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TIAO Member of the Month: Tourism Northern Ontario

We’re featuring a special TIAO Member each month to share with the #TourismFamily what they do, and how they connect with TIAO. Learn something new about your tourism industry colleagues, and the value of a TIAO Membership!

Member of the Month: Tourism Northern Ontario

This month we talked to David MacLachlan, Executive Director, and Marty Kalagian, Board Chair, Tourism Northern Ontario.

Please note that this interview has been edited for clarity.

Who are you and what do you do? Tell us about your organization and its role within Ontario’s tourism industry.

Alternatively known as Regional Tourism Organization (RTO) 13, Tourism Northern Ontario (TNO) coordinates marketing, product development and other activities for the purpose of increasing tourism visitation and revenues in Ontario’s North. RTO 13 is divided into three subregions, but destination marketing organizations from each area work together as a group.

David: "The industry recognized that if we work together across the north, we would be able to do more than if we were divided up into three individual regions."

David MacLachlan and Marty Kalagian

How long have you been a TIAO Member and why did you join?

David: "TNO has been a TIAO Member since the formation of the RTOs [in 2011]."

How has being a member of TIAO provided value for your organization?

David: "Going back to the Discovering Ontario Report, one of the recommendations made was for tourism to speak with one voice to government. TIAO has certainly filled that role for the tourism industry in Ontario.

"The organization has been quite helpful over the years in terms of some of the issues the RTOs had [when they started], and being able to communicate those issues back to government. TIAO has been able to work with us to ensure a smoother roll-out of the Regional Tourism Program, which has been a significant undertaking."

Marty: "As involved as we are in our own area, it’s interesting and important to know what’s going on in the rest of the province. It’s also very important to have someone advocating on behalf of the industry for the entire province. As much as we try to do those things our ourselves in our own areas, I believe TIAO’s presence and importance lies in the fact that it represents the whole province."


What’s your favourite thing about TIAO and why?

David: "It’s the people. People are our greatest resource, and I think it’s the same for TIAO. We’re all in the same boat, and I can’t honestly say there’s ever been a time where I felt we couldn’t come to TIAO and have a discussion."


What are you working on right now?

David: "On the marketing side—which is about half our budget—we’ve been working to align with provincial branding, [creating] a smoother transition from province to region [and] leveraging initiatives at both levels."

To streamline marketing efforts and create recognizable messages for international travellers, Tourism Northern Ontario is rebranding to Destination Northern Ontario to match provincial and national destination marketing organizations.

David: "Working on the product side [...] right now, when we look at tourism in Northern Ontario specifically (which may differ from some of the larger municipalities in the province), the vast majority of our [tourism] products are unbranded. There’s huge opportunities for us to work with the industry to increase the quality of our products and experiences, and our destination community itself."

To accomplish this, Tourism Northern Ontario has utilized best practices from Atlantic Canada to develop Tourism Excellence North (TEN), a program designed to help operators develop tourism products and enhance visitor experiences, among other business solutions.

David: "We’ve worked with FedNor, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) to do an assessment and review of some of the development programs that have been in place for a number of years on Canada’s east coast.

"We’ve just completed a pilot on that, and now we’re looking to take broad-based programming and fine-tune it for our sectors, whether it’s angling or snowmobiling or cultural products. We’re working with industry to make sure our product experiences exceed customer expectations, and that they resonate with consumers.

"We want to be successful because we’re a destination of choice, and not because of the exchange rate with the US dollar. That means a lot of training, for both operators and their employees."

The TEN program is also nominated for the Tourism Industry Awards of Excellence’s Tourism Innovator of the Year!

Marty: "We feel [the TEN program] is bringing the quality of product in the province up to a level where we can market it worldwide, and be confident that anybody coming from anywhere is going to be pleased with the tourism experiences they came to Northern Ontario for."

Tourism Northern Ontario’s current priorities also include working on the creation of an access-to-capital program for Northern Ontario tourism businesses. In addition, the RTO is preparing for its annual conference, the Northern Ontario Tourism Summit.

Marty: "We have our annual Summit coming up in November, in Sault Ste. Marie this year. We get very good representation and very good attendance, we bring together matters important to the industry, and we have lots of breakout sessions and workshops. It’s both a social event for people to meet their counterparts in the industry, and an educational [experience] where attendees can [learn new insights]. We try to figure out what’s needed, and then provide sessions according to those needs."


What is one piece of advice you would give to an organization that wants to get involved in advocacy initiatives with TIAO?

David: "Be informed, and do the research so that [your asks are] evidence-based and not anecdotal. Until we actually do that research or in-depth analysis, our perceptions might be off—or what might seem like an issue might not actually be an issue. Also always be able to come to the table with suggestions on how to address the issue."

Marty: "Know all your facts, and do all the research to make sure what you have is accurate and timely. Then try to present it in as cohesive a manner as you can, to reach whichever [goal] you’re trying to achieve.

“I think advocacy sometimes gets a bad name, but it’s very important. We need to yell out just how important tourism is to this province and to this country, and how big it could actually be in the future as it continues to grow, modernize, change and reflect what people want. It’s such an important industry, and it’s important to keep bringing it forward so that everybody knows.”

Thank you to Tourism Northern Ontario for being TIAO's Member of the Month for September, and for speaking with us about tourism in our province's largest geographical region! #TourismFamily