More rooms for visitors needed amid some sell-out conditions: official

Thunder Bay, Ont. — Tourism from leisure sport, corporate and regional hub activities is driving visitor traffic to Thunder Bay as four new hotels are arriving to support the influx of visitors.

The newly restored Aiden by Best Western at Superior Shores hotel is imminently opening while the Home-2 Suites by Hilton, which is a sister hotel of the newer Hampton Suites, is nearing completion.

At least two more hotel chains are scoping out the city but remain a guarded secret for the time being, according to Paul Pepe, manager of Tourism Thunder Bay.

“There’s been interest from developers that are looking at the (Thunder Bay) market currently and are in the early stages of planning,” Pepe said. “There is certainly interest in Thunder Bay and we do need more rooms because we ran into a lot of sold-out nights in 2022.”

Pepe said “we need more inventory” in terms of rooms because of the diversity and a very strong summer leisure season.

“We have a growing sports tourism sector here and when we look at the last week in Thunder Bay with two major provincial and national ski events going back-to-back here in the city, that virtually sold out (hotel rooms),” he said.

Pepe noted that Thunder Bay serves as a regional hub for many Indigenous and rural communities that come here and rely on Thunder Bay for business, shopping, health care and education.

“Mining and exploration are just huge and it’s driving a lot of traffic that’s here for work through the city as well,” he said.

“It’s a corporate market, but they are here for a while and they have expensive accounts, they go out for dinner, and they spend their down time in the city shopping and exploring events and attractions.”

Pepe explained that the city’s tourism branch works very closely with the mining and exploration sector. He said we may not influence their decision to come here because there is a whole other set of motivators that bring them to Thunder Bay.

“But we can help influence what they do while they’re in the city and how much money they spend on culinary, attractions, events and other things,” he said, adding that this corporate market has transformed into the leisure visitor in many ways.

“And that’s where we can help influence what they see and do while they’re here working in the community. There’s still strong tourism connectivity to that market.”

Meanwhile, the average daily rate per room jumped 22 per cent last year over pre-pandemic 2019.

“The hotel industry has emerged quite strongly here and that has generated increased interest now,” he said. “However, inflationary pressures on construction costs and supply and labour shortages are impacting the ability to get new rooms into inventory quickly.”

Yet, coming out of the last three years and having new property being built on Arthur Street (Hilton) and the refurbished Aiden on Cumberland Street, Pepe called it “really positive news” for this market.

“To see those investments being made during this period has been a testament to the resiliency of the local accommodation sector,” he said.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal