Lakehead University Alumni Magazine

Managing Tourism in Thunder Bay

Paul Pepe, BA'94

Frances Harding
Published October 22, 2010

Since graduating with a degree in Political Science in 1994, Paul Pepe has been involved in just about every facet of the tourism industry in Northwestern Ontario including research, policy development, marketing, and facility operations.

Today, as manager of Tourism Thunder Bay, he and his team are focused on refining the City's tourism strategy to become one of North America's best outdoor cities. Part of that strategy is to capitalize on the natural "icons" that surround the city – Lake Superior, Sleeping Giant and Quetico Provincial Parks, and the recently announced Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area.

"We know that 75 percent of travelers are seeking an experience rather than a destination – and that 62 percent of North Americans are seeking outdoor experiences as their primary travel motivator," says Pepe. "Our current advertising campaign (It's in our Nature) targets the avid, educated outdoor adventure seekers. We are also committed to being leaders in sustainable tourism development, and we're doing this by working closely with the provincial and federal tourism partners and with all our business and community partners."

So far, this consumer-based tourism strategy is paying off. "During the recession that began in 2008, Thunder Bay's tourism economy outperformed many other cities, attracting new avid consumers, new conferences, and sporting events. New strategic tourism infrastructure such as the new Pool 6 Cruise Shipping Facility brought twelve vessel stops to the city and more are planned for 2010 through to 2012. Increasingly, special programs and travel packages are encouraging cruise passengers to visit local attractions and experience the cultural life of the region. There are about 1,400 businesses in Thunder Bay that have a connection with tourism, he adds.

Growing up in Thunder Bay, Paul Pepe says he had "the best of both worlds" with family connections in the entrepreneurial and academic worlds. His father ran a trucking business and his mother was a teacher. ("I drove gravel trucks to help pay for my tuition and still hold a commercial driver's license.") He is a voracious reader. He makes presentations at tourism conferences around the country. And he returns to Lakehead annually to lecture students in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities and the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism on public policy and tourism issues.

He says that studying at Lakehead empowered him to think logically and critically, and to make decisions based on sound research and calculated risks.

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