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Ontario Northland Railway unveils promising new plan

Guy Lamarche, ONR's director of marketing, was in Englehart Monday for a town hall meeting to explain the ONR's new marketing strategy and how communities and tourist operators can benefit from it. See complete story on Page 3.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004 - 08:00

Local News - Englehart:

The Ontario Northland Railway has a plan that it is selling as a way to help communities, people involved in tourism and increase passengers on trains.

To sell this concept the ONR is holding a series of town hall meetings, mostly in Northern Ontario.

One of the meetings was held in Englehart Monday. Only eight people showed up and of these only one owned a tourist business.

Despite the poor turnout Guy Lamarche, the ONR's director of marketing, wasn't discouraged as he outlined the Crown Corporation's marketing strategy for 2004.

He explained that they are starting from scratch and want to form nontraditional partnerships through packaging.

Lamarche said this is done by putting together separate services into one package, that is less expensive then purchasing the services separately. When the partnership is in place you can develop products that didn't exist before and increase the appeal of the overall travel experience.

He said the benefits to the partners are it provides them with access to new markets and increased revenues. It gives them greater frequency in markets and greater reach. In the past year tourism has had to deal with a number of items, such as increased competition, SARS, and a fluctuating dollar, but despite this Lamarche said the ONR held its own. He said the answer is to form strategic alliances to deal with the issues facing tourism. They have to create new products that consumers want.

In selling the partnership idea, Lamarche pointed out they would have access to joint financing, by working together they would have access to new information, they would have access to new markets and it would be more efficient.

As well the partnerships reduce the risk and reduce the need to increase staff. "I think partnering is the key," said Lamarche.

He said passenger service must be re-branded as being affordable and safe. We need to pinpoint what drives the consumer to Northern Ontario and what brings them back. The re-branding that Lamarche is talking about is branding train travel as outdoor adventure trains. To do this he wants to launch it with a catalogue, enter into new partnerships and introduce sub-brands each with its own experience. As well he wants to increase corporate travel and establish partnerships in areas like frequently traveler programs. Another partnership that Lamarche would like to see developed is one with VIA Rail, which could be used as a connection with the ONR, as well as a promotional tool.

A big part of the marketing program is the development of catalogue that would have advertising for people in tourism, attractions and communities along the rail line. Advertisements would be limited to one-third of a page, this way the large operators couldn't force out th small operators. As well the catalogue would contain a lot of photography.

"It's not about trains, it's about experience," Lamarche said, as talked about the catalogue.

If the catalogue takes-off this year plans call for 100,000 English copies to be printed and 20,000 French copies. It would be launched in late February or early March with the target area being the Greater Toronto Area, the Golden Horseshoe and to a lesser extent the Northern United States.

The target group would be people between the age of 35 and 55, with the next largest market being seniors.

In talking about his vision of the marketing campaign, Lamarche said, "it's all about experience, experiences people can access by rail."

The ONR marketing program will also include TV, radio, newspapers, and hopefully the back of ONTC buses.

"I see the ONR future as positive. The sky is the limit. I think we can do good things for all the communities along route and other stakeholders," said Lamarche.

Englehart Mayor Dennis Mortson was one of the people who attended the meeting and while he thought the concept was excellent he did voice disappointment that more business people didn't attend.

Larmarche said it is all about planting seeds, and he believes the timing has never been so good.

Mortson also reminded Lamarche that the program can't just concentrate on James Bay, it must also concentrate on all the communities right through.

Lamarche explained that that is where the piggybacking comes into place.

ID- 56292

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