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 gorideontario.com 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.

1 comment:

radster said...

I know exactly what you are talking about. As the manager at Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site, on Minnesota's north shore of Lake Superior, and as a motorcycle rider, I can attest that the Lake Superior route is extremely popular with motorcyclists. I heard about your efforts to market to MC riders from your comments at the Heart of the Continent meetings in Duluth on 2/9-10/2012. I'm sure that if we work together we can make the North Shore and Thunder Bay a famous destination for bikers. There are many great side trips off of the North Shore (Superior National Forest Scenic Byway, Gunflint Trail on the MN side, and plenty of great side roads from Thunder Bay on the ONT side) that add to the appeal of the rides in this area. As you say, motorcyclists make great tourists and are interested in frequent stops at interesting places...and talking to people. Oh, and good luck with that KLR 650.