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Cruise on the friend ship or miss the boat (03/05)

By IAN ROSS Tourism operators in the North Bay-Highway 11 corridor should stop bickering over logos and find ways to build on the region’s strengths in recreational tourism, according to a Toronto consultant.


Tourism operators in the North Bay-Highway 11 corridor should stop bickering over logos and find ways to build on the region’s strengths in recreational tourism, according to a Toronto consultant.

Chris Setchell is a marketing consultant for Toronto’s Impagination Inc.

“Temagami, French River, Lake Nipissing: you guys own gems and unless you jump on it and move forward, you’re going to miss the boat,” he told about 100 tourism operators, municipal and economic development officials at North Bay’s Best Western Hotel Feb. 1.

Setchell says the region’s stagnant tourist economy needs to brand itself as a premier outdoor recreation destination geared to family-oriented markets.

The $50,000 study, commissioned by the Blue Sky Economic Growth Corporation, is the start of a grass roots effort to measure the size and scope of the region’s tourism industry, find ways to encourage investment and identify opportunities.

Armed with figures on visitor spending, tourism’s economic impact and traveller demographics, Setchell says this area of northeastern Ontario holds great historical place-name recognition and tourism stakeholders need to start developing a branding strategy around creating a unique outdoor


The region cannot rely on cooperative programs but must set itself apart to establish a brand, he says.

The region’s tourism industry represents a significant contributor to the local economy - $197 million in visitor spending annually - but the area cannot be considered a major tourism destination since it only represents 1.2 per cent of Ontario’s travel market, says the report.

The sector has a $125-million economic impact on the region, including profits, wages and taxes and creates 2,232 jobs in accommodations, retail, restaurant and bars.

And more than half of all the area’s recreational visitors – 52 per cent – stay at private cottages, camper and trailer parks, commercial cottages or cabins.

Most partake in trail and water-based activities such as cycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, bird and wildlife viewing, snowmobiling, boating, fishing

and swimming.

American tourists represent 10 per cent of visits to the area compared with 20 per cent in other parts of Ontario.

“We’re half as effective at attracting U.S. tourists as other parts of Ontario,” says Setchell.

The area also has huge growth potential for German travellers since many outfitters have European backgrounds.

The research shows the region’s share of overseas visitors to the central and Northern Ontario tourism market is 17 per cent.

Setchell says branding your product means making an “emotional connection to an audience.” He suggested operators in the Nipissing-Almaguin

Highlands area focus their marketing dollars on the “new build” areas of central Ontario, not the “cluttered” media market of the Greater Toronto Area.

The “best potential audience” is middle income earners, blue collar and non-managerial white collar types who love the outdoors and live outside the congested GTA area in commuter communities like Orangeville or Erin.

“These people are driving mini-vans (and) are shopping at Costco and Wal-Mart. These are very practical people and your offering has to reflect their value orientation.”

For stakeholders, it means investing in “brand appropriate” infrastructure such as fish-stocking programs, supporting wildlife restoration, dockage, interconnected trail systems and signage - not building tourist attractions.

While tourism has traditionally been frowned upon as an industry sector for creating “Mc-Jobs,” (minimum wage, dead-end positions) it can be a great economic development driver. People who rent, lease and borrow cottages sometimes permanently re-locate to the North, according to Setchell.

Blue Sky general manager Susan Church was encouraged by the findings and hopes the area’s tourism stakeholders can reach consensus to put forward a proposal to government funding agencies to move the concept forward.

“I believe a small percentage of operators have small hang-ups, but a far larger percentage are willing to move forward and brand our region in an appropriate image that talks about our trail- and water-based activities.”