CTC’s program is raising awareness in international markets for a Manitoba business built on true experiential travel.
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Based in Churchill, this tourism business specializes in delivering authentic adventures in Canada’s North. Frontiers North Adventures is also a key member of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC), 160-strong and looking to grow some more.
Tricia Schers, Frontiers North communications and marketing manager, kicks the ice off her boots to tell tales in the latest CTC News SEC case study of the wild side of Manitoba and how the SEC program is boosting numbers from international markets.
What inspired you to get into the tourism business? And when did you start?
I got the travel bug early when I took my first trip abroad at the age of four. Frontiers North Adventures itself was started in 1987 by Lynda and Merv Gunter. Having lived in Churchill, they experienced first-hand what an incredible place Churchill was and they wanted to share this unique place with the rest of the world. The first tour they offered was a trip to see polar bears. Since then, the company has expanded to include experiences in other parts of Canada, specializing in the north with its incredible people, customs and wildlife.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your enterprise today?
All the other adventure destinations around the world are our competitors now. For a long time, large parts of the world were not open to leisure travellers interested in adventure. Now there’s Peru, the Galapagos and new areas of Africa and Asia. People have a lot of choice. Technology has opened up the world for people, making it that much easier to find hundreds of adventure travel online.
Tell us more about “Polar Bears by Tundra Buggy,” the experience you have that is featured in the Collection.
We’ve been doing this for over 25 years. In that time, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to make the experience unique. What makes a Tundra Buggy adventure so special isn’t just the vehicle. It’s how the Tundra Buggies are designed to ensure 360-degree views from virtually every spot on the Buggy. It’s also the skill and experience of our interpretive drivers, who have all worked with us for several years and who themselves share our passion for the north and live adventure lifestyles year-round, not just when they are with us in Churchill.
Then it’s our safety record and that we have the permits to take guests to places that others can’t—including being the only company in the world that can host guests to stay in Wapusk National Park. And it’s our commitment to sustainability and responsible travel ensuring our Buggies and lodge adhere to standards set out by Parks Canada and Manitoba Conservation.
We also have an exclusive relationship with Polar Bears International. Its scientists and researchers join us on our Buggies and provide an enriched experience for our guests out on the tundra. They share the latest information about the bears, their population around the world and how they are being affected by climate change.
How are you promoting your membership?
We’ve added the SEC logo to our marketing materials. When we talk to potential partners and customers at trade shows and consumer shows we’re proud to tell people that we were one of the tourism experiences chosen to launch the SEC.
Early days yet as the program’s only a year old, but what’s changed for your business as a result of being a member?
The SEC program really helps our emerging markets understand the level of quality of tour products that we offer. India, China and Japan are especially getting the idea. It’s like having a stamp of approval that reinforces to these potential clients and partners that we offer a quality, market-ready tourism product.
Are you getting visitors from any new international markets or greater numbers from existing ones?
We continue to see a lot of growth from the Australian market and we’re now starting to see the impact of our efforts in China after just two years in that market.
Has your media exposure changed domestically or internationally as a result of being a SEC member?
Polar bears have always been a big draw, but what we have noticed is that because of our relationship with the CTC, with the SEC we’re seeing media focussing more on covering those Signature Experiences specifically, ours included. So where interest in stories about polar bears might have started to fade, instead we’re starting to see interest continue and even increase from emerging markets.
One year in, what do you think of the SEC program so far?
It helps visitors to understand what Canada has to offer. We’re a big country and there’s a lot to do! Generally, most visitors are well aware of destinations like Vancouver and Niagara, but they are less aware of some of the great travel experiences available outside of these major centres. This program helps visitors learn about some of the experiences that make Canada unique.
Have you considered exploring business relationships or cross-promotions with other SEC members?
We started this year with a couple. We’re looking at doing some marketing together. Nothing has been formalized as yet, but the potential is there and we’re quite excited about the possibilities—none of which would have come about were it not for the SEC program.
What’s been your biggest lesson this year as a tourism operator?
We still have a lot more room to capitalize around SEC and our marketing in general. We are now really focusing on who we target to come on our trips. In the past, we looked at the general traveller and tried to be everything to everyone. Now we’re focusing on a smaller niche.
What are some of the challenges facing Canada’s tourism industry?
The massive investments made by Tourism Australia and Brand USA are the big two. Not only are the Americans hurting economically at home, and therefore taking less trips to Canada, now we’re having to compete with their campaign to attract Canadians to travel to the US as well as Tourism Australia’s campaign to attract Americans. As a small operator, we really feel that pinch.
Tourism investment by other governments combined by a lack of investment by our own federal government really hurts us as small operators. At the end of the day, most of Canada’s tourism is fuelled by small family-run operators such as us.
What might a big opportunity for Canada’s tourism industry look like?
There is still an appetite for travel to Canada. We have so much diversity and untapped potential here, especially in adventure travel. An investment by our federal government—like what Australia and the US are doing—would be a huge boost. Our tourism offerings can be the best in the world, but if we don’t have the means to get out there and tell the world, then it really doesn’t matter how incredible our experiences are.