THUNDER BAY, ON ---- September 29, 2015 ---- His official title is “Manager of Tourism for the City of Thunder Bay,” but Paul Pepe’s real job seems to be “Cheerleader for the Whole Lake Superior Neighborhood.”
“I have a lot of strong connection with the States. For me, the border has always been invisible.”
Indeed, Paul has made a mark around all of Lake Superior, drawing visitors – and their positive economic impact – to all shores while making friends and politely ignoring the state, provincial and international borders that can hinder cooperation.
For his enduring enthusiasm in promoting the full circle of the Big Lake and for thinking outside the borders to create partnerships, Lake Superior Magazine has chosen Paul Pepe for its 2015 Achievement Award, announced in its recently published October/November issue.
Lake Superior Magazine created its annual award in 1994 to honor those who significantly contribute to the well-being of Lake Superior and its communities. Each year since the magazine has chosen an individual or organization as a role model for other Lake communities.
Zesty and gregarious, Paul Pepe might buzz down to Duluth with a box of pink-frosted Persians (a Thunder Bay food icon) on his way to a motorcycle show in Chicago, a travel event in the Twin Cities or just on a whim. Or he may trek across the top of the Lake, connecting with the communities in Tourism Northern Ontario along the way.
Occasionally he’ll be in his office, blogging on social media, organizing photo shoots and “fam tours” (familiarization tours for reporters) or strategizing contests touting the Thunder Bay environs.
Much of Paul’s career has revolved around encouraging people to enjoy his home region, but that wasn’t his job direction when he entered Lakehead University in 1990. He weighed his choices between history and political science.
Both interested him; neither was his intended career path. “I was not driven by the notion of a job. I knew I’d be working for my dad and having my own truck.” After all, he started to drive for his dad’s trucking firm at age 18. His college education, then, could be just that – to educate himself in new areas. He settled on political science and indigenous studies.
After graduation, he found work with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism in various management roles for the “world’s largest reconstructed fur trade post,” Fort William Historical Park, then called Old Fort William.
He next found a comfortable combination of niches. He became a regional tourism advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and rose to acting district manager of its Regional Economic Development Branch.
Meanwhile he started a hobby that became a business with access to the outdoors and (naturally) to motorized equipment. Lawnscapes Landscape Management handled commercial, industrial and residential clients.
“I had a really beautiful kind of hybrid life,” he says of pursuing the two interests. He left the ministry to devote time to Lawnscapes, but returned to tourism consulting, which led to his current job.
His name came up when the city tourism manager post opened, and he leapt back into tourism, blending in his small business experience to “be entrepreneurial in governmental service.” Paul’s particular genius has been uniting communities large and small around the Lake.
Perhaps one of the best examples is Ride Lake Superior, bringing together governmental and business partners (of which this magazine is one) from Ontario, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to attract motorcyclists to the Circle Tour through advertising, a website and a biker-friendly map of the Lake.
“He was more of the ringleader making this an international promotion,” says Gene Shaw, Visit Duluth’s director of public relations.
Ride Lake Superior earned the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Award in 2013, and Paul is the first to defer credit to all the partners and critical people like Carol Caputo, executive director of Algoma Country in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and, as Paul calls them, “my
co-conspirators” Terry Mattson, former executive director of Visit Duluth, and Chris Hughes of BC Hughes consulting.
In creating a full-circle marketing strategy, Thunder Bay and the other Ride Lake Superior partners realized they weren’t competing with each other as much as with, say, Disney World, for visitors’ time and revenue.
What Paul won’t confirm or deny is the rumor that he helped create Ride Lake Superior just to talk his wife into letting him get a motorcycle. Bambi Pepe, a literacy/ numeracy specialist for Matawa First Nations, also wrangles Paul, their two dogs and an undisclosed number of cats.
When Paul talks about his work, he can seem positively giddy. He becomes highly animated discussing Thunder Bay’s new waterfront development. “It’s redefined our city. We were on the shore of the world’s largest freshwater lake and really weren’t connecting to it at all.”
Thunder Bay as a gateway to the great outdoors also has been a good marketing direction. The city has undertaken a series of sweepstakes in recent years, giving away trips that get national – and international – attention. This year, four contestants from Canada and the United Kingdom won a one-week northern Ontario adventure – starting in Thunder Bay – that included learning bushcraft from U.K. television wilderness survival show host Ray Mears.
The campaign, which had many partners including the Ontario Tourism Marketing and Partnership Corp., received more than 37,000 entries and reached an estimated 2.6 million viewers from across North America and the United Kingdom. Ray starred in the promotional video.
Hanging with the likes of Ray Mears can be a hoot (Paul recalls a stream of incredulous people coming up to them in a Thunder Bay restaurant), but Paul really appreciates getting to know the people in the hospitality businesses right around the Lake. “The friendships I’ve made in tourism are really important to me.”
Making friends, after all, should be the true measure of a man in whatever profession.
By Konnie LeMay
This story is reprinted with permission from the October/November 2015 issue of Lake Superior Magazine based in Duluth, Minnesota. Contact at 888-244-5253 or online at www.LakeSuperior.com.)
Photo Credits & Cutlines
Paul & Motorcycle
CREDIT: Konnie LeMay / Lake Superior Magazine
Paul Pepe poses with his Kawasaki KLR on a recent road trip to Duluth. He frequently represents the Lake Superior region at national travel and trade shows, including (of course) for motorcycles.
CREDIT: Bambi Pepe
Bambi and Paul Pepe at the Thunder Bay waterfront.