By Michael Lynch
Resource-based tourism operators in the North need to focus on their greatest asset, says the new executive director of the Northern Ontario Tourist Oufitters (NOTO).
Doug Reynolds, who has been on the job with NOTO for four months, says the industry needs to focus on “a highly valued remoteness experience.”
The current experiences being offered are largely “a low-quality, undervalued product,” Reynolds says. “(These experiences) are being valued as if they were a trip to the beach.”
Reynolds presented his observations on April 20 at the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce’s spring meeting held in Nipigon.
“Mining and forestry are not going to get bigger in the North,” Reynolds predicts. But there is a “tremendous opportunity” for resource-based tourism.
Mining and forestry will create “pockets of prosperity” in the future, Reynolds says, but because of job-reducing technological advancement these industries will not grow in importance to northern communities.
He says NOTO members need “to take a look at their customer base and decide who they are” and deliver packages that sell a “remoteness experience” at a premium price.
Reynolds uses the example of one northern outfitter who is successfully marketing a “memorable” remoteness experience to wealthy Western Europeans. The outfitter does not allow his clients to fire a single shot until the fourth day of a seven-day hunting package that costs $5,000 (US).
“This outfitter doesn’t want a hunter sitting around bored in his room after shooting a bear on the first day of a seven-day hunt experience,” Reynolds says. The outfitter has hunters observing bears in the wild and enjoying a “once-in-a-life-time experience they can talk about for years.”
NOTO has 500 members and represents the high end of the resource-based tourism business in the North.
Reynolds equates the potential of a properly developed and valued resource-based tourism package with that of an “African safari or an Amazon rain forest tour.”
He says a “boat full of fish and a dead moose,” which many outfitters are selling, is not an experience that tomorrow’s market is going to be seeking.
He profiled the typical NOTO member in northeastern Ontario as operating a second- or third-generation family business. A significant number became involved with the industry because of the “lifestyle,” not for business reasons. Reynolds says a lot of the members’ facilities need updating and many members he has encountered are aging and would like to retire.
Reynolds says the industry in northeastern Ontario is “struggling to remain profitable,” compared to northwestern Ontario where the industry is in much better shape.
He contrasts Northern Ontario’s remoteness to what exists in the United States where most destinations are within 35 kilometres of a road.
“Is that where we want to go in Northern Ontario?” he asks.
“Our remoteness experience in the North is everything that a city is not,” Reynolds says. “If you have a road, you don’t have remoteness.”
“How we plan access is critical to the future of resource-based tourism,” Reynolds says.
He says the government’s new process with resource stewardship agreements has proven valuable to the competing users of the forest. He adds it is “time for NOTO to take off the blinders” and become more aggressive in building alliances. “We all want the same things and we need to look to the future instead of the past.”