OWEN SOUND—The Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) is hoping the weather will play nice for the scheduled May 1 start of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry season, although the frigid winter has dimmed those hopes slightly with memories of last year’s errant ice flows still fresh in the mind. But when she does begin her regular traverses from the Bruce Peninsula, passengers will discover the ship’s operators have not been idle through the winter months.
Marketing gurus Cleansheet Communications of Toronto have been working diligently on the creative content, while placement wizards Zenith Optimedia have been strategizing on the target markets and reaching audiences with a new marketing strategy for the ferry since being hired last fall. The new marketing campaign will incorporate Manitoulin as a key element that will be integral its success.
“We have one of the best islands in the world,” said OSTC CEO and President Susan Schrempf. “It is a great place to slow down and soak it all in.”
Among the changes that have been taking place over the winter has been a complete revamp of the venerable ferry’s washrooms. “They have been completely gutted and modernized,” said Ms. Schrempf. “We took them right down to the studs and they have all been redone and modernized, brand spanking and new, they are going to be gorgeous.” The CEO noted that the washrooms had been literally unchanged since the ferry went into service. “It is time,” she said.
The gift shop has been expanded by 125 square feet and will feature merchandise that includes the uniquely iconic ferry as well as local Native handicrafts and artisanal works. “We are going back to our roots,” noted Ms. Schrempf. “After all the name is the ‘big canoe’ in Anishnaabe.”
But Ms. Schrempf is quick to point out that the OSTC is working closely with the Great Spirit Circle Trail to ensure that the process is not exploitive. “We want to promote, not appropriate,” she said. “The plan is for the ferry to be an Expo for the Island.”
The OSTC is also working closely with Parks Canada to improve the onboard displays and tourism experience. Leveraging the region’s connection with The Group of Seven and other aspects of the development of Canada’s cultural identity will make the trip a desirable part of learning and celebrating our history and art.
As part of the new approach to marketing the ferry, the OSTC is hiring a new full time experience manager whose concentration will be on marketing the experiences being created with the ferry and Manitoulin as the centerpieces. “The position is being advertised and we hope to be hiring within the next couple of weeks,” said Ms. Schrempf. The successful candidate will be travelling to trade shows and conventions to market the ferry, and by intricate connection the Manitoulin region, in key targeted markets.
The dining room is also undergoing extensive renovations in preparation for a complete revamp of the dining experience next year.
The future holds even more promise. While digital efforts are concentrating on revamping the ferry website to make it more useful and user friendly this year, future plans include an app that will be accessible onboard and across Manitoulin acting as a digital roadmap and virtual signage.
“Of course the concentration has to be on the website first,” said Ms. Schrempf, but she admitted to being very excited about the app, which will highlight the many interesting things to see and do across Manitoulin Island. The app is expected to be ready next year and will contain very specific information on sights, events and experiences available across the Island.
The successful Destination Manitoulin discount program will continue and expand. “We will continue to build upon Destination Manitoulin,” said Ms. Schrempf, with new accommodation providers and retailers coming on board with each passing week.