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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ride Lake Superior Hits the Road Running

Motorcycle touring continues to grow in popularity and the Lake Superior circle tour has the potential to be branded as North America's premier riding destination.

In 2011, "Ride Lake Superior" was born out of a series of motorcycle tourism readiness workshops held in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie and later in the year, Calumet Michigan. These sessions, developed and delivered by Chris Hughes of BC Hughes Tourism Consulting, brought together tourism industry partners to learn more about the growth of this tourism segment, their needs and how to capture more of them in our establishment. What came quickly out of the workshops was a cool branding exercise, lots of enthusiasm and almost every major tourism partner around the lake collecting data on their motorcycle friendly partners.

The touring market is perhaps the single best new method to attract leisure visitors to our festivals, events and attractions. In the past we've always lead with singular attractions and events in isolation of each other with, admittedly, very limited success. the reality is that many leisure travellers like a linear route with spectacular scenery. They like to explore and they like to keep exploring. The highway corridor forms the spine of the route. The attractions, events and culinary wonders combine to bring that route to life and expand the value to the consumer. Its a better way to promote a wider range of our attractions.

This past weekend, partners from various points around the lake converged at the Minneapolis Motorcycle Show to promote "Ride Lake Superior" to Minnesota's massive avid motorcycle base. There are over 230 000 registers bikes in the state and over 400 000 licenced riders. Over twenty thousand of these folks stormed through the gates for the three day show, with the Lake Superior route proved to be the only destination being marketed at a show where virtually every motorcycle manufacturer and aftermarket shop was out in full force

We've had twenty thousand of Lake Superior magazine's pocket maps specially printed with the Ride Lake Superior information and over five thousand were distributed at the show along with information from communities and regions around the lake. Being able to capture the attention of up to twenty percent of show attendees was impressive and speaks to the hunger in the US Midwest for the "Big Lake"

We had inquiries from hotel chains, motorcycle media and organized clubs all weekend long. This is a new trend in group travel as well as bikers typically travel in a pack. We heard from numerous folks that they planned on group rides of six to twenty bikes. Just imagine that every day during motorcycle season, as few as twenty five new riders enter the touring route for a five to seven day tour. That's over thirty seven hundred new visitors to the lake basin annually, pumping over $5.8 million into the regional economy. This is exactly why a regional approach to leisure tourism is so essential to growing the industry. We have to work together to make the pie bigger and we aren't going to do it in isolation from one another.

The call to action for this campaign is, the web portal that consumers register with to create their own custom itineraries and receive updates on the growing number of motorcycle friendly attractions, restaurants and hotels around the lake. These are the places with towels in their rooms to wipe down bikes, discounts for riders or group rides, covered or secure parking for bikes, organized biker events and more. Basically, the little things that make bikers feel welcome when they travel.

This is only the beginning. The campaign aims to grow into the future to include more consumer shows in key Canadian and US motorcycle markets, digital, social and print media support, travel Media familiarization tours and more. Its an exciting time for Lake Superior, for regional thinking in tourism and the power of partnerships focused on one goal. Growing the industry.

If you want more information on this or want to get involved, visit