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Marketing strategies highlight NWOTA meeting

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Border control still is a major concern for the tourism industry in Northwestern Ontario.

That was the general consensus reached at the North Western Ontario Tourism Association’s annual fall meeting last Thursday in Nestor Falls—but new marketing approaches certainly are in the works to combat the downturn in visitors to the area.

NWOTA president Jerry Fisher said a spring survey showed tourism down 16 percent across the board in Northwestern Ontario, with another survey planned for later this fall expected to show much of the same.

“It’s hurt everybody terribly,” Fisher said of border regulations that have helped decrease traffic to area tourist camps.

“We estimate it’s costing us at least $10 million,” he added. “We’ve put more time into the border issue with private money than any other issue, and we haven’t seen any changes.”

Right now, a DWI charge (driving while intoxicated) in the United States comes with a 10-year ban from entry into Canada, and multiple offences could mean a permanent ban.

Since CSIS gained access to FBI files in 2001, DWI convictions and other offences have limited many Americans’ access to Canada, with Fisher saying the Canadian government has not done a good enough job informing travellers of these restrictions.

“Part of this whole issue was Canada wasn’t telling people about it until they got to the border and were turned away,” he stressed. “So what we’ve done is established a website, made handouts, and all of our operators are on the same page, so we are really doing Canada’s job in informing Americans of what it takes to come up here.”

Steve Shultz of Stillwater, Mn., who has a summer residence on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake, said the restrictions are affecting people on both sides of the border.

“It’s not only Minnesota, but all across the United States people who want to come across and enjoy your great country can’t,” Shultz said. “Just to think someone made a mistake and had a few drinks doesn’t necessarily mean they should be considered bad people and not be allowed into a country.

“I know it’s a felony, but the whole system sounds pretty archaic to me.”

Shultz’s 24-year-old son, Josh, still has several years to wait before he can come up and visit with Canadian relatives and enjoy time at the lake.

“He’s gone to England, Australia, and been to 35 countries and all these other countries didn’t check or seem to care,” Shultz remarked. “They say one out of eight Americans have DWI’s, so just do the math.

“They aren’t all bad people.”

Josh Shultz is now doing a term work placement in China as an international liaison for a hotel—and yet can’t cross into a country he’s always been patriotically connected to.

Fisher voiced much of the same concerns with the current system.

“I do know that I haven’t been able to find another country that stops people for minor criminality issues,” he noted. “I also found that if you are from another country aside from the U.S., they can’t check whether or not you have a minor criminality issue, so it’s only Americans being punished.”

Both Shultz and Fisher also admitted the economic conditions in the U.S. have affected tourism on a grand scale—and the fall meeting discussed new marketing strategies to reach out to would-be clients not only in the U.S., but in Canada, too.

“Because of the bad economic conditions in the U.S. that certainly look like they have some staying power, we’ve decided to take the plunge and do a couple of new things this year,” Gerry Cariou, executive director of the Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association, said during his presentation to NWOTA members last Thursday.

“For most of you, between 95 and 100 percent of your guests are American, but since there’s this country called Canada here, our board has decided to target urban areas up here, too.”

Cariou said they’ll do trade shows in Regina, Calgary, and Toronto aimed at attracting potential clients to the grandeur and wildlife this area has to offer that they can’t get in their own backyards.

He also stressed they will do much of the same marketing in the upper U.S. Midwest, with a few new wrinkles, including classified advertising in rural communities aimed at providing just a website and phone number for NWOTA to provoke action by interested parties.

Cariou compared tourism to the car industry of today, where car sales are very low but advertising for them is higher than ever. He stressed the need to maintain a presence in the U.S. despite the economic downturn.

Sunset Country and the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corp. continue to work together to advertise Northwestern Ontario, and Fisher said the tourism entities under NWOTA all have worked together and signed off on a document aimed at highlighting the obstacles they face to the federal government.

The border being the main issue, Fisher also noted a need to improve accessibility through roads and infrastructure, and that continued emphasis on marketing must be improved.

“We generate 50 percent of all of the tourism expenditures in the west, so we’re saying we want 50 percent of the marketing budget [from the government],” Fisher explained.

“We spend $11.33 million as operators on advertising, so all the tourism entities have signed onto this document because there have been a lot of regulations that have cost us financially [lately].”

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