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What does the future hold for the local tourism industry?

Posted: Dec 23, 2010

Jan. 4, 2011

The Destiny Sault Ste. Marie Steering Committee identified tourism development as a key priority for economic diversification.

With a new decade now underway, what does the future hold for tourism in Sault Ste. Marie?

A quick look around the city is all it takes to get a general feel as, in the past year, hotels have been built or have undergone major upgrades.

This speaks volume to the bright future for the industry, according to Ian McMillan, Executive Director of Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, a division of the Economic Development Corporation, which is a member of Destiny SSM.

“It shows a confidence in the community’s ability to draw visitors, be it with our attractions, sports tournaments or conventions,” he said.

For attractions, major upgrades are nearing complete for the Agawa Canyon Train Tour.  Fourteen upgraded coaches, with enlarged windows for better viewing, along with new seats and carpeting, were purchased and will be ready for riders for the summer of 2011. The initiative is the result of a $10-million joint investment from CN Rail, which owns the attraction, and the province’s Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

As well, with a $1.02-million investment from FedNor, digital enhancements are also slated for the tour train. The upgrades include 196 video screens and wireless headsets, which will tell riders the history of the region. And to help attract more international tourists, the audio will be featured in five languages.

Both funding applications were spearheaded by Tourism Sault Ste. Marie. The goal is to increase passenger levels back to historic highs.

“The Agawa Canyon features some of the best scenery in the world,” said McMillan. “We know that the train ride is one of Canada's true unique attractions and the number one travel generator for this city and region. With the improvements, and our marketing campaign to spread the word, we’re confident that passenger levels will increase significantly.”

Confidence in the train tour appears to be widespread. With millions of dollars in building and expansions to local hotels, it seems the industry is also predicting a bright future.

The Delta Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront Inn recently underwent a $6-million upgrade. Also, the former Great Northern Hotel and Conference Centre reopened in 2010 following major renovations as a Comfort Suites. Along with these two overhauls, a brand new hotel, Fairfield by Marriot on Great Northern Road, is now ready for travellers.

“It’s not by chance that these initiatives are taking place,” said McMillan. “The private sector doesn’t invest millions without first doing their homework. In this case, the research shows that the local tourism sector is poised for growth.”

Along with the new-and-improved train tour, major festivals and sports tournaments are scheduled for the Sault, which will also increase visitor levels.

With a successful bid from Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, the city won the hosting rights for the 2012 CARHA Hockey World Cup. The event will feature 2,500 players from 125 teams around world. And with an economic impact of about $10 million, it will be the single largest sporting event in the history of the city.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the community hosted the Scotties Tournaments of Hearts and Finn Grand Fest, both of which brought thousands of visitors to the city and were also bid on by Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.

Put simply, despite its relatively small size when compared to major urban centres, the Sault is gaining a reputation as a great place to host large events. And it’s no coincidence that this reputation has been bolstered significantly since the building of the Essar Centre.

“The Essar Centre is the crown jewel is our tool belt when we bid on major events,” said McMillan. “A bid is essentially making the case as to why the Sault should host a particular event. Having a state-of-the-art multipurpose sports and entertainment complex is huge when it comes to making that argument.”

Also important, he added, is that the Essar Centre has allowed the city to attract some of the best bands around, including Elton John, Motley Crue, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, KISS and Johnny Reid. With packed houses, these events also benefit the tourism sector.

Another multipurpose venue, the West End Community Centre, which received the go-ahead in December 2010, will help attract future events, particularly soccer tourneys.
Long story short, with a new-and-improved train tour, along with major events made possible with the Essar Centre and other new facilities, the future of tourism in Sault Ste. Marie looks promising.
“It’s definitely an exciting time,” said McMillan. “The tourism sector is poised to grow in the city, something that will create jobs and bolster our economy.”

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