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The Germans are coming (03/05)

A Manitoulin Island Aboriginal tourism marketing cooperative is going shopping in Europe. Waubetek Business Development Corp. manager Dawn Madahbee is off to Europe to attract tourists. Photo provided.
A Manitoulin Island Aboriginal tourism marketing cooperative is going shopping in Europe.

The Germans are coming
Waubetek Business Development Corp. manager Dawn Madahbee is off to Europe to attract tourists. Photo provided.
Proponents hope to come away from two upcoming European travel shows with signed agreements from tour operators, intended to attract more international travellers.

Accompanied by two traditional dancers, Dawn Madahbee, manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, and business development officer Kevin Eshkawkogan will be attending two of the world’s largest travel industry shows in London and Berlin this month to promote Ontario and Manitoulin Island.

The Waubetek staffers, represented by their tourism marketing subsidiary, the Great Spirit Circle Trail, are the only Aboriginal participants in London’s Spotlight Canada show and the International Travel Bourse in Berlin.

The Great Spirit Circle Trail is a Waubetek subsidiary offering tour packages and engaged in co-operative tourism marketing co-operative representing 55 Aboriginal-owned businesses.

No stranger to marketing Aboriginal culture and tourism in Europe, Madahbee knows Northern Ontarians can thank Karl May for doing some of the early promotional work that keeps European tourists coming to Canada.

Though the best-selling German author of Old West adventures has been dead since 1912, his enormously popular books, which have spawned museums, films, TV shows and a Wild West festival, has cultivated a fascination among Germans with Native culture.

“People cherish those books and pass them on from generation to generation,” says Madahbee.

It is Waubetek’s third year at the London show which is attended by tour operators, meeting planners and the travel press from across the U.K. and Europe.

The event utilizes a pre-scheduled appointment format for matchmaking opportunities.

“Our meeting schedule is pretty booked,” says Madahbee. “That really shows a lot of interest in our product.”

The Berlin event is the largest travel convention show in the world, with 10,000 exhibitors displayed in the city’s convention centre.

“Generally, we’re invited and they know we have market-ready product and have organized packages, tours and insurance requirements in place.”

Gold standard

Madahbee, who first ventured to Germany in 2000 as part of a Northern Ontario trade delegation, spent the first two years there concentrating on creating a presence and making Europeans aware of what was available. Last year was the first time they signed contracts with inbound tour operators and Great Lakes cruise ship companies to receive international tourists, she says.

“And we’re looking at signing more,” she says. “The marketing we’ve been doing has really been putting Manitoulin on the map.”

Madahbee says having market-ready products to accommodate international travellers means having signed agreements with reputable inbound tourism operators like Jonview Canada, considered Europe’s largest inbound tour operator for Canada.

Agreements with tour operators is considered a seal of approval in the European travel industry, meaning the accommodations and tour packages have been thoroughly vetted and meet European standards.

European visitors are very interested in cultural tourism and are willing to travel globally to experience anything naturebased, according to Madahbee.

“When you combine culture with nature- based tourism, you have a winning combination. That’s been working for us.”

The arrival of Great Lakes cruise ships on Manitoulin has also had a profound effect in promoting the area.

“We were told by the operators of the MS Columbus, mostly German tourists, that Manitoulin this past fall was their favourite stop.”

They already have signed agreements for the ship to return in 2005.

Madahbee says Manitoulin operators offer a vast array of products and services for international travellers in eco-accommodations, dinner-theatre packages, nature- based guided tours, camping excursions, powwow and cultural events, and art studio tours.

Madahbee says letters of support from the Manitoulin Tourism Association have noted an increase in European visitors to the region but Waubetek plans to develop a tracking system for 2005 to gauge international tourism’s economic impact.