Paul Pepe says a new interactive tourism website stamped with the National Geographic brand could deliver plenty of tourists to both Northwestern Ontario and northeastern Minnesota.
More than 50 stakeholders on both sides of the border are taking part in the Heart of the Continent initiative, which when completed later this year will include an in-depth interactive website complete with mobile app designed to promote the region’s tourism assets and geographic character. It will then be linked to the National Geographic Society’s geo-tourism homepage.
Pepe said it’s $15,000 well spent out of the city’s tourism budget. The overall cost is about $200,000, which will be split by partners, including municipal, provincial and state interests on both sides of the border.
“It’s good for the community. It gets more people to the region and it works to make that border invisible between Minnesota and Ontario. And that’s what we’re really trying to do. We’re trying to get more people to the region, we’re trying to get the pie bigger and get more people exploring the parks and protected areas,” Pepe said.
The goal is to get these same tourists to use the urban centre, communities like Thunder Bay and Atikokan, as tourism hubs.
“That’s when it starts to benefit our cultural attractions. It starts to benefit our culinary attractions and our accommodation partners as well,” Pepe said.
“The fact that this is a bi-national initiative, a collective of U.S. and Canadian interests working together, is really important.”
When finished, the portal will allow users to plan travel based on communities and events, with a list of search criteria that will let them customize their visit to suit their own interests. Event organizers and small businesses will be able to add information, but only if it meets standards set out by an international committee and National Geographic.
Frank Jewell, the St. Louis Country commissioner from Minnesota’s First District, said the geo-tourism partnership has been in the works for the past seven years.
“It encompasses just amazing lands and great parks – a national park on our side and two great wilderness areas,” Jewell said. “But as important as anything, is building this coalition, this collaboration of people to make this neighbourhood, this area something that people will know about and want to come to.”
Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown said he sees great hope for adding more tourist dollars to a community that’s relied heavily on them in the past.
Relationships with American partners are nothing new, he added.
“We want to continue to work to promote our region to encourage visitors to see all that the Heart of the Continent region has to offer,” Brown said. “This should result in having a lasting benefit of supporting healthy communities in our region. We know how important it is to continually work at tourism and have more visitations to our area.”
For more information, visit www.heartofthecontinent.org.