Aging demographic threatens tourism industry in northwest

Attracting young people is vital to the future of northwestern Ontario's tourism industry, as people going to hunting and fishing lodges age, says Gerry Cariou, head of the Kenora-based Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association.

Attracting young people will be vital to regional tourism, promoter says

The outdoor tourism industry in northwestern Ontario needs to attract more young people as its demographic ages, a tourism promoter says. (The Northwest Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association)

Eleven-year-old Jordan Bowie's grandfather first introduced him to fishing when he was a young child.

Now he enjoys monthly fishing trips with his father, Dale Bowie, but admits he spends more of his time on the internet than in the outdoors — and the same is true for most of his friends.

Jordan Bowie, 11, shops at D&R Sporting Goods in Thunder Bay with his father, Dale Bowie. Jordan says the two go fishing about once a month. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"They're more into video games, like most people are," Jordan told CBC Thunder Bay.

That worries Gerry Cariou, head of the Kenora-based Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association, who said attracting young people to outdoor activities is vital to the future of northwestern Ontario’s tourism industry.

Cariou said the bulk of visitors to fishing and hunting lodges tend to be men between 35 and 65 — a demographic that is getting older.   

"When your market ages and/or passes away, you have a problem," said Cariou.

"The guys that were [fishing and hunting] in the 1990s are now 80 [years old]. It's hard to get in and out of a boat for some people when they're 80," he said.

Promoting the outdoor lifestyle to a younger demographic could mean expanding the activities offered at lodges, Cariou said.  

"You can come fishing but there's a lot of other things you can do at a lodge in the northwest," he said, "That's going to be part of the change in the ... messaging we're going to be putting out there."

Cariou added that tourism promoters also need to look at new ways to market the outdoor lifestyle to the next generation.

"We have to target them with different media," he said. "We are expanding our efforts and expenditures in areas such as social media marketing and mobile device marketing to get people interested in coming to northwestern Ontario for an outdoor vacation."