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Abby Cook building North Bay's tourism experiences platform

'When you share that experience with someone you get to think about people differently and learn about different backgrounds and cultures and communities and hopefully it gives you a different outlook and better understanding of people'

“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.  


Abby Cook is now working in the industry she had always hoped to work in.  

“I’ve started a company called Explore North Bay and it is a tourism development consulting and operation business,” says Cook.   

In February, we interviewed Abby Cook for an article about Travelling Toes Esthetics Boutique, in which she detailed her extensive experience on the East Coast in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry, but she was having trouble finding work in that area after moving back to her home of North Bay. It was shortly after that article was published that Nicole Guertin approached Cook with the prospect of hiring her for the company 101 Experiences. Cook says it shows that your patience and persistence can pay off.  

“I always knew this was something I could do, and something I enjoyed doing,” says Cook.  

“Meeting with Nicole definitely put that confidence back into my abilities. Back in October, I had reached out to my Tourism Professor in New Brunswick because I had the idea about starting some kind of tourism business here. I was getting frustrated by talking to small business owners and generating all kinds of different ideas, but not really having a lot of supports in place to go through with these ideas.” 

Cook says she kept toying with the idea of developing and creating those operations and says, the thought of doing that on her own was overwhelming and that plan was put on the shelf until she met with Guertin.  

With 101 Experiences, Cook is a Tourism Development and Operations Consultant, but says, “I need to be able to put an experience on to the Airbnb Experiences platform and know how it works. Experience development and operation is something I loved and I had been thinking about developing my own business, so this made a lot of sense.” 

The idea Cook is looking to get into motion is going to be a historical downtown food and beverage walking tour.  

“Cecil’s and The Boat are on board and I have two other businesses I’m in talks with right now,” says Cook. “It would be a three-hour walking tour that starts at the museum and finishes at The Boat. Everyone has a little bit of downtime with the restrictions in place and so that has made it somewhat easier to plan things and get a hold of people. The feedback has been awesome so far when I’ve told people about the Explore North Bay tour. People are just looking at ways to bring in more business to the area and I’m always formulating a couple of ideas that I can always go back to if one thing doesn’t fully work out,” she says.  

Cook says, “I learned about 101 Experiences through The Nipissing Region Curatorial Collective and Guertin (project manager for the Cultural Crossroads: 101 Experiences Project) reached out to me and we talked about how I could get involved and she hired me three days later for a full-time position and I’m very thankful for that.  

Cook says she has already helped consult on a couple of tours taking place a little further north.  

“Nicole had me sit in on a couple of workshops with people in Hearst and Temiskaming Shores and so I got to help develop and consult on those tours and now I’ll be working on producing my own workshop cohorts for the North Bay area.  

Those tours are up on Airbnb already and a notable one is being operated by a 17-year-old named Mylène Coulombe-Gratton and it's called Follow Her North and it’s an ice fishing experience in Hearst.” 

Cook says there are two big goals for 101 Experiences, with the first goal to grow tourism and develop the economy more around northern Ontario tourism.  

She says the second is to make our area more inclusive and eliminate racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.  

“We work with francophone groups, seniors groups, the Multicultural Centre, Indigenous groups and LGBTQ groups as well. One of the first groups that went out to the Follow Her North experience, was a couple of seniors and a couple of international students and the goal is to give a shared experience where we will have people connect with other people whom they might not otherwise have conversations with. When you share that experience with someone you get to think about people differently and learn about different backgrounds and cultures and communities and hopefully it gives you a different outlook and better understanding of people.” 

Cook adds, “We would really like to partner with more Indigenous groups. We see that a lot of people want to experience an authentic and historical aspect of Canada and so we are here to facilitate that. We have an Indigenous advisor and an Indigenous advisory committee because it is an area that we want to grow.” 

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the platform had to pivot a little bit and offer experiences that could be done within those restrictions.  

Cook says they have managed to do that by developing an experience a little closer to home, which follows a woman named Pamala Hamel who does a Senior’s Cooking Class.  

“The whole series is geared toward putting together a diet for people who are aging,” says Cook.  “So there’s a class on eye health and it’s a carrot-centric cooking class. It’s great to be able to do these online experiences when we aren’t able to get out right now.” 

Cook says there are plenty of ideas out there, but people just aren’t sure where to begin and that’s where she comes in.  

“I’m not looking for someone who already has a tour company up and operating unless they are seeking help with getting their tour up on Airbnb and develop it further. I’m really looking for someone who has a passion for something, and it really could be anything,” says Cook.   

“One woman has a beautiful Hosta Plant Garden, which her family has been maintaining for over 40 years, and so she has developed a weekend tour where people can come and have tea in her garden. It’s a hobby of hers to develop and maintain this garden and she wanted to share that with people. If you have a passion we can find a way to make it work and put it all up on Airbnb, which also offers an insurance liability.” 

Cook says for the next little while it looks like big travel plans are on hold and that’s where the success of regional tourism can come in and help get a business going.  

“With Covid-19 there’s a big push on rural tourism as people aren’t supposed to be leaving the country and so last summer people were looking to travel to northern Ontario. I know in North Bay there are a couple of tours, which are great, but we need more, we are missing out and this is a great platform for beginners.” 

Cook says they are hoping to hear from people in the community who want to bring their ideas to life.  

“We are a non-profit organization so we don’t take anything from these organizations and operators, this is all to benefit them and make northern Ontario a destination and tell the world about what is going on here.” 

Cook is hosting an information session tonight and there will be another one coming up on May 3rd. If you would like to attend the workshop or receive any more information, please reach out at [email protected].  

If you have a story idea for Jobs of the Future, send Matt an email at [email protected]   

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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