North Shore Marine Tourism Council optimises website for mobile

SPANISH—The North Shore Marine Tourism Council (NCMTC) annual general meeting and conference took place April 11 to 12 at the Four Seasons Waterfront Complex and members were treated to an in-depth analysis of boating issues and developments in the industry from a variety of speakers.

Words of welcome were given by Spanish Mayor Gary Bishop and NCMTC Chair Stan Ferguson and an address by Algoma Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha (who delivered regrets on behalf of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes who was recovering from ankle surgery).

“Groups like yourselves have a great impact on the communities you serve,” said Mr. Mantha. “Tourism in Northern Ontario is a big part of our Northern economies.”

Mr. Mantha noted the work that has been done on issues such as the delay last year of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry and noted the non-partisan approach he has taken with his provincial counterparts in order to move the issue forward. He challenged the retreat of the federal government from supporting infrastructure.

“The Chi-Cheemaun has a $40 million return for the Island,” he said. “I have been building bridges in the Conservatives and the Liberal government to ensure that the future of the ferry is secure. For a $280 to $320 million investment, the benefits for the entire region are clear. A lot of the problem was brought by the federal government not meeting their responsibilities.”

Mr. Mantha went on to note that the region and both its land-based and marine tourism operators are facing an even greater threat from an overzealous Technical Standards and Safety Authority. “Four gas stations in my riding alone have been shut down,” he said. “We are facing really big challenges from TSSA. I know that Blind River is facing issues as well.”

Key to the issue are the timeframes that TSSA has been imposing on operators to correct issues and meet new standards. “The cost of the changes they are imposing on small gas station operators are far outweighing the profits from the little bit of gas that these operators pump,” he said. “Nobody is opposed to the regulations, but it is the time frame.”

Mr. Mantha told the story of one operator who, after investing $4,800 into upgrading his equipment to meet an inspector’s orders, was then told that the improvements were “no longer good enough” and that the operator had to upgrade his equipment further.

The MPP then went on to note the impact potential of the Invasive Species Act and the challenges the Act places on development and business expansion in the North.

Mr. Mantha distributed promotional tea mugs (with accompanying spoons) bearing his name and telephone number as gifts to the conference delegates—with delegates of all political persuasions lining up to collect the cups.

Mr. Ferguson thanked Mr. Mantha for his remarks and his support, going on to pour praise and gratitude on the Town of Spanish and its council and staff for their support of the NCMTC over the years. “We couldn’t have accomplished what we have over the years without your support,” said Mr. Ferguson.

Mr. Ferguson noted the success that the NCMTC had in partnering with FedNor and the support they provided for the NCMTC through the intern program and the success of a DVD featuring the Georgian Bay and North Channel regions (on display at the conference).

“This DVD is really remarkable,” said Mr. Ferguson. “I encourage all of you to check it out and to retail it at your operations.” He noted that a promotional offer to purchase the DVDs had been extended by Lifestyle Integrated for members of the NCMTC.

Members then received a briefing on the success of the three-year shopping bag marketing initiative and sponsorship from director Margue Hague. Ms. Hague noted that the bags are distributed by Roy Eaton through his highly popular CruisersNet broadcasts. The bags were improved in quality for this year. “The first bags we had custom made by My Ol’ Blues in Gore Bay and they were really very nice,” said Ms. Hague. “But we couldn’t afford to continue that route. Last year we went with a much cheaper bag, also from a supplier in Gore Bay, but we decided they were a bit too flimsy. We went with a better bag this year, a lot more like the first bag and we expect the bags to be very popular again.”

The cotton bags bear the names and websites of sponsors from across the North Channel region and, with the $200 in funding from each of the 17 sponsors, the bags are very cost effective, she noted. “We end up paying about $850 for 700 of the cloth bags.”

Ms. Hague explained that 250 of the bags, filled with promotional brochures and materials from the NCMTC members, are supplied to Mr. Eaton for his program, while another 25 are given to each of the sponsors for their own use in promotions and a further 25 are given out to the attendees, delegates and speakers, of the conference.

The conference received a briefing from Al Donaldson and Cyndi Hodgson of Boating Ontario on the progress being made by that organization on water levels, water lot leases, the student training program, negotiations over the Trent Waterway with Parks Canada, the Clean Marine program and a host of other issues.

Mr. Donaldson also briefed the delegates on the success of this year’s Toronto International Boat Show. “You own the boat show,” Mr. Donaldson pointed out. Through its membership with Boating Ontario, the NCMTC is part owner of the popular boat show and the region is highlighted to literally tens of thousands of attendees each year.

A new trade booth for the NCMTC was unveiled at the conference, made possible through a Tourism Northern Ontario grant program that meant the NCMTC budget was unscathed by the purchase.

The Saturday sessions of the conference included a seminar delivered by veteran boater Rolly Aube, who spoke on the future of boating from a boater’s perspective. Mr. Aube noted that marine communities need to focus on three main areas: location, facilities and personnel. He provided a number of recommendations that included free Wi-Fi (the hassle of charging for it is not worth the effort and it is becoming expected in the industry), the formulation of a circle route and a passport program for communities to encourage visits by boaters to more communities across the NCMTC region.

The NCMTC upgrades to its website continued this year with the optimization of the site for mobile users. “More than 80 percent of people access the Internet from their cell phones or other mobile devices,” noted Director Michael Erskine. “It is important that all of the NCMTC membership go into Google Maps and update the location of their communities and their marinas so the map option works properly for their community. That is the one thing we cannot do for them.”

Little Current entrepreneur Chris Blodgett provided an overview of the progress on his new cruise ship operation that will accommodate up to 50 passengers to start and expand to 100 passengers in the near term. Licenced by the AGCO and providing ‘pub food’ in conjunction with local restaurants and drawing barely more water than a well-laden canoe, the tri-hull Le Grand Heron will conduct tours of the area’s premier boating destinations and be available for charter events such as weddings.

Mr. Blodgett anticipates his vessel being in operation by the July 1 weekend.

Directors for the 2014 NCMTC board will be Stan Ferguson (reelected as chair), Joe Cain (Sault Set. Marie and vice-chair) Mal Clarke (Blind River), Marg Hague (Gore Bay), Bruce Ibbitson (Richard’s Landing), Robert Hope (Village of Hilton Beach), Peter McMullan (Killarney), Michael Erskine (Little Current) and Lincoln North (Thessalon).

Long time secretary of the NCMTC, Mary Bray of Elliot Lake (former clerk of Spanish), retired at the April 12 meeting, with deep regrets expressed by the council, and the new secretary treasurer Pam Lortie of the Town of Spanish was appointed with gratitude.

“Mary has really been the backbone of this organization for many, many years,” said Mr. Ferguson as he presented Ms. Bray with a painting of the North Channel as a momento  from the NCMTC membership. “I don’t know what we would have done without her all these years.”