Manitoulin Tourism Association launches its plans for the future

SANDFIELD—The Manitoulin Tourism Association (MTA) held its annual general meeting on December 8 at the community centre in Sandfield.

Following a welcome by MTA Director Stan Ferguson and a buffet dinner catered by Island Youth Entrepreneurs, the guest speaker, Rod Raycroft was introduced. Mr. Raycroft is the executive director at Northeastern Ontario Tourism (NeONT) and he began his talk with an introduction to that organization, outlining that Bernadette Lindsey is responsible for sales and product development, Jordan Nicksy, the digital guru, Sandy Siren in charge of marketing and Carrie Graham an organizational authority.

Mr. Raycroft then focused on destination marketing, starting with communication channels. These would include owned media such as print collateral like the Northeastern Ontario Guide, websites such as NeOnt and Ride the North and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Northern Portal. Another channel for marketing is paid media including print, digital and broadcast advertising and TV and radio shows and key influencers and also earned media which includes staff, and syndicated and freelance travel journalists.

The next topic was destination development with four product growth areas. The first, as Mr. Raycroft explained, was Experience Fishing with the goal of enhancing awareness of NeONT fishing, ecology and recipes, while best in class would include resorts, lodges, attractions, festivals and culture. “Cluster lodges that are the same together and take them to market,” he spelled out, “to Germany and Great Britain and so on. Manitoulin has a reputation that precedes you. Trust me. Manitoulin is a huge area with fantastic areas. Bridal Veil Falls is awesome. How many waterfalls can you walk behind?”

Mr. Raycroft also suggested that the MTA enhance profiles. “Purchase a drone,” he said, “and camera equipment. People are looking for video on the Net.” He also emphasized the importance of bringing in some of the people who are driving the highways and bypassing Manitoulin. “There are 236,000 people driving past and 51 percent are from Canada,” he said. “That is a lot of Canadians who are not sharing your beautiful Island. Target these people with a campaign.”

He also noted that more signage is needed on Highway 17. And large signage with two major entrance signs at Highway 6.

Mr. Raycroft then focused on NeONT partner services including website services, enhanced profiles with video and current social media which includes two Facebook pages, 48,000 Facebook fans, 3,600 supporters on Pinterest and 2,900 Twitter users.

The next speaker was Ron Berti, an Island-wide branding consultant who has lived on Manitoulin since 1993 and is a past president of the MTA. Mr. Berti began his talk with a perfect example of branding which is Carrera marble found in Italy. He showed pictures of the outstanding sculpture the Pieta, done by da Vinci and in the Vatican. Good branding has led to the popularity of faux Carrera marble countertops.

In speaking of branding here on Manitoulin, Mr. Berti pointed out firstly that everyone in the world recognizes the Great Lakes. He then went on to outline several outstanding attributes of Canada including the facts that this country is safe and its people are tolerant, independent and friendly. Canadian signs include hockey, beaver tails, maple syrup and camping.

“Think about our heritage and our development,” Mr. Berti said. “It will tell us more about who we are. Manitoulin is at the centre of what Canada has become. The voyageurs, missionaries, the Coeur de Bois, all landed right here in the North Channel. Fort LA Cloche was the most important trading spot for over 100 years. We all have a shared Manitoulin Island culture. We have an experience and a community knowledge like nowhere else in Canada.” He went on to say how remarkable it is that First Nations have been living peacefully next to white settlers for generations.

Mr. Berti also introduced the MTA Traveller’s Guide, a 63 page educational tool that, he said, shows how proud we are. The guide divides Manitoulin into western, middle and eastern lands. The guide is filled with large coloured photos, outlines special interests as well as lists of food and dining, accommodations, museums and cultural centres, churches, gifts and retail, gas stations and alcohol outlets. One page welcomes travellers to the Island in several different languages while the cover has a very detailed map of Manitoulin with points of interest for everyone.

Shelba Millette was also a speaker at the meeting with a MTA sustainable tourism report. She is the director of tourism and noted that the MTA received funding from FedNor and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) which will enable the organization to put its action plan in place.

The primary goals of the MTA are to form an Island-wide tourism steering committee (ITSC), she said. The ITSC’s goals are the implementation of an agreed upon communications plans, internal and external and the compilation and completion of an Island-wide asset inventory. Other goals are the development, publication and distribution of a “performance matrix/specific assessment criteria,” the development and distribution of a standardized Island-wide visitors centre information and staff training manual and the development and completion of Island branding.

Ms. Millette also informed the membership that funding has been secured that will allow for exciting and informative Island bus tours as well as life-skills sharing workshops and emphasized that MTA volunteers are critical to tourism on Manitoulin.

She went on to talk of the partnerships that the MTA has built up, including with Northeastern Ontario Tourism, Wikwemikong Tourism, Debajehmujig, Great Spirit Circle Trail and LAMBAC and said that not only are these organizations helping with letters of support, they are also helping with tourism and business based initiatives.

Ms. Millette also spoke of the new Travellers Guide, saying, “Now that we have our very first MTA membership-owned Island map and Island-wide guide in its preview state, we are encouraging everyone to contribute content to our current guide. Our next spring 2018 edition will be between 72-100 pages.”

The MTA has secured a long time lease, as Ms. Millette pointed out, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for the Meldrum Bay Mississagi Lighthouse and funding is now being sought to upgrade outbuildings and trails. “We have also applied for three-year funding to hold an annual one week impoverished children’s/family camp at the lighthouse,” she said.

Ms. Millette finished her report by saying that MTA was able to help find a permanent access point for the Cup and Saucer Trail and has collected data and developed customized reports on visitor traffic through the Manitoulin Welcome Centre for Destination Management Services (DM). “This DM service,” she explained, “ gives all of us actual statistics to use for marketing, business planning and to identify trends, In part, this helps us best determine future marketing opportunities and best business start-ups for the Island and surrounding areas.”