WE ARE THE BRAND!
very year I have an opportunity to give a guest lecture to a group of Tourism Policy students at Ryerson University in Toronto. It is an interesting challenge, standing in a classroom in downtown Toronto, trying to decide what to say to a group of students who have almost no knowledge of our part of the industry. What’s more, they probably believe they have absolutely no reason to care about what is going on in nature and outdoor tourism.
Their lack of any appreciation for what they probably see as a small niche sector of the industry is not surprising. Indeed, their perspective is not much different from that of most mainstream politicians and policy makers. Why should our part of the industry matter to anybody except us?
At the risk of sounding arrogant to the point of delusion, I’ll state the simple answer. What happens to nature and outdoor tourism matters to the entire industry because we are the brand! If you look at study after study on how people from outside Canada see us, whether in the US or abroad, our natural environment and unspoiled wilderness are what most people identify with Canada. Moose and mounties, as the old expression goes.
This insight has tremendous implications for how we plan product and infrastructure and how we market the province to tourists. British Columbia figured this one out a long time ago. Their slogan “Super, Natural British Columbia” has remained in place for many years. Their marketing efforts, even for cities like Vancouver, have heavily promoted the outdoor experience. This approach benefits both the nature and outdoor industry from skiing to fishing, and also the gateway cities.
When I talk to folks in our industry, it’s a different story. Whether it’s Toronto or Thunder Bay, the feeling is that our urban counterparts want to keep all the tourists for themselves. Serving as gateways is the furthest thing from their minds. They seem to believe that all we need is newer and better attractions to get more tourists and keep them longer.
Don’t get me wrong. Urban attractions are a good thing. They provide one more reason to come, and a reason to stay longer. I just don’t think the experiences offered by our cities are the primary thing attracting tourists to Canada. When is the last time you heard about a plane load of Italian tourists who came to see the great museums of Ontario?
“Whether you are an individual building a career, a company building its business or a province building an industry there is a standard piece of good advice – build on your strengths. Ontario and Canada’s strength is our great outdoors. We need to capitalize on that strength.”
Unfortunately, this approach carries with it some huge challenges. It is usually very costly and difficult to get from our major gateway cities, like Toronto, to areas of the province with good outdoor product available. The trip from Toronto to a lodge in north-western Ontario can easily cost more than the price to get to Toronto from the guest’s home in the US or Europe. Pre-arranged packages that offer a city trip combined with an outdoor experience are virtually non-existent.
There are challenges for our industry, as well. Does your business have the flexibility of scheduling to handle shorter trips that are part of a package, or do you offer only full week trips? More importantly, are you prepared to sit down with potential partners like urban hotels and motor coach operators to develop packaged products or are you worried about keeping the guests for yourself?
It is no secret that Ontario and Canada continue to see declines in foreign visitors at a time when the tourism industry is growing in most other parts of the world. The message in this is pretty clear – there are tourists out there who are willing to travel. We need to figure out what it is about what we have to offer that is not meeting their needs, and then develop new products or packages to fit.
It is clear to me that we need to start by building on our strengths, and that is our nature and outdoor sector. We may need to do some things differently or package in new ways, but the appeal of our outdoors is not going to go away any time soon. We need to get started now, so we can keep our lodges and the big city hotels and attractions full.
Executive Director, NOTO
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Winter 2006 Issue