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North Bay has what post-pandemic tourists desire

'People are looking for open spaces, fresh air, and natural experiences. We have that in abundance and we're poised to capitalize on those assets.'
2020 08 01 Champlain Park Lake Nipissing Sunset (Campaigne)
View of the sun setting over Lake Nipissing from North Bay's Champlain Park.

North Bay is different from major centres when it comes to tourism and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Tourism North Bay.

"North Bay has what people are looking for, now more than ever. People are looking for open spaces, fresh air, and natural experiences. We have that in abundance," said Executive Director Steve Dreany, "and we're poised to capitalize on those assets."

Dreany was giving an update on Tourism North Bay's activities during a presentation before North Bay City Council during its most recent regular meeting.

He said it is not expected for tourism to recover to 2019 levels before 2025, with the industry's recovery contingent on government health guidelines, vaccination levels, and the public's desire to travel.

Dreany added the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020 and the ensuing halt to much of worldwide travel  is the "single biggest disruption to tourism — ever."

He does believe there "is pent-up demand. There are a lot of people who are waiting to travel. People don't seem to want to travel internationally and don't seem to want to travel outside of what's familiar just yet.

"We're targeting centres such as Ottawa, Toronto, more in our local area, in the medium term. In the longer term, we're going to work on bringing the groups and the bus tours up from the northern U.S., Toronto, Ottawa, up into the community."

For more on Tourism North Bay's 2020-21 initiatives and activities, click here.

The occupancy rates of North Bay's hotels were down 18.1 per cent from 2019 to 2020, slightly lower than the drop of 18.9 per cent in those rates in the region (North Bay, Sudbury and Timmins) and all of Northern Ontario (18.3 per cent). Ontario's net occupancy in hotels dropped 33.9 per cent last year.

Tourism North Bay's income is primarily drawn from the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT), a four per cent fee added to the bills of guests of local hotels by the City of North Bay and earmarked for the tourism industry. 

See also: Hotel tax yields nearly $1 million in 2019

And: Council looking at options to spend Municipal Accommodation Tax

Dreany told council members the organization's net revenue declined by $233,000 but was buoyed by federal funding and other relief programs so that Tourism North Bay avoided using its reserves to stay afloat and finished 2020 with a balanced budget.

See: Tourism North Bay ends 2019 with money in the bank, looking for balanced budget in 2020

As expected, tourism is down through April of this year but Dreany is optimistic a major contributor to the hospitality sector — the film industry — will turn those numbers around. Some events scheduled for this year have been pushed to 2022 instead of cancelled, which will provide stability, Dreany said. 

Marketing and a strong social media presence continue to be priorities of Tourism North Bay to "break the habit of stopping in Muskoka or going up to Highway 69 and going across to Sudbury. That's the habit we're looking to break to get people up into our area," Dreany added.


Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for BayToday.ca, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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