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