Category Archives: destination development

Northern Ontario Adventure: 2 tourism consultants, 1 week, lots of KM’s

By Stacey Hunter, BC Hughes Consulting

As tourism Project Development and Research Coordinator I sometimes get the opportunity to step away from my computer and act like a tourist. Recently while working on Ride the North motorcycle product development, my colleague and I had the fortunate opportunity of travelling through Northeastern Ontario to perform site visits on many attractions, accommodations and restaurants to determine whether they were motorcycle friendly. Our mission was to drive as far north as Kapuskasing, 11.5 hours north of our office in Owen Sound, Ontario.  To put this into perspective, and illustrate just how large Ontario really is – we could have driven to New York City in less time.

In this industry it’s very important that we experience first hand what we are promoting to others and if that means living out of a rental car for a week and surviving off greasy food then we’re always up for the challenge.

Our journey started in Little Current on Manitoulin Island, where we met with the rest of our team over a delicious white fish dinner at the Anchor Inn. This quaint town is the gateway to the North Channel and is visited by thousands of boaters every summer (so naturally we spent our night eating ice cream and swooning over boats that cost more then our homes). After seeing the famous swing bridge do its thing we bid farewell to our fellow travellers and wished them safe travels for their site visits along a slightly different route.

Bright and early the next morning we made our way to Timmins with a few site visits along the way. We were impressed at how many businesses were eager to make their location motorcycle friendly. What we weren’t delighted about was to learn that our car was sans breaks in the back left wheel.  Luckily, our rental agency was very accommodating, switching our car quickly and getting us back on the road.

We settled in for the night at Cedar Meadows Resort just outside of Timmins. This resort knows how to provide its guests with a great experience. The food was beyond delicious and every night they offer a wildlife tour that gives you the opportunity to feed moose (the only one we saw the entire trip) and elk.  Experiences like these make trips memorable.

After saying so long to Timmins we drove two more hours through trees and rocks to the most Northern point of our trip, Kapuskasing, and then on to Cochrane, home of Tim Horton and Ganuk the polar bear. Being on the list of site visits, we headed to JR’s BBQ Ranch for lunch. We were told that JR’s had “the best ribs you’ll ever have”. They were amazing (in our eyes good enough to satisfy a hungry motorcyclist), and to top it all off the service was excellent.

We eventually found ourselves at the Elk Lake Cabins.  This quaint resort was one of my favorite stops on the trip. It was set on the water and featured several cabins and plenty of RV and tent sites. An onsite pizza oven means motorcycle guests can easily park their bikes and order in for the night.  They claim to have the best pizza in the North and although it was the only pizza we ate during the trip, in my opinion, it would hold its own in any pizza competition. We enjoyed ours while watching the sunset over Elk Lake.

After our mini cabin vacation, we packed up the rental and made the breathtaking drive around Lake Temiskaming and Quebec. We headed to Duhamel-Ouest to check out one of our designated stops for lunch. La Bannik was upscale, served delicious fresh food at a reasonable rate and had one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.  Since motorcycle riders are not just young to middle aged males anymore, La Bannik passed our test for the couple and boomer market.

Unfortunately our week long site assessment trip was coming to an end. After finishing up our operator visits in Mattawa and North Bay we made the long drive home and said goodbye to the North.

As a tourism consultant, this trip not only affirmed motorcycle friendly businesses- it also gave me a greater sense of what tourism in Northern Ontario really is about.  Northern Ontario is about wide open roads that span miles and miles, friendly welcoming people who are willing to chat and shy but massive creatures like moose and bear that hide within the trees and rocks that surround them.

KM’s driven, approximately 1,887.

Trip Highlights:

  • AY Jackson lookout (minus the bear encounter)
  • brushing back to back with Andre from the TV show Departures riding his motorcycle in northeastern Ontario
  • Coconut Crème pie at Rolly’s in Ramore
  • Highway 633 to Mattawa (windy and thrilling)

Stacey Hunter is a tourism researcher with BC Hughes Tourism Consulting. She has travelled to 16 countries around the world, with the goal to become enriched through experiencing local cultures.

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Filed under Best Practices, destination development, motorcycle tourism, tourism, Travel, Uncategorized

Why is Mexico so fun? (by our junior blogger age 7)

Once we flew to Mexico, then we drove to our hotel in Cozumel. The water park was awesome there! I liked when the people who cleaned made animals out of towels. Sometimes they used our stuffed animals too! I also liked when we went on a snorkeling trip.  The boat went up and down. (PS I felt sea-sick.) I liked that when you ate if you wanted to you could sit on swings while you ate. There were pesos instead of dollars. Every day there was a kid’s activity. The kid’s activities were fun. For example there was a kid’s activity called bowling.  That’s why Mexico is so much fun!

Written by: Our Junior Blogger age 7

Tourism Interpretation by our Senior Blogger:

  • “The water park was awesome…” – Capital investing in activities for families pay off the long run.
  • “I liked when the people who cleaned made animals out of towels.” – exceed you guests customer service expectations and you will be rewarded.
  • “The kid’s activities were fun.” – Giving guests lots to do enhances and often extends their stay.
  • “I also liked when we went on a snorkeling trip…” – Off resort activities entertain guests when they’ve exhausted all there is to do on-site, and ultimately extend stays.
  • “I liked that while you ate you could sit on swings…” – Think outside the box!
  • “That is why Mexico is so much fun!” – Fun for the whole family!

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Filed under Best Practices, destination development, tourism, Tourism Development, tourism product, Uncategorized

The Tourism Layer Cake – Who is the real Boss?

The management of tourism in this country is handled by a wide variety organizations, most have mandates as diverse as the products they sell and represent. If you are a tourism operator, navigating these organizations to figure out where to you should spend your money and your time could be as confusing as navigating an Ikea store on a Saturday.

Why is this? I have maintained throughout my career that the tourism industry is one of the most analyzed, studied, and layered industries there is. The ‘tourism funnel’ is full of organizations all with the best intentions in mind, but sometimes they miss the mark due structural complexity which ultimately creates confusion.

Take Ontario, Canada as an example. Tourism layers really stack up, and in some places even overlap:

  • Operator
  • Industry Specific Associations (ie. Private Campground Associations, Hotel and Motel Associations etc.)
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Convention & Visitor Bureaus /Business Improvement Associations
  • Local Tourist Associations
  • Municipalities
  • Counties
  • Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs 1through13)
  • Provincial Industry Association (TIAO)
  • Province (Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)
  • Province (Ministry of Tourism)
  • National Industry Association (TIAC)
  • National (Canadian Tourism Commission)

Looking at this structure, no wonder it seems daunting to your local business or attraction to determine where and how to become involved. Recently in Ontario, similar to British Columbia, the province has formed regional tourism organizations in order to try to make the system more efficient. The goal is to create resource rich, larger geographic organizations designed to have the clout to make a large impact in the marketplace. Will this replace some of the layers? In our opinion, likely not but in a reality of global competition, it will certainly ratchet up the marketing machine.

So why are there so many layers in tourism? Tourism is an industry that is very visible and can shape the ebb and flow of a community. A lot of the attractions and assets in tourism are publically owned or managed (i.e. parks, rivers, mountains, windy roads etc.) and this brings a lot of different groups to the table right off the bat. Then add in the businesses that make their living off of these assets, their associations, supporting attractions and very quickly the layers begin to form.

Local governments like to get into the action for purely economic development reasons. A healthy tourism industry means higher assessments and more money into the local system. Chambers of Commerce get involved almost by default. When a high portion of their members are tourism based, it very quickly shapes how the chamber rolls out its marketing and promotional plans. Local tourism associations sprout up when there is a weaker municipal tourism effort and the industry has to take on the task. As the geography broadens, sometimes representatives of more local organizations join together to form collectives that enable them to raise capital and reach further markets. Provincial governments are in the game for reasons similar to local governments – simply because tourism is big business and has the potential to generate significant tax revenues. Ironically the operators are in the game to deliver a high quality experience and to make money. Should the industry be at the top of the structure of the bottom? That is debatable but one thing everyone needs to remember is that all of the layers represent the industry, the very delivery agents of the products and services.

There is a shift in Ontario to remix the layers to see if it creates a more focused financially viable approach to tourism marketing. Will it solve all of the issues? Likely not, but one thing that is clear is that we need to continually talk about and work on ways to refine the system in the best interests of the visitor, local communities, government, and the real tourism ‘Cake Boss’, the operator.

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Filed under destination development, ontario tourism, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management

Service Town or Tourist Destination?

Downtown Grand Marais - Beaver HouseThroughout our travels and in working with our clients and their destinations, it comes up time and time again:  Is your town a supply town or a tourist destination or both?

Generally what we see in larger centres is that the larger they become, the more service oriented they are and the less kitschy, touristy and personality driven they are.   The problem with size is that the local consumer demand begins to outdrive the visitor’s needs.  Large communities suddenly become filled with generic chain stores or box store strips that are not appealing to tourists (even though they may be appealing to shoppers) and do not drive visitors to your community because you look the same as everywhere else. 

On a smaller scale, look at a typical town of say 5,000 to 10,000 people.  Does the community have a demand generator?  Something significant to influence a potential visitor to leave their home, travel to the community and spend some time? Examine the main street.  What is the retail mix?  Walk the main street and classify each operator as local or tourist.  My guess is that the majority of stores are service oriented, catering to the local population base.  This of course is not wrong, but we see too many communities promoting their downtowns, attractions and community as tourist destinations when in fact there is very little for the visitor to see, do and buy there.

Want to make a change in your downtown?  Focus small.  Work with a small cluster of shops within one block: a coffee shop, a pub, gallery, and a candy store.  Support these businesses and encourage other like-minded retail to locate within this small district.  It will quickly become a hub of activity, especially after normal business hours.  Suddenly you will have a retail destination that is worthy of promoting. 

Have a small downtown you want to convert into a traffic driver? Encourage the development of several of the same type of retail experiences in close proximity.  Shoppers will drive to your town to find selection.

Overall, it’s okay to be a service town!  If your town is en-route to a tourist town, concentrate on getting cars to stop to stock up on supplies.  Food is a very good motivator to get drivers to stop the car.  Magnificent butter tarts, the oldest aged cheddar, or the best burgers quickly get flow through traffic to throw on the brakes.  Ensure gas station and grocery store facades are appealing and customer service is top notch.  Concentrating your efforts on supporting these suppliers, will turn you into a top notch supply destination, and allow you to reap the rewards of flow through traffic and not simply watch them pass you by.

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Filed under destination development, Destination Marketing, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing