Chi-Cheemaun, Island resorts initiate co-op discount program

MANITOULIN—An Island initiative is underway to leverage the cache of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry and Manitoulin accommodations with discounts to attract new visitors to both the transportation link and Manitoulin tourism products.

“We are in the final stages of a discount program in which the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry will be offering joint discounts,” said Owen Sound Transportation Company president and CEO Susan Schrempf. Ms. Schrempf noted that Ameal Leduc of the Buckhorn Motel in South Baymouth had approached her with a proposed program that offered a good starting point for working together to increase ridership on the ferry and improve tourism numbers on Manitoulin Island.

A recent marketing study completed for the OSTC in response to plummeting ridership numbers in recent years indicated that the salvation of the ferry lies in tourism and packaging the ferry as a destination experience with Island accommodations and attractions.

“Ameal (Leduc) assures me this program will work, and I agree,” stated Ms. Schrempf recently to the The Manitoulin West Recorder. “I do think part of the reason this program will work is there is accountability on the part of the local accommodations and everyone involved.”

“This isn’t a one-person show,” agreed Mr. Leduc, who along with his wife Cathy and Ingrid and Trevor Blay of On the Bay Bed and Breakfast, developed the program.

The program, along with a webpage linked to the OSTC website promoting the discounts, is expected to be launched early this fall, but is intended as only the first phase of a multi-pronged marketing plan that will encompass more than simply accommodations.

“There has been interest expressed by other vendors on the Island to become involved in this program,” said Ms. Schrempf.

“Baby steps,” cautioned Mr. Leduc. “We are looking at sending in between five to a maximum of 10 applications to the program at a time so they can be absorbed into the webpage.” Managed growth and accountability are the keys to making the program work for everyone involved.

Mr. Leduc is a strong Manitoulin advocate and a believer in the KISS (keep it simple) method of program development. “Manitoulin Island is not a white-knuckle experience,” he said, noting that stress and worry tend to drop away from those who cross onto her placid shores.

Setting the program into place for the oncoming shoulder season can be made to work if the process does not overwhelm. “Everyone is busier and busier in the summer months,” noted Mr. Leduc. Trying to rush a program into place would be counterproductive.

Mr. Leduc added that the stress and hurly-burly of urban centres has infected many more southern resort and recreational areas like the Muskokas and that is something that the Island can capitalize on, particularly with the advent of the extension of the 400 Highway ever northward. “We can offer a different, more relaxed experience,” he said.

The response from the 100-odd businesses contacted by Mr. Leduc to engage in the joint discount program has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. “We’ve had 100 percent positive reaction so far.” Adding that if the program gains traction in the accommodation sector it can be expanded to include other categories as well. “This is a program we hope all of Manitoulin will benefit from,” he said.

The program will offer the customer a discount on the ferry and a discount at the participating place of accommodation on Manitoulin Island. The customer must have a reservation with a participating motel, bed and breakfast, cabins or other lodging to be eligible for a tag number from that business to receive the 10 percent discount with the ferry. All participants will be required to provide a five dollar discount for at least one night of their stay.

Participating accommodation businesses will have to indicate what their preferred choices are in terms of the shoulder season, from May/June to September/October, the full season from May to October, or the winter season, or all three.

“The idea is that if you give the customer a taste of Manitoulin they will want more,” said Ms. Schrempf. “The best way to entice them to take a nibble seems to be to offer them a discount.”

Forms for accommodation vendors to participate in the program can be accessed by contacting Mr. Leduc and should be filled out and emailed to buckhorn@amtelecom.net by July 31, to ensure the program can begin in September 2013. “This is an ongoing program and can be joined at anytime,” is noted on the bottom of the form, which continues with “you can be assured that your business will be advertised on the OSTC website which will be updated weekly. Any questions please contact Mr. Leduc at The Buckhorn Motel 705-859-3635.”

Michael Erskine