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Touting tourism in the City of Timmins

Tourism may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Timmins, but in the city’s first industry-specific management role at city hall, Andrea Griener is looking to change that.
Amenities such as Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa are factoring into the City of Timmins’ plan to increase a tourism profile. (Photo supplied)

Tourism may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Timmins, but in the city’s first industry-specific management role at city hall, Andrea Griener is looking to change that.

As manager of culture, recreation and visitor services with the City of Timmins, Griener has spent much of her first year establishing the department’s focus and repositioning city staff to accommodate those ideas.

“In Timmins, our visitors are not what I think a lot of people consider tourists, because we are a regional service centre,” says Griener, who has worked in the city’s planning department as well as the provincial Ministry of Tourism.

“We have a lot of people that come to Timmins for shopping, for medical appointments, for hockey tournaments, so our focus is on the quality of experience.”

This means taking a harder look at pushing through, not just the “traditional” northeastern Ontario market, but also to the First Nations coastal communities and northwestern Quebec. It means looking at the value and potential use of its existing tourism assets, which include the Shania Twain Centre.

Although the site primarily acts as a showcase for its namesake, city officials are looking at new ways of offsetting its sinking revenues.

Ticket sales during July and August 2007, considered the peak months of the season, reached $9,000 in each. Since then, visitation to the centre has continued to drop, sinking by a third in those peak months to $6,000 in 2009.

In particular, the number of visitors from the United States has dropped off, though there has been a slight increase in the number of visitors from southern Ontario and Europe.

As Twain releases a new album, ticket sales to the centre “go through the roof,” says Griener. However, with Twain’s last album having been released in 2002, city officials are looking at expanding the scope of the site to focus on other local performers as well.

Other solutions are also being considered, including enhancing the centre’s status as a performing arts centre.

“It’s quite a nice intimate location as well, so it could really lend itself to a variety of performances there, and we’re going to explore that opportunity this year.”

Sales for the Gold Mine Tour, which is connected to the centre, have remained static over the last three years. It’s hoped that upgrades, such as the addition of interactive components and the extension of the visitation period through some winter months, will improve visitation to its sister site.

Some consideration is also being given to tapping into markets that play on Timmins’ natural strengths, such as sports and recreational tourism.

Taking this approach means building on the success of the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey championship, held through early January and which brought 1,000 visitors from around the globe to Timmins and the surrounding area.

To this end, the city has pulled together a consortium of local not-for-profit groups such as the Kamiskotia Ski Racers, focused on hosting sporting events in Timmins. Funding is currently being sought through the Trillium Fund to purchase sporting event-hosting equipment to be shared between these groups, from ATVs to computers and trailers.

Griener also hopes that a boost to the city’s sports tourism fortunes will be provided through a sort of “do-it-yourself” event hosting guide, currently under development.

While the city’s amenities and arenas are sufficient for holding large sporting events, the new focus on sports tourism is leading to concern over sufficient hotel rooms.

Roughly 690 rooms are available within Timmins, which may pose a problem when attempting to bid for larger events, particularly as business travellers often consume many of the accommodations.

However, some unnamed “interested parties” are considering establishing new hotels, though details remain vague while preliminary discussions are being held.

Still, it’s hoped that by pursuing these projects and linking up with other Northern centres such as Sudbury to help push for larger events, Timmins can start to take real advantage of its natural assets.

“I really believe this is something that can work for Timmins,” says Griener.