Supporting local businesses has never been more important. With the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses need all the help they can get.
The more you can purchase from independent shop owners, the more money stays in the immediate community. Local business owners tend to have deeper roots: they are more likely to carry locally made products, to support youth sports organizations and charities, to hire local staff and to participate in neighbourhood festivals and events.
Destination Northern Ontario has a similar mandate: they want to help businesses in the tourism sector succeed. The organization provides tourism operators with an array of helpful services, programs and resources.
“A lot of tourism operators, because of the many border closures and lockdown restrictions, didn’t have access to their traditional clientele. Their markets were destroyed,” explains Executive Director David MacLachlan.
Over time, however, people in the region wanted to get out and have a tourism experience. Due to travel restrictions, tourism businesses in the region had a unique opportunity to host local visitors instead of some of their traditional clientele. Not only has this given local residents a chance to fall in love with tourism experiences in their own backyard, it also gives operators a chance to build new relationships and, hopefully, repeat visitors.
The good news is that anyone can help, whether they’re actually travelling or not—and it doesn’t always have to involve spending money. You can share your favourite getaway spots on social media, like your favourite tourism operator’s posts and leave positive reviews of experiences you have had. Every bit of online engagement is a step forward that helps beleaguered businesses get back on their feet.
“A lot of people who live in Ontario are getting out exploring and we know we should be growing the industry. Everyone is following very strict health and safety protocols,” says MacLachlan.
Supporting local is a movement that seems to be gaining steam, particularly among the 40-and-under crowd, though people of all ages certainly seem to be embracing the idea. Places that have been known primarily as family destinations are now attracting younger people too.
A lot more new Canadians are visiting. “We're seeing a greater variety in the demographics that are coming here,” he says. “People are maybe a little bit more savvy about finding stuff online and getting out there supporting entrepreneurs. I think everybody has been doing a fantastic job.”
According to Destination Canada Research and Travel Trends, 40% of Canadians are looking to book a domestic trip in the next six months and 12% of Canadians are looking to travel anywhere within their region in the next three months. Many Ontarians (41%) are comfortable with flying on a plane domestically.
“Marketing efforts have certainly shifted during the course of the pandemic. It was more a matter of retargeting than anything else,” says MacLachlan. People needed to be reminded to get out and buy from local purveyors, but at the beginning of the pandemic it was more of a gentle nudge than a hard sell. Destination Northern Ontario worked with partners to begin a soft approach marketing to domestic visitors through the pandemic. Restrictions dictated how much local marketing could take place. As restrictions eased, marketing was more targeted and aggressive into local markets. Eventually, when the border opened, DNO could start targeting its more traditional markets, like the U.S. border states.
When people travel to the region, they naturally end up supporting all manner of local businesses. This spreads the wealth, as it’s not just the rental accommodations who benefit, but area restaurants and shops as well.
Even though travellers are sticking closer to home than before, they haven’t lost their sense of adventure. People want to get out and explore, and in doing so, they’re spread their dollars around, taking advantage of the many different outdoor experiences that can be had in the north—activities like fishing, hunting, paddling, biking, boating, ATVing, snowmobiling and motorcycle touring.
Looking for inspiration to help you get started with planning your next northern Ontario getaway? Try Northern Ontario Travel, which offers lots of great suggestions.
For more information, visit Destination Northern Ontario.
About Destination Northern Ontario (DNO)
Destination Northern Ontario is one of 13 not-for-profit regional tourism organizations funded by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. We are the largest tourism region in geography, the second largest in expenditure and the only region that includes sub-regions.
Northern Ontario will be a unique and distinctive tourism destination wherein high-quality products and experiences resonate with consumers, entrepreneurship is valued, and tourism provides local, regional, and global connections for the entire region. Destination Northern Ontario will take a leadership role to strategically guide and champion growth in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry, through strong communication, collaboration and partnerships with industry.