Tourism cruises along

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Among the top achievements for Tourism Thunder Bay in 2022 was hosting the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, supporting more than 40 events and tourism developments, and by far the most recognizable, the return of cruise shipping to the city.

Paul Pepe, manager of Tourism Thunder Bay, says these initiatives were made possible with more than $1.2 million in funding through the Tourism Development Fund, which is funded by a 4 per cent tax on visitor accommodations.

Thunder Bay saw nine visits from two cruise lines last summer. The Viking Octantis made seven turnarounds and the American Queen Voyages’ Ocean Navigator made two day-stops to the city.

Pepe noted that the Octantis also visited Silver Islet 14 times, bringing well-deserved recognition to the historical Silver Islet Store.

“In 2023, we are welcoming four ships for a total of 15 visits — three turnarounds and 12 day-stops,” Pepe said. “This is a record for us. The ships include Viking Octantis, Viking Polaris, Hanseatic Inspiration and Ocean Navigator.”

Pepe said the total economic impact of cruising in 2022 for Thunder Bay, including vessel and passenger spending, exceeded $3.2 million while capital improvements had a total impact on the local economy in excess of $2 million.

“It was a successful smooth year overall, considering how quickly the season ramped up after COVID restrictions lifted,” he said.

“Flight connectivity and ground transportation issues were a concern but all the partners involved in cruising were very nimble to ensure that everything ran smoothly and guests and vessel operators were very happy with the destination. We had great public and private sector partners in the city all working hard to put our community’s best foot forward.”

With the easing of COVID restrictions, which extended well into 2022 followed by a caution to travel, Pepe says smaller conferences and sports events started to return.

Pepe says they will continue to see tourism recovery this year with more confidence in the sport and conference markets for return to in-person gatherings. He cautioned that labour and supply chain shortages will persist, and recessionary concerns and inflation will continue.

Tourism Thunder Bay has returned to the international travel markets this year. Through their engagement with Rendezvous Canada, they are aligning their marketing with Destination Northern Ontario, Destination Ontario and Destination Canada to reach international “best bet” markets.

Also in the works is the renewal of their destination development five-year plan, improving the cruise visitor experience, supporting Indigenous tourism development and more aggressive sport and conference attraction efforts.

“Digital transformation is a continual process and we’ll be shifting investments to digital content while reducing and eliminating underperforming media channels,” he said.

Pepe says that partnerships are critical.

“Our alignment within the Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) gives us access to a broader skill set and much more robust cross-sectoral collaborations with the resource, education and life science sectors,” he said.

“We’ll be continuing to leverage marketing and communication partnerships domestically and around the Lake Superior basin to grow consumer awareness of the city.”

Attracting new visitors and extending the economic yield of existing visitors are major goals for this year, as well as supporting Indigenous tourism development through partnerships with Indigenous Tourism Ontario and other Indigenous economic development organizations.

“This is important for our entire regional economy,” he said.

Pepe recommends that the city continues public and private sector investments in visitor experiences and civic beautification in the new year.

“Thunder Bay has some significant social issues that we all collectively need to urgently address but we cannot let those define our whole story,” he said. “We want to encourage and support more Thunder Bay residents and leaders as ambassadors for the community’s positive stories and our potential. There is a lot to be proud of and thankful for here that other communities would envy and we tend to take those things for granted. We need to be confident in our community’s potential.”

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