Nothing spells happiness more than a satisfied customer at Marr’s Perch Lake Lodge. Her smile says it all.
Seeking a lifestyle change, Christine and Matt Rapp and their two children packed their bags in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the spring of 2016 and headed north. Their destination was Marr's Perch Lake Lodge, just outside of Atikokan, where Matt had spent many vacations. However, this time upon arrival, they were greeted with the keys to the resort as its new owners, and immediately got to work.
Their purchase of the lodge was made possible with financial support from the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). The not-for-profit, business-focused organization is one of 24 Northern Ontario Community Futures Development Corporations funded by FedNor. It offers free business advice and workshops, as well as commercial financing to entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business in the Atikokan area.
With a year under their belts, Christine and Matt are gearing up for their second season. Securing bookings is their number one priority. There too, AEDC is playing a key supportive role, leading the Tourism Atikokan initiative, in partnership with Tourism Northern Ontario and the Town of Atikokan to help area tourism businesses focus on product development and packaging.
It's recognized that tourism is an important economic driver in Northwestern Ontario. In 2014, tourism activity generated approximately $480 million in Northwestern Ontario, supporting businesses and jobs. Consumers from outside of Canada – primarily Americans – accounted for almost 46 percent of that spending.
"Atikokan's Naturally Wild website is a tool dedicated entirely to promoting the tourism assets and values in the Atikokan region. Our focus is on digital marketing because it's current, updated regularly and can help people, who are exploring tourism in general, research what the region has to offer, ultimately resulting in sales for area service providers," said Garry McKinnon, Executive Director, Atikokan Economic Development Corporation.
Through its branding, Tourism Atikokan has created high quality content to reflect the four-season nature of Atikokan's tourism industry. The seven videos AEDC recently posted on the site are being viewed by people across North American and in countries as far away as Chile, Norway, New Zealand and Germany.
"Some clients are learning about us when they stop at the local tourism bureau but many others are discovering our place through Facebook," revealed Christine Rapp, Co-owner of Marr's Perch Lake Lodge. "That said, the exposure through the AEDC site is important for new business owners like us who are attracting 80 percent of our visitors from south of the border."
Atikokan’s Naturally Wild tourism branding initiative is helping to lure visitors to Branch’s Seine River Lodge for great fishing.
Lori Branch, co-owner of Branch's Seine River Lodge agrees that AEDC's marketing efforts are helping put Atikokan on the map. "We did a number of consumer trade shows this winter and our number one challenge continues to be that people don't know where Atikokan is. The Atikokan area has just as good or even better opportunities for fishing, hunting and wilderness trips as many other destinations but, as a community, we haven't done a great job in promoting the area as a destination. Tourism Atikokan is helping to change that," explained Lori Branch.
It has been 18 years since Lori and her husband Quentin took over his family's business, located 20 miles west of Atikokan. With financial help from the AEDC, they've updated and expanded their operation, enjoying steady growth, relying on their American visitors. Last year, they increased their business by 30 percent.
"Good marketing brings a customer to our door. We generate repeat business by providing excellent service, a great vacation experience and good value for money with no hidden costs," stated Quentin Branch.
To find out more about realizing your business dream, contact Atikokan Economic Development Corporation at 807-597-2757 or your local Community Futures Development Corporation.