South America, Southern Ontario, and western Canada. We were also featured on ESPN Sports Radio in the US midwest and in numerous on line blogs.

In June we hosted representatives from five international cruise shipping operators, seeking information on the region to aid them in developing new itineraries and markets. It was also the year we won the rights to host the 12016 Can Am Police and Fire Games that will see thousands of participants and their families from across North America enjoy our "Superior by Nature" hospitality.

This was also the year we launched, in collaboration with other strategic Provincial partners, two development initiatives that will change the way visitor discover, plan and experience their trip. The first was the creation of "Ride Lake Superior" in collaboration with Algoma Kinnewabi Travel Association from Sault St Marie. Starting with a series of motorcycle tourism readiness workshops that gave local attraction and accommodation providers tips on welcoming motorcycle visitors. The plan has quickly drawn interest from the U.S. side and promises to morph into a truly - and frankly long overdue - bi national product development and marketing initiative to position the Lake Superior basin as North America's most epic ride destination.

Secondly, our team participated with OTMPC in the unveiling of the online trip planning tool designed to enhance destination development for the motor sport and RV touring segments and help consumers navigate the region more effectively using their hand held devices.

This was also the year that the RTO began to find its legs as we developed new regional collaborative partnerships that will grow the tourism economy by working smarter and leveraging our human and financial resources. There's a long way to go but we've come a long way in only a shiort time and have made the tough decisions necessary to move the industry forward beyond our geopolitical silos.

A lot of great things happened this year in what is still overall, a tender global tourism economy and our city's tourism industry partners have every reason to be proud of their role in achieving those successes. We have great local partners who have invested in their visitor experiences and supported our strategy. We're not, by any means, at the top of the stairs yet. We'll keep climbing as an industry, into 2012 and beyond.