Monday, July 23, 2012

Day ride to Manitoulin Island

Normie sent me a note a few days back, telling me that Ontario Tourism people would be holding a session at 10 AM this morning in the Anchor Inn in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. They would be explaining the Ontario tourism marketing strategy as it relates to motorcycles and giving pointers to the hospitality operators on how to be motorcycle friendly. I used to deal with tourism and hospitality people back in my snowmobile days and thought I would like to see just what advice the government was giving to the industry.

I left Sudbury on the Wing at 8:00 AM under partly overcast skies. It was damp and clammy but not cold. As I rode west, I could see a large cumulus cloud on the horizon, bearing out the forecast of scattered thunderstorms. In McKerrow, I turned south on Highway 6 and stopped at the Tim's on the south side of Espanola for a breakfast bacon wrap (without the zesty sauce).

Highway 6 is the best in the area. I caught up to some slower cars as the road climbed and dropped while sweeping back and forth through the quartz cliffs of the LaCloche Mountains. I passed the vehicles as I got to them, not too worried about the solid lines which are only advisory here in Ontario. Riding 1820cc of motorcycle does not require much clear view ahead for a safe pass. The nasty clouds were now south of me but I got to The Island before I got to the weather.

Arriving at Little Current at 9:45, I proceeded to the picturesque main street by the harbour and found a parking space right in front of the Anchor Inn. A sign outside directed me to the "motorcycle meeting" on the second floor. The room was warm with one small window air conditioner and seemed to have the right number of seats for the attendees. Coffee and muffins were set out on the bar.

I introduced myself to the presenters, Chris and Bev Hughes of BCHughes who are the expert consultants the province has brought in to help develop a motorcycle tourism marketing strategy. The overall Ontario initiative, Go Ride Ontario, has been going on for a while but they are now working on specific regions. I understand that they have done work with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs on sled marketing as well. Chris provided a slide presentation showing the areas included in this section encompassing most of Northeastern Ontario, the assets that can be exploited to attract riders and the types of things operators can do to be more motorcycle friendly. Jamie Dallaire from the government also added some perspective. Claude Aumont, who I know from the sled days and was looking forward to seeing again, didn't make it.

The last speaker was Mike Jacobs, who has been touring the northeast this summer on a sixty day trek with a photographer and a videographer. His wander has been done in conjunction with the marketing efforts presented here and he looks like an interesting character.  Check out the The Ultimate Northern Ontario Road Trip.

The audience consisted of area tourism operators, regional government tourism marketing agencies and a couple of members of the Ride Manitoulin organizing committee. The operators listened closely and took notes while sharing their experiences (all positive) with motorcyclists. I found that they were given a lot of good advice but that Hughes description of the target market, upscale older folks with disposable income, resembled the riders BMW often sells when they are planning a rally. One slide said a motorcycle was not a necessity and a few of us pointed out it WAS a necessity for some of us. They described riders travelling with an only optional change of clothes and cash. The hard core riders and the budget riders on fixed income who rough it and stretch a buck weren't recognized. But since the focus of marketing was to attract dollars, these folk may not be part of the equation. In any case, more motorcycle friendly establishments will be welcome.

I believe that the Manitoulin Island area, famous for being the largest fresh water island in the world with its sandstone formations, beaches and rich history, will continue to attract riders, particularly the adventure type. The rest of the northeast, not having much to recommend it by the way of interesting roads, will probably never achieve much of a destination status. It does, however, lie right on the path between here and there and I believe they should focus on a program that might attract people passing through to stop for an extra day to see some specific sights/attractions.

All in all, it was an interesting experience and they fed us as well. I headed for home about 1:00 PM. Traffic was a little heavier but, riding alone, I enjoyed working through the slower vehicles. All was fine until I reached the City proper, where I noted that I was on a collision course with a line of black clouds to the north. They had suddenly and unexpectedly appeared and did not look very friendly. I used the hands free cell phone feature of the Garmin Zumo GPS to call Sandy and ask her to open the garage door. I pulled in and backed the bike in about five minutes before the rain struck. Wow, that was close.

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