2017 marked a banner year for international tourism in Canada with visitors gathering during 20.8 million overnight stays. As overseas visitors are at an all-time high nationally, Northern Ontario is looking to capitalize this trend to bring additional economic benefit to the region.
It will only take a 2 per cent increase in the total number of international visitors to boost tourism receipts by a half a billion dollars in the North. Because of these big returns on marginal numbers, Destination Northern Ontario (DNO), a pan-northern organization funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, has honed in on international marketing overseas as a top priority in 2019.
“In Northern Ontario in 2016, 0.1 per cent of all visits to the north were from overseas markets but represented 2 per cent of the spend in the region,” says David MacLachlan, Executive Director, Destination Northern Ontario. “On a provincial scale, 2 per cent of all visits are from overseas markets but represent close to 20 per cent of the spend. So it’s very lucrative numbers.”
Northern Ontario currently experiences the biggest draws from the United Kingdom and Germany, with the Germanic markets including the Netherlands and Switzerland. Sault Ste. Marie’s Agawa Canyon Tour Train has consistently resonated well in the Korean market with interest in this signature attraction budding in Japan – the Tour Train was just named as a top experience in the Americas by a Japanese operator, says MacLachlan. There are current plans to develop francophone itineraries to garner more interest from France, particularly for products and experiences in Northeastern Ontario.
Having the greatest appeal to overseas visitors, nature and adventure touring attractions are priority products in the region. According to DNO, the strategy for tourism in the North is not about offering one signature attraction in a defined area but creating opportunities that encourage visitors to explore the diverse beauty of the region as a whole. “It’s not about anchoring these visitors at any one destination, but getting them to move around,” says, MacLachlan. “We will be more successful as we build an inventory of market-ready products across the entire North. We will see more overseas visitors as our repertoire expands.”
To date, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, and Manitoulin Island’s Indigenous tourism experiences have been among the most successful attractions for the region. But there are exciting new tourism product offerings on the horizon for Northern Ontario. This year, DNO has partnered with the RV Rental Association of Canada, Ontario Parks, Camping Ontario and private campgrounds to present the inaugural Northern Ontario RV Tour, The Fur Trade Route which could see over a thousand RVs travelling the region’s highways. This tourism product focuses on regional history, the exploration of Indigenous villages and the fur trade routes that led to European settlement in the North. This experience has been met with tremendous interest since its development.
This is good news in addition to a burgeoning Great Lakes cruise market that is set to launch a record number of trips across the fresh waters of the North in the coming years.
Increasing overseas visits will not come without its challenges. One major point of improvement identified by DNO is ensuring that the tourism products offered in the North are up to par, meeting the expectations of a wide spectrum of visitors. “As these markets are different than our traditional domestic and US markets we are challenged to refine our tourism products and experiences to meet the expectation of the overseas visitor,” says MacLachlan. “This could be increasing the quality or changing up an experience for greater visitor appeal. For example, Northern Ontario excels at high-yield angling, in fact, we do it better than any other destination in the world, but the overseas visitor is generally not interested in a seven day fishing holiday. To attract this market, our lodges can offer a one-day fishing excursion on a three-day stay but then offer experiences such as wildlife viewing, hiking, paddling or some other soft outdoors experience.”
DNO has signalled this quality shift through the launch of Tourism Excellence North, a tourism development program for operators and communities designed to strengthen the ability of tourism operations, adapt to quality visitor expectations, and raise the bar on visitor value. DNO has also facilitated a series of travel trade workshops and mentorship programs to increase the number of product offerings to tourists across the region.
The future of overseas tourism in Northern Ontario looks bright. With tourism products appearing in over ten international tariffs over the past 12 months, the regional exposure to markets in Europe and Asia have created fresh opportunities to attract new, high-yield visitors to the North. DNO continues to develop priority products and quality experiences to help drive the economic benefits of tourism in the region.
DNO will be showcasing the region to international buyers this year during Rendez-vous Canada (RVC). This signature international tourism marketplace connects international travel trade with Canada’s tourism industry partners.
About Tourism Rocks!
Tourism Rocks! was launched by Destination Northern Ontario to champion growth in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry. The campaign highlights the importance of tourism in the region and creates awareness about exciting career opportunities in the tourism sector.