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.