By ANDREW WAREING
TIMMINS - The tourism industry in Timmins is going to benefit more from a new sense of co-operation than competition in Northern Ontario.
Will Saari, manager of tourism and leisure services for the City of Timmins, says several efforts are underway across the North to make Northern Ontario a recognizable brand with something to see.
“We’re part of a pan-northern marketing strategy called Ontario’s North that includes the cities of Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Sudbury and Timmins, plus the major attractions in those communities. That organization is geared to large-scale marketing projects that, individually, none of us could afford either as a municipality or as an attraction.”
“For the consumer, we go to them and say that we are Northern Ontario, but we go after markets that are specific to our product offerings, consumers who are interested in a larger town or smaller city experience,” says Saari.
“We don’t do outdoor marketing. It’s geared to itinerary travel, group tour and travel trade markets with the idea being we’ve got five communities, with five key attractions and people can tour from city to city and stop at smaller communities along the way.”
Taking the group approach to marketing has allowed Northern Ontario communities to compete, not just to a domestic market of consumers, but to potential travel tourism from around the world since it shares much of the cost of advertising, Saari says.
The focus is primarily on the attractions as “travel motivators,” but opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to buy into various travel guides as they are developed, says Saari.
Saari says that the project has already resulted in a large number of inquiries and group bookings to the Shania Twain Centre in Timmins and the gold mine tour attraction, as well as the local golf courses and other attractions.
“Generally, we’re still working on trying to increase visibility and visitation at the Shania Twain Centre, the Gold Mine Tour and several other local attractions,” Saari says.
Over the years, tourism in Timmins has varied from 5,500 annually to a high of 14,500 visitors, taking into account the development two years ago of the Shania Twain Centre next to the already existing gold mine tour.
Saari says having the two together offers a variety of efficiencies in having a single management site. It also means that people are more likely to take in both attractions in one trip.
“The common factor is the fact that they are both associated with the community. Gold mining has always been a part of Timmins’ history, while Shania has, throughout her career, made no bones about the fact that Timmins is her hometown,” he says. “We saw an opportunity there; a fan base we could go after as a readily available market.
On top of that, we’re trying to use this facility as a community focus with a number of events here throughout the year just to get the people here to see it. Once they do, they realize that there is something here of value.”
Saari says the amalgamation of Timmins’ tourism and leisure services departments in January was a natural fit. In
addition to efficiencies with a single management structure, both departments are closely matched - one side attracts people to the community while the other gives them something to do while in the city.
“By trying to integrate some of the approaches, there are benefits to both in that the leisure and recreational side could benefit from external exposure and the tourism department benefits from internal exposure, letting the community know what we’re doing,” he says. “When you look at the benefits of cross-promotional work that can be done, it makes me think we’re moving in a good direction.”
It also provides access to space in municipally-owned buildings that have the floor space for events that attract a large number of people. Such events include the August 7 to 10 Shania Twain Worldwide Fan Convention.
The first-ever convention will unite fans of Shania Twain throughout the world who have been meeting mostly on the Internet.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get fans together, face-to-face, and in the community to learn a little more about Timmins,” says Saari. “We see an opportunity to grow this into an annual event that could get fairly large. You just have to look at Collingwood with its Elvis Convention every year and that’s a community that never had any direct connection to Elvis. Indications are that we will get good attendance.”
The mine tour has been operating for a number of years on this site and has evolved over time to include a trip underground, a simulated pouring of a gold brick, and a chance to pan for gold.
“That one is interesting because, historically, we never had panning for gold here. It was all hard-rock mining. But we had so many people ask about it, we saw a market opportunity and included it,” says Saari. “We’re just careful to explain to people that, historically, this is not correct. But it is an opportunity to find real gold. The kids get a kick out of it.”
Saari says the program has put him in an “optimistic frame of mind” for the future of Timmins’ tourism sector.
“For the first time in a long time, it seems that most of Northern Ontario is working together,” he says. “It seems that the market has matured a lot. People realize you have more success working together than competing against one another. Twenty years ago, we were competing against others in Ontario and Canada. Now we’re competing against New Zealand, Europe and any other travel options people have.
“Today’s consumer is more demanding and expects everything more organized and comprehensive,” adds Saari.
“With everything that is happening with organization of tourism, all the various activities are channeling into a common direction. I think that’s the way to go to compete on a global scale.”
Visit Northern Ontario Business online to read more Timmins tourism and education stories.