Want to Run a Tourism Business in Northern Ontario? Start Here

If you came across a real estate listing for a hundred-year-old small bakery in a small northern town, or an affordable cottage resort deep in the boreal forest, would you be tempted to buy it?

If the answer is yes, then the new Destination: Northern Ontario podcast is for you. By the end of this five-part series, you’ll learn everything you should know before buying or starting a tourism business in the north, and hear stories from people who’ve walked the path before and would do it all over again.

In the first episode, we hear from business development experts Gord Knowles, the Senior Coordinator of Economic Development and Investment Attraction at Destination Northern Ontario, and Paul Pepe, the Manager of Tourism Thunder Bay. They share their deep knowledge about the region’s tourism industry, and how organizations across the north are helping businesses start up, expand, and tackle common challenges like finding workers.

Listen now, or read on for a few highlights.

Things to know about Northern Ontario before moving

Before anyone moves to the beautiful north, there are a few things they should know: 

  • Winters can be brutally cold with constant cold temperatures of -15 °C and below. 
  • It has four seasons and it’s great for people who enjoy the outdoors.
  • There is limited or no public transit. A driver’s license and vehicle is necessary outside of the urban centres.
  • Commercial and residential real estate is affordable.
  • There may not be many other members of your cultural community. However, there are growing pockets, especially in the urban areas.
  • Communities are safe and welcoming. 

How to start a tourism business in Northern Ontario

The easiest way to start a tourism business in Northern Ontario is to buy one that’s already established. There are hundreds of businesses—from resorts to restaurants to service stations—that can be taken over tomorrow or repurposed into something new. Prices range from $100,000 for a business in a leased space to major hotels in Thunder Bay in the millions. 

Smaller resorts are often bought as businesses as well as a place to live. As Gord puts it, “for the cost of a condo in a larger urban center, you could purchase an entire home as well as your livelihood, live right on location, and have your extended family working in some of these businesses as your staff.” 

Grants and loans for tourism businesses

There are lots of financial supports to help start or expand tourism businesses in Northern Ontario, many that aren’t available in Southern Ontario. Some are targeted to new entrepreneurs and to new Canadians (including refugees) and only require a 25% investment from the entrepreneur.

Subscribe to the Destination: Northern Ontario podcast

In Episode 2, we’ll hear from a couple who walked the walk and bought a resort in Northern Ontario. In that conversation, we’ll learn why Kate and Rob Harbourt made the leap and whether the investment was worth it. Episodes will be released once per month. To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe or follow now on your favourite podcast platform.