Thunder Bay – The Business of Tourism

Thunder Bay Marina
Thunder Bay Marina
Marina at Prince Arthur’s Landing in Thunder Bay – Photo Credit Brook McIlroy

THUNDER BAY – Summer is a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the long days, hot sun, and the fantastic amenities in our great city. While many businesses quiet down over the warmer months, there are some that swell up and thrive with the onset of Thunder Bay visitors.

Tourism businesses are establishments that offer something to visitors, typically restaurants, cafés, hotels, retailers, gas stations, transportation companies, outfitters, arts, culture and attractions.

The Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre works with small businesses, including those in the tourism sector, to complete their business plans, secure funding, and find effective ways of marketing themselves. If you’re starting a tourism business, or even considering it, their one-to-one counseling, consulting, information, and referral service make the Entrepreneur Centre a great first stop. The Entrepreneur Centre works with partner organizations, like Tourism Thunder Bay, to get new and aspiring entrepreneurs on the right path to a successful venture.

The tourism economy is valued at over $604 million annually in Northwest Ontario, and $155 million within Thunder Bay, a figure RoseMarie Mancusa, Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Tourism Thunder Bay, thinks we can improve upon. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there and I encourage any tourism business to connect with us to find out how they can leverage tourism initiatives to increase their bottom line.”

RoseMarie tells us of a few key things tourism businesses can do to make the most of the visitor market:

  • Be knowledgeable and helpful
Tourism Business
There is opportunity for new tourism businesses to offer all inclusive, organized, packaged tour experiences. Photo credit: Tourism Thunder Bay

Visitors to Thunder Bay (about 530,000 annually) will often ask about what Thunder Bay has to offer – what is there to see and do, where to go, and what’s happening in the area, etc. If the frontline staff of a business can provide helpful information, suggestions, and recommendations, visitors will walk away feeling good, and it heavily influences their experience.

RoseMarie advises, “Businesses need to educate their frontline workers on how to respond to those questions in directing our visitors to events, festivals, hotspots, and attractions. It not only makes for a better visitor experience, but a better customer experience, as patrons who leave an establishment with a great feeling are more likely to return.”

Thunder Bay locals who do not give positive suggestions to these enquiries can dampen a visitor’s perception. Frontline workers, such as servers, clerks, baristas, and cashiers, should be trained to act as brand ambassadors for Thunder Bay, providing helpful and informative answers that promote Thunder Bay as a fun and enjoyable place to visit.

“The goal is to make people feel good about our city, as we want them to enjoy their time here and continue to spend money during their visits. Many people, especially corporate travellers here on business, only plan to stay for a day or two, but if they can be convinced to extend their stay another few days, or come back with their families, the potential economic impact is huge.”

Furthermore, tourism businesses should carry visitor resources such as maps, brochures, copies of the Walleye Arts & Culture magazine, as well as the Thunder Bay Experience Magazine for their clients foreign to Thunder Bay.

  • Stay on top of what’s happening in the community

Besides being able to provide customers and clients with important community information, there are money-making reasons to be in the know. If tourism businesses can gauge ahead of time when and where there will be an influx of crowds and visitors, they can piggyback on those events by strategically planning their offerings around them to capture some of that market. They can appeal to visitors in our area if they can offer an experience, adventure, or attraction in the days leading up to and following those big events.

“Visitors will not often come to Thunder Bay for one specific reason but may stay longer if there are a number of other experiences that appeal to them during their stay. Businesses can help attract more visitors and keep them here longer if they time their offerings strategically to complement other attractions.”

Upcoming community events such as Bluesfest, Brewha Craft Beer Festival, Ribfest, and the 2016 Can-Am Police-Fire Games are all opportunities to get a piece of the tourism pie.

Stay connected by forming networks and partnerships within the community. Attend local networking events, tradeshows, and conferences. If you are a tourism business, make sure Tourism Thunder Bay knows about you. Contact them and the Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre for more information and assistance in marketing your tourism business.

  • Create packaged experiences

In Northwest Ontario, the number one appeal is the outdoors – hiking, fishing, hunting, climbing, boating, sailing, and camping. While our beautifully rugged terrain and natural landscape are second to none, the number of organized outdoor adventure services in Thunder Bay is limited, and there exists huge opportunity for tourism product development – ie. packaged tours and expanded adventure experiences.

“Many adventurers are looking for the convenience of all inclusive guided tours and adventures. They want to know that everything will be taken care of and not have to worry about anything.”

Set Sail Thunder Bay
Tourism businesses can partner to combine their services and offer bundled experience tours to adventure seekers.
Photo credit: Tourism Thunder Bay

The key to providing the best tour packages is to partner with complementary businesses to create customer value through fantastic bundled experiences. Reach out to other adventure companies that serve the same market and combine your offerings to create something awesome.

For more information on how to develop your services into packaged experiences, contact Tourism Thunder Bay. If you have a tourism business idea of your own, get in touch with the Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre to help you bring your idea to reality.

  • Know your market

Tourism businesses need to understand their industry and stay on par with the latest trends to stay relevant. Those that are familiar with what’s hot on the scene can find ways work it into their offerings and capitalize on it.

What’s hot on the trending forefront right now? Food.

“Culinary has proven to be a real driver of tourism. Foodies and locavores are willing to travel a short distance out of town for a unique dining experience. We’re seeing more restaurants get onboard with the organic movement and having locally grown food on their menus.”

Another local trend is motorcycle touring, particularly around Lake Superior, due to the rising popularity of Ride Lake Superior.

Northwest Ontario tourism businesses should also be privy to market trends such as fluctuations in the US economy and the Canadian dollar.

Understanding the market allows a business to deliver products and services that match the consumer demand. When it comes to vacation planners, what they’re really looking for is a great time and lasting memories. “Tourism businesses should realize that travelers want high quality and memorable experiences and are not always price sensitive. They want genuine, authentic quality and are willing to pay for it.”

Business aside, it’s the people that make our city a desirable place to visit, and we all need to be warm and welcoming toward Thunder Bay visitors. Tourism is an economic staple, as a means for income generation, job creation, and community development. As RoseMarie puts it, “Tourism is everybody’s business.”

Tourism Thunder Bay is responsible for tourism marketing, product development and the provision of visitor services. The Tourism team works to develop and deliver strategies that position Thunder Bay as one of Canada’s Premier Outdoor Cities, capitalizing on the extensive natural resource tourism assets and the strong consumer propensity for outdoor experiential travel. Tourism Thunder Bay also plays a lead role within Tourism Northern Ontario, in marketing and development partnerships that align with Northwest Ontario strategies. Tourism Thunder Bay offers free listings and paid advertisements in their annual visitor magazine and website. Contact Tourism at 807-625-3648 or to get your tourism business listed.

The Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre offers FREE and confidential services to help businesses start up, expand, and succeed. Whether you’re looking for funding, training and education, or new and better ways of marketing your products and services, the Entrepreneur Centre is here to get you on the right track to success. Call (807)625-3960 or visit to book an appointment.

CEDC Community Economic Development (CEDC) Entrepreneur Centre
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