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The Viking Polaris arrives in Thunder Bay in September of 2023 (Adam Riley / Acadia Broadcasting)

Tourism rebound for city in 2023

By Adam Riley Jan 18, 2024 | 4:20 PM

The numbers aren’t all in just yet, but officials with Tourism Thunder Bay say 2023 was a solid year.

Manager Paul Pepe  says hotel occupancy percentage was in the mid eighties for part of the summer, however, he notes there were changes with some hotels beginning to cater more towards longer term stays.

“We saw the market correct a little bit and while its definitely down from 90-91 percent pre-pandemic. We also recorded a lot of sold out nights in the city.

Pepe adds there was also an increase in hotel room inventory in the city, which he says is important to improve Thunder Bay’s ability to attract sporting events and conferences which will fill that inventory.

From a people numbers perspective travellers flocked to the city for leisure travel and for events like the Women’s World Junior Baseball Qualifiers.

“We spoke to over 49 thousand people at the Terry Fox Visitor Centre in 2023, and that was just the people who actually took the time kind of meet  with our staff and have one-on-one conversations with them. There were tens of thousands of more people who were using the building.”

Those numbers also coincided with a record fourteen visits by cruise ships, which is expected to increase to twenty-two visits this year.

A vast majority of travellers, according to Pepe, arrived in the city by car as Thunder Bay is a drive to destination for the US market.

However, that market has not entirely returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“I was still about 23 percent off of what it was pre-pandemic, so some Americans still really weren’t travelling. Obviously there were inflationary concerns down stateside that prevented some Americans from coming back, and also too a lack of awareness the borders were back to normal,” remarked Pepe. “That is what we heard, what we found is things we take for granted, communication we take for granted in the industry, wasn’t necessarily  trickling down to the full market.

The European market also returned, which are both the fly in or driving style of traveller, which makes up between three and four percent of the numbers, with a majority of the visitors to Thunder Bay being Canadian.

Close to $1.5 million in Municipal Accommodation Tax Funding  for the Community Economic Development Commission was brought in. Which in turn was granted out through the Tourism Development Fund.

“Last year we were able to support about $730 thousand in contributions, non repayable contributions to 37 tourism projects and events in Thunder Bay. So that’s a great reinvestment of those collected Municipal Accommodation Taxes.”

Pepe says overall moving ahead the focus is on attracting more events, sporting or otherwise, and conferences to the city, which will promote even further growth within the sector.