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Bejeweled attractions spur visitor increase

By Marek Krasuski The City of Greater Sudbury’s manager of tourism, programs and partnerships, Robert Skelly, has seen tourist revenues to the region increase, largely through the participation of industry partners and long range planning.

By Marek Krasuski

The City of Greater Sudbury’s manager of tourism, programs and partnerships, Robert Skelly, has seen tourist revenues to the region increase, largely through the participation of industry partners and long range planning.  

Science North, Sudbury’s bejeweled tourist attraction, benefited from an eight per cent surge in visits, reflecting a trend of increasing tourist revenues to the region.

Years of planning and sustained development are reaping substantial benefits for Sudbury’s burgeoning tourist industry. A steady increase in visits to Canada’s  nickel capital continues unabated, due in large measure to long term planning and a more unified approach among industry players.

Occupancy rates in hotels and increasing attendance at major regional tourist attractions are key indicators that measure a tourist industry growing in tandem with other economic sectors.

"We are excited about the growth in the tourist industry and the economy in general," said Robert Skelly.  He attributes much of the city’s growth in tourism to the Sudbury Tourism Partnership, a cooperative body of private and public sector participants that pooled their resources to develop an overarching tourist initiative.

During its initial, embryonic stage, only six partners were involved; the city, Science North and four area hotels. In five years it has blossomed to 60 partners who collectively bring to the table an annual marketing budget of $500,000 distributed among a variety of programs to attract visitors to the region. Newspaper advertising, provincial publications, television commercials and the city’s website are principal tools that have attracted 1.5 million visitors and an estimated 186 million dollars in revenues, according to information provided by the Statistic Canada Travel Survey. 

Many local establishments are reaping the benefits.

"Business has been fantastic due to a healthier economy," explained Mary Hicks Ulrich, sales director for the Radisson Hotel. This year’s hotel occupancy rate rose by 3.6 per cent, but some, like the Radisson, have enjoyed significant increases.

"Our sales are up about 15 per cent across the board compared to 2005 figures," said Radisson’s assistant general manager, Jason Fairey, who describes the 70 per cent occupancy rate as "excellent."

Sudbury’s Howard Johnson Hotel also enjoyed a substantial 67 per cent occupancy rate, an increase from 2005 figures, that general manager, Mike Skuce, attributes to a brighter economic climate. "Our healthier economy means that more people are coming to Sudbury." Like the Radisson, tourism sales for the Howard Johnson are up, as are sales from business and corporate clients eager to capitalize on Sudbury’s network of first rate hotel conference facilities.

Officials of major tourist destinations are similarly buoyed by increases leading to optimistic forecasts.

"Our figures are up over last year’s," said Nancy Griffin, marketing and media communications officer for Science North. An eight per cent increase in summer visits brought 60,959 visitors to Sudbury’s bejeweled attraction, a strong performance partly influenced by innovative programs particularly appealing to children. The 2006 exhibit, Grossology, featured the more impolite functions of the human body replete with all forms of gastro intestinal disorders.

Griffin predicts an equally successful performance next year with a display of the earth’s polar regions.

Dynamic Earth, previously struggling to achieve a solid position as a compelling tourist destination, also witnessed an increase of 3.6 per cent, bringing 30,157 visitors to the interactive, underground mining museum.

As with most things in life, economic development does not occur in a vacuum. There are strong influences from other sectors of the economy that factor into a commensurate increase in tourism.

"The recent takeover activity in the mining industry, the medical school, and ongoing developments at Laurentian University help fuel tourism," says  Skelly.

But it never hurts to have a multi-lateral strategy in place.

"We are involved with everything the province does to promote tourism," explains Skelly, before outlining the benefits accrued by the establishment of an affiliate initiative entitled the Northern Ontario Marketing Program. This $5 million dollar project targets different areas of product development in angling, snowmobiling, francophone tourism, aboriginal tourism, northern cities and attractions.

"It’s important," Skelly insists, "to be involved in many layers of exposure to increase our presence in major markets."

To date, efforts at increasing Sudbury’s exposure have focused principally on the high density areas of the GTA (Greater Toronto area). Traditionally, 94 per cent of tourism dollars come from southern Ontario; another two per cent from the other provinces, two per cent from the United States, and two per cent from abroad. But there remains much room for improvement, evidenced by Skelly’s reflective comments about the region’s future.

"We are at a point in our tourism initiative where we have to understand where we go from here. In a sense we have plateaued, so we have to consider more strategies that will bring in more visitors."

Additional efforts, he suggests, should be invested in increasing Sudbury’s exposure to potential visitors in the South who remain unaware of Sudbury’s wilderness habitat and relative proximity.

A greater emphasis should also be placed on tapping into the German and Japanese markets that currently comprise the bulk of the  two per cent of foreign visitors.

Still, Skelly believes a solid commitment from a pool of partners is a force sufficiently formidable to shepherd Sudbury’s tourist industry into further levels of growth.

"We are excited. This is a strong  partnership that continues to grow every year."