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Timmins repositions tourism interests, wins award

When two of your major tourism attractions fold in one fell swoop, most communities would be left reeling, scrambling to fill the gap.
The Porcupine Ski Runners Nordic ski trails offer visitors “accessible, uncrowded, pristine, unpolluted and affordable” options for cross-country skiing in the winter, according to tourism manager Guy Lamarche.

When two of your major tourism attractions fold in one fell swoop, most communities would be left reeling, scrambling to fill the gap.

If you’re the City of Timmins, however, you get right back in the game, revamping your entire tourism portfolio, and winning an award in the process.

Last January, Timmins lost the Shania Twain Centre and the Underground Gold Mine Tour when Porcupine Gold Mines (Goldcorp) purchased the property for $5 million so it could go forward with its Hollinger open pit project.

The move effectively shuttered two of Timmins’ most well-known, albeit money-losing, tourism ventures, but the city didn’t skip a beat. Instead it went into recovery mode, forging a multi-year master plan encompassing its mandate for tourism, culture and recreation opportunities in the city.

Mayor Tom Laughren said it’s part of the city’s Timmins 2020 strategic plan, which examines how to use strategies, branding, and marketing to reposition the city.

“Even though we know resources are always going to be our stable, we know we need to do more,” Laughren said.

For its efforts, the city was recognized by Tourism Northern Ontario with the inaugural President’s Award for its resilience and dedication in rebuilding and redeveloping its tourism industry.

A shocked Guy Lamarche said he was surprised, but grateful, to be recognized by his industry peers during a November meeting and gala in Sudbury.

“The last couple of years have been challenging for Tourism Timmins,” said Lamarche, manager of tourism, events and communications at the City of Timmins, on receiving the news. “With the sale and closure of the Shania Twain Centre and Timmins Underground Mine Tour, we had to reinvent and reposition ourselves in the marketplace.”

Expected some time early in the new year, the multi-year plan puts a focus on two priority areas: meetings, conventions and sports tourism, as well as festival events and special projects; the city is hiring two full-time staff to oversee the new priorities.

Tourism Timmins will also take over responsibilities formerly overseen by the Chamber of Commerce, including the operation of the tourism information centre and the management of industrial tours. Tourism Timmins will relocate from city hall to the visitor information centre, and will work on rebranding the facility as the Timmins Convention Bureau and Visitor Welcome Centre.

Over the last few years, three new hotels have been built in Timmins and a fourth, a Best Western, is currently under construction and expected to be complete by next summer or fall. Increasing capacity where it was once lacking means the city can now target new markets, Lamarche said.

“If you factor in what four new properties would represent in terms of capacity, we’ve come a long way in a very short period of time and now we’re open for business,” he said. “We’re able to accommodate more of the big hockey tournaments. We’re able to put forth bids that will resonate well with the different event promoters.”

“We’ve always had pretty good facilities to be able to host many different events; our downside has always been hotel rooms,” Laughren added. “So we think we’ve bridged that now to be able to look at different sporting opportunities that are out there.”

The city will also play up its natural assets like the pristine, uncrowded wilderness that makes snowmobiling, crosscountry skiing, kayaking and camping some of the top activities for the area. Snowcross is returning to Timmins this year, the Great Canadian Kayak Festival is still going strong heading into its sixth year, and a Wednesday night summer concert series continues to appeal to residents, visitors and business travellers.

This year, the organization will offer visitors close to 30 all-inclusive packages for everything from skiing to golfing.

“What differentiates us from many others when it comes to meetings and conventions, and getting them here, is team building opportunities, the networking opportunities,” Lamarche said.

Diehard Shania fans making the pilgrimage to Timmins will still find appeal in the city’s newly developed geotour, which sends visitors around the city to various locations hosting Shania memorabilia, as well as mining and other heritage artifacts.

The idea is to move people around the city, spending as they go.

Part of Goldcorp’s Hollinger plan involves the rehabilitation of the site, a long-time industrial area described by Laughren as “like walking on the moon.”

Goldcorp has committed $10 million over 10 years to revive the area, which may include a lake, walking trails and other recreation opportunities.

“It will definitely open up and beautify an area of our community that’s not too pretty right now,” Laughren said. Tourism Timmins will continue to market to large urban markets in southern Ontario, and the city is in the midst of preparing its 2014 tourism booklet, which Lamarche promises to be bigger and better than ever.

“So, despite the closing of Shania Twain Centre, despite the closing of the Timmins Underground Mine Tour, there were some opportunities still for us to capture and we’re doing just that,” Lamarche said.

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