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The Bay beckons

Association looks to attract more tourism to North Bay

A new organization in North Bay is aiming to bring together local stakeholders to boost tourism in the city.

Launched a year ago, the Tourism North Bay Association is comprised of hotel operators, restaurants, events, and attractions.

Led by a board of directors consisting of member representatives, the overarching goal of the group is to attract more tourism activity to the city, following four pillars: capacity building, marketing, bid funds, and product development.

Steve Hollingshead was hired as the association’s director in December. Originally from Sault Ste. Marie,

Hollingshead has more than 17 years of experience coordinating and managing special events and sports tournaments. He’s served as manager of sales and marketing for Northern Ontario’s Algoma Country and manager of special projects and sports tourism for Sault Ste. Marie.

In North Bay, he sees opportunity.

“North Bay seems to be a very progressive and forward-thinking community,” he said. “They’ve embraced the idea of having someone behind the helm of their tourism department, which is me, and I think that they see the value in partnerships.”

The community is one of only two in Northern Ontario — the other is Sault Ste. Marie — where a surcharge is implemented on hotel room taxes. That goes into a larger pot of money, the Tourism Infrastructure Fund (TIF), which is then used for tourism marketing efforts in the city.

Part of Hollingshead’s job will be to direct those funds so that the organization gets the best bang for its buck.

“That money comes through a third-party agreement that we’ve made where we then use those funds to help market North Bay as a viable four-season destination for meetings, conventions, sporting events, and tourism attractions,” Hollingshead said.

“It’s all about trying to get people to North Bay and realize the economic spinoff from tourism spending.”

The association’s board met in late January to look over an initial plan for the year. Pending budget approval, some immediate goals include creating a new visitor guide, updating the Tourism North Bay website, and increasing the group’s social media presence.

Hollingshead also wants to bring on more partners for the organization.

Currently, four hotels and Canadore College’s residence are on board, and he said he’s worked closely with Laurentian Ski Hill. But he’d like to see more local restaurants and attractions participate as well.

“That's the real key here, to get other partners on board to see the vision and understand the value of working with this board and the decisions of tourism to bring more attention to North Bay and the area,” he said. “I think it's crucial.”

It’s been more than a decade since North Bay had a dedicated person in place to work on tourism; since 2003, tourism marketing duties had been folded into the responsibilities of economic development staff.

Hollingshead said that made it challenging for the city to coordinate events.

“In defence of the City of North Bay, the city itself is not in the job of putting people in hotel rooms, but they certainly know the benefit of the economic impact,” he said.

“What was missing was the ability to have the communications with hotel partners, so that when there’s another event coming, we’re not double stacking people in rooms.”

He’s now fashioned a grid, or schedule of sorts, which allows tourism sector operators to stagger events and activities.

In addition to the association’s member partners, Hollingshead will be working closely with the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce (where he keeps an office); the city’s economic development arm, Invest North Bay; and city staff — namely, the manager of sports and events, and the sports tourism coordinator.

It was through the city’s efforts that North Bay was successful in its bid to host the 2018 Ford World Women’s Curling Championship, only the second time the event has been hosted in Ontario.

The event is expected to attract thousands and generate millions of dollars for the local economy. That success was logged before Hollingshead’s appointment, but he said part of his goal will be to bring similar types of events to North Bay in the coming years.