By PAULINE CLARK
SAULT STE. MARIE—“People want to get back to the land…it’s a segment of tourism that’s the fastest growing,” Pat Corbett, owner of Hills Health Ranch told an attentive audience at the Winter Cities Forum here recently.
“Whether we’re in the Sault or Newfoundland, we have a unique land base to package up and market, “ he said.
Corbett, who started Canada’s first year-round health ranch in the early 1980s, knows what he is talking about when it comes to marketing. He has won a number of marketing awards for health-based tourism and has been a front-runner in what has become an explosion in the health tourism industry.
Corbett reminded conference attendees to focus on the experience, not on the name. He explained how his resort, located in the interior of British Columbia, has incorporated outdoor fitness experiences geared to the land base and suggested there are still very few places doing this today.
Corbett also stressed the need to market together, noting that 99 per cent of the tourism industry in Canada is made up of businesses with 100 or fewer employees and 96 per cent of those have 50 or fewer employees.
Corbett noted growth is in cities of 500,000 or more and suggested winter cities can take advantage of that, and offer opportunities for those people to get away from the cities.
“People are spending more on complementary health care than on health itself…we have it in our hands to take advantage of that,” he said.
Dr. Daniel Scott, a University of Waterloo professor who is working with Environment Canada doing adaptations and impacts research, also pointed out how climate changes could affect tourism.
Scott used the Colorado wildfires and the resulting media publicity as an example that resulted in a decrease of 30 per cent in campers to the State of Colorado and a decrease in visitors of 40 per cent after the fires. The State recovered because of a national campaign launched by the Colorado Tourism Board.
Scott suggested Canadians begin to think of ways to take advantage of the climate changes they are experiencing. He noted indications that there is a northern shift in various species of fish and pointed out that a study done in the Ottawa area suggested indicators for climate change include lengthened camping and golfing seasons that bring other opportunities.
Other climate changes resulting in low river levels and changes in fire severity can cause effects such as burned landscapes and decreased fishing. Winter festivals are at risk as temperatures rise.
Ice fishing seasons can be cut in half in some areas such as Lake Simcoe by 2050. It os also expected the annual days of snow cover will be reduced by 40 to 50 per cent by 2050.
Michigan and Midwest U.S. ski resorts can expect a decrease of 50 per cent by that time, and Scott suggested, even with snow-making technology, the season length was already reduced at southern Ontario resorts last year. Economic factors may prevent resorts from making snow to keep to those levels.
Scott suggested the tourism industry adapt to the climate changes.
Words from Texan Ted Eubanks, president of Fermata Inc., echoed Scott’s advice.
“If you can’t deal with people face to face get in another business,” were the first words of advice Eubanks offered.
“You need to understand how people travel,” said the Texas businessman who sells travel experiences for a living. Fermata Inc. compiles inventories of nature and cultural resources, and develops strategic plans for the development of tourism initiatives dependent upon these resources.
“Forget what you know about trails…look at the opportunities to market…look at the nature of trails,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks said people travel for the experience, not for the destination.
“We can’t create the events, but we can create the matrix of opportunity for those events to happen,” he said.
“The landscape scale is what Canada has,” Eubanks told the audience.
He said if someone refers to it as a six-month season, they have not looked hard enough for the
Eubanks, who is also an avid bird-watcher, told of the portals or doorways that exist in Texas and other states.
“When birdwatchers want to know where the birds are, we hand them a booklet—where will those birdwatchers go here?” he asked.
“You’ve got aurora borealis; we don’t have that. Where can you send people to see that?” he asked.
“You can create sites. Every interactive moment of contact with a tourist is a chance to sell,” he urged.
“Most of us don’t have a Grand Canyon or volcanoes…we have to take the little bits and pieces and tie it all together. No one’s going to come to Sault Ste. Marie just to come to Sault Ste. Marie—take all the little bits and put them all together,” Eubanks concluded.