Northern Ontario tourism operators are singing the praises of a three-year project designed to help them put their best foot forward. With a FedNor investment of $375,000, Tourism Northern Ontario, in partnership with Explorer’s Edge, developed and offered a series of tools and training solutions based on a similar program offered in Atlantic Canada.
“We wanted to address some quality issues to increase the appeal of our tourism projects and experiences to encourage more return visits and attract new customers,” explained David MacLachlan, Executive Director, Tourism Northern Ontario. “We needed to be more adept at innovating and increasing personalized customer service, quality products and amenities to meet changing consumer demands.”
Of the $1.6 billion in tourism receipts visitors spent in Northern Ontario in 2016 (referred to as Tourism Northern Ontario Region 13), overseas visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more, accounted for $28 million. If the region were to increase its market share of overseas visitors to match the province’s numbers, MacLachlan calculated that it would generate an extra $500 million in new business across the region. However to meet that target, he said tourism operators needed to elevate their game.
According to MacLachlan, there was tremendous appetite for the program designed to enhance the competitiveness, productivity and business management capacity of tourism businesses in Northern Ontario. Ninety-five community or tourism organizations across the North participated in the Tourism Excellence Program, as did 231 businesses and 105 tourism stakeholders, such as Chambers of Commerce.
For Rita Gordon, owner of Gordon’s Park and Dark Sky Preserve on Manitoulin Island, an independent consultant’s on-site assessment of her dark sky preserve, a top destination for astronomers and star-gazers, confirmed that her campground was already on the right track, having developed a niche market for the business. That said, Gordon was looking for more opportunities to learn and improve.
As part of the fast track assessment, Gordon received a series of recommendations that could easily be implemented. Heeding the consultant’s advice, she painted all of her buildings the same colour to create a more polished and cohesive look. Furthermore, she expanded on the art in the park that sets her place apart from the rest of the pack.
“With my daughter’s help, who is very artistic, we added murals depicting the northern lights to the exterior of some of our cabins,” explained Gordon. “These artistic touches are receiving rave reviews from our visitors. In terms of occupancy rates, 2016 was a banner year while 2017 was up 10 percent. As for this year, it’s too soon to tell.”
Pat Peterson, who operates Bruce Bay Cottages and Lighthouse with her husband Larry, also endorsed the fast-track assessment, which she said helped open her eyes to the value and unique aspects of their business.
“The Tourism Excellence North program assisted with creative ideas on how to improve our cottages which allowed us to raise our rates and increase our income,” remarked Peterson. “I’m fully booked for July and most of August.”
Peterson also participated in a best practices mission to Traverse City, a tourism destination located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. The experience, according to Peterson, reinforced the importance of small details, community appeal and making a good first impression.
“It’s all about pleasing the customers, whether it’s becoming more visually attractive or meeting their needs. Come as a tourist and leave as a friend. That’s what I see happening here at our resort. People come back because we have bonded.”
This project is but one example of the types of initiatives funded by FedNor that support of the federal Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario. Learn more about PGSNO.