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​ go2HR Winning Pitch and The Student Industry Rendezvous 

Here’s a post from my tourism students about their experience at Winning Pitch. Makes my heart happy!

BCIT Tourism Management

The month of January was filled with research, exciting ideas, discussion, and preparation for the 2018 Regional go2HR Winning Pitch! The BCIT Tourism Management program put forward two amazing teams to pitch their idea of a new service that will increase off-season visitation to the Vancouver Coast and Mountains Region.

The day had finally arrived where the two BCIT teams competed in the Go2Hr Winning Pitch competition on January 30th. With the given prompt, both groups put in a tremendous amount of effort into their pitches. Lots of hard work, sleepless nights, and dedication was put toward in making our presentations meet the challenges given and it can be proudly said that it all was worth it in the end.

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BCIT Team 1 consisted of Kelsey, Daniella, Melissa, and Mandy, also known as Lakes and Land Cultural Adventures, and BCIT Team 2 consisted of Arthur, Anna, Victor, and…

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Travel Healthy: Vaccines and other preventatives

In just 35 days my daughter and I will board a plan for Vietnam, but as a tourism professional I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t considered our health and vaccines. Thankfully another mom (who visits Vietnam frequently) recommended the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic.

This for-fee service from our local health authority pairs expert advice from prescribing doctors with nurses who administer vaccines and fill prescriptions, with the added bonus of purchasing other preventatives including:

  • Probiotics for increasing digestive resilience to foreign foods and bugs
  • High quality insect repellant (for Dengue Fever and Zika)
  • Sunscreen containing zinc oxide
  • Prescribed oral preventatives such as Dukoral (for travellers’ diarrhea) and Vivotif (for typhoid fever)

Upon arrival, a doctor consults with you to review your past vaccination and travel history. This doctor discovered I was out-of-date on Tetanus and MMR (childhood vaccines) and additionally recommended I vaccinate against Hepatitis A (I’ve been immunized, and proven resistant, to Hep B, or that would have been administered as well).

The doctor was able to rule out the risk of Yellow Fever based on our routing, and also ruled out Japanese Encephalitis based on time of year. He also reminded me of the risks of petting strays and wild animals (which certainly applies to my daughter), and that should we not heed this recommendation, Rabies is dealt with after potential exposure.

I appreciated the consultation, which was easier than doing my own research in the face of multiple conflicting sources. It was also much easier than getting a prescription from my doctor and having that filled at a pharmacy, where my experience is they frequently run out of the required quantities of these often-volatile oral vaccines.

The doctor was also able to make recommendations for my daughter, who’ll get her pokes next week. While it’s common for entire families to come in together, I decided it would be easier to investigate first and bring her in second. Next time I’ll get it all done in one go, since the convenience of the clinic is they have everything on hand and ready; and there’s a consultation cost savings per person if they come to the same visit.

Travel Clinic Fees
Each vaccine costs roughly $40-$60.

While preventables do come with a price tag, the benefits are three-fold: better health, increased peace of mind, and ultimately a better chance at an illness-free trip for this experience of a lifetime. I’d say it was well worth it!

To book an appointment (online) at the Vancouver Coastal Health travel clinic visit their site and complete their pre-visit questionnaire at:  http://travelclinic.vch.ca

As per usual, while this blog endorses specific products and services, I have not received any compensation for my post.

 

 

 

The baby bird nerds have flown again!

It’s almost been a year since I started this blog, and back in 2017 the impetus for this Tourism Nerd journey was the Tourism Industry Conference and Winning Pitch provincial finals.

If you’ll recall, I was inspired by my students’ resilience in the face of a loss – their optimism, professionalism, and courage blew me away (you can read that post here).

It hardly feels like a year has passed, but yet again BCIT has taken the stage at the Winning Pitch. Today we sent two teams to the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains regionals. This year’s challenge tasked the teams to come up with a business idea that would increase shoulder season visitation to, and within, the region.

One team pitched an idea for a collaboration with First Nations communities outside of Lilooet to create an immersive cultural tourism adventure, called “Land and Lakes Cultural Adventures”.

The second team pitched a hiking experience in Hope tailored to urban LGBTQ+ travellers and their allies, called “Rainbow Tours”.

What can I say about these students?

It amazes me that they are so willing to take on this extra work, on top of their onerous full-time courseloads  (students at BCIT don’t select their courses, it’s a set intensive program).

I’m stunned by their courage, especially those students who are still afraid of public speaking, because this competition takes place on a massive stage in front of hundreds of people.

I’m warmed by their approach to teamwork in the face of so much stress and adversity. They hold each other up. Each team was backed by students who helped with research, planning, and feedback. The students on stage were the tip of an amazingly talented iceberg.

It almost doesn’t matter what the results were, but of course this is a competition. At the end of the day, BCIT’s Land and Lakes team took first place, with Douglas College coming a close second, and Capilano U in third.

With our first place win in hand, I’ll be off with the Land and Lakes team to attend TIC in Kelowna in March. I can barely wait!

To all the students who competed, from Capilano University, Douglas College, Vancouver Community College, and Canadian Tourism College, we salute you. Thank you for your dedication to tourism and to sustainable industry growth in BC!

Beyond the 4Ps: Programming works!

Kotler’s 4Ps of marketing are a staple of business education. We speak frequently of product, price, place and promotion strategies – especially as they relate to consumer packaged goods.

Those in the tourism know are also familiar with Morrison’s expansion into the 8P’s of services marketing (2010):

  • People
  • Partnership
  • Physical Evidence
  • Programming

Programming pertains to customer-oriented activities (special events, festivals, or special activities) designed to increase customer spending or length of stay, or to add to the appeal of packages.

Recently I discovered a practical example of programming from the retail sector: the MEC race series. These series of either road or trail race events are hosted by different MEC stores across Canada, tying together the retail experience with online communications and in-person brand experiences to create a sense of community while increasing sales.

As a road race participants are encouraged to purchase a bundle of roughly six races for a one-time fee of approximately $72. Prior to each race, emails are triggered reminding participants to come and pick up race packages, with a Saturday-long in-store option. For those who pick up a package (essentially a race bib and some verbal info) in-store, a 10% savings coupon is presented (valid that day only). I used mine to buy rain pants for my little cheering section.

The race gives MEC another reason to reach out to shoppers, and furthers their mission and values around inspiring and enabling everyone to lead active outdoor lifestyles.

But let’s get back to those rain pants. By incentivizing me to purchase with a same-day discount, MEC is ensuring I don’t go out and troll Craiglist for a couple of used pairs, cashing in on the convenience of having me on location. That’s over $70 in additional sales, and a much more targeted series of communications than traditional media (or even most digital and direct channels).

So far the events have been very well run. Kudos to the MEC team for standing in the freezing rain cheering us all on at Sunday’s first race.  And kudos to their marketing team for ensuring that all the branding, from the kilometre markers to the race arch itself, proudly displayed the bold green MEC square.

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Branding!

Many tourism businesses from attractions to entire destinations are increasingly relying on programming to fill the shoulder season. Dine Out Vancouver is a popular example.

Do you have an example of programming at your business or in your destination? Share it in the comments!

Note: Despite my love for all things MEC, as with all posts on Tourism Nerd I receive absolutely zero compensation for writing about them. 

 

 

Ask a Travel Trade Pro: A tourism nerd chat with Aphrodite Karagioules

Aphrodite Karagioules is a travel counsellor and Mediterranean specialist for Omega Travel as well as a senior land coordinator for Land of the Gods Voyages – with over 16 years’ experience in the travel wholesale business.

Aphrodite and I met back in high school. I was thrilled to find out she works out in the travel trade since I’m currently teaching a leisure tour and travel course for the first time. For the benefit of my students, and a good catch-up, I met with her to discuss her career path and perspective on the industry.

TN: How did you end up working in travel?

“It all started back when I was a teenager, going to Greece and visiting my cousins at their campsite on Naxos Island. Eventually I fell into working there in the summers. It was incredible – not just the working environment, but I loved working with tourists, meeting people from different cultures and countries. I was hooked.

After high school I went back to Naxos and started working in restaurants. I bounced from Vancouver to Greece, working in the food and beverage industry. But I grew tired of working nights, and not sleeping well, and the lifestyle.

I had visited with Maria (the owner of Omega Travel) to discuss this. I grew up a block away from the agency and Maria was a family friend. Maria recommended I go to travel school, but at the time not much came of it, I kept working in restaurants back in Vancouver.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was at a big Greek wedding and I ran into Maria again. I had since put down roots in Kits permanently. Through our conversation at the wedding it became clear that I should go to travel school and join the agency and I’ve been with them ever since.

So 16 years later, I’ve grown with the company and weathered some significant challenges. We’ve had years where travel has dried up entirely due to economic crisis. We’ve seen the Greek crisis … we’ve prevailed through all of it.

It’s a very dynamic industry. There are countries that fall in and out of style as destinations – for example Egypt and Turkey are experiencing unrest and I’m an expert in both these countries but they’ve fallen off of the map. Overall it’s been very demanding and rewarding.”

TN: What are some things that you wish people knew about their travel agent?

“That’s a good one!

I want them to know that while our clients are priority, honestly we have a lot of things going on and we’re human. It would be impossible for a computer to do what we do. There is pressure from clients who don’t understand that in any given moment I’m pulling together a once-in-a-lifetime package trip to Croatia, then someone calls needing last-minute flights to Italy, someone else wants cruise info ASAP.

I made the choice to be salaried, and not to be on commission for this reason. I love working with clients and bringing them value … but I don’t want the headaches of the constant hustle for commissions, the 4am phone calls … it’s more money but at what cost? This way I can support myself, take good care of my clients, and everyone wins.

It’s hard some days. But my attraction to this line of work is excitement and learning. I love learning about the world, and I’m worldly because of my job.”

TN: So what about the sales aspect?

“It’s cool to be able to quickly put together a package of a trip where I have the expertise to pull everything together, along with the competitive rates, that give the guest everything they want. It’s almost second nature I’ve been doing it so long, I don’t even know what I know!

I also like the camaraderie in the office and the industry. There are so many neat events and other networking opportunities that come with the sales side of the business. Air shows, travel shows.”

TN: Tell me about the event I saw you posting about on Instagram.

“Yes, that’s a good example! Air Canada Vacations, and Velas resorts (a high-end all-inclusive group of resort properties in Mexico) took some of the best agents and provided us with an amazing culinary experience. All of this was a backdrop against which they could update us about contracts and various incentives. These are incentives for both the agents and the clients. We may earn benefits but our clients also get the chance to earn points with Air Canada Vacations.

Outside of the sales events, most of my experience comes as a tour operator and packaging components for sale, and in my experience the tour operator aspect is more interesting. So for example, I’ve been to France and I’ll be returning to France to meet with the DMC (destination management company) we partner with.  I really enjoy meeting with them and getting to know the components first-hand … they show us the different destinations the hotels and the region. Then I also like to add in food and wine so I can really sell the complete experience.”

TN: So would it be fair to say you enjoy the tour operator component more?

“Well, I’ve only been doing retail for a year so it’s hard to say. At the moment I’m pushing to get to know more product. For example I would love to get to know Cuba and my company will invest in me to go down and check these experiences out first-hand. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working where I do. They’re very supportive of this aspect.

It’s important for us in retail sales to do as many inspections as we can. Not just of hotels! This includes things like airlines, learning about seat configurations … this is the valuable information we gain that we can share with our clients. Recently I toured the AirBus 380 in Toulouse and now I’m much better equipped to share insider information with my clients.”

TN: So many people today are all about the OTA*. What do you think about that trend?

“Well, you just told me the perfect story really. Because you were mentioning that you’ve booked a trip to Vietnam where the tour operator is providing one-of-a-kind experiences like noodle-making workshops and homestay overnights. So what you’re mentioning with booking that experience really speaks to the level of service that we can provide in the industry – that humans can provide – that an algorithm or website really can’t.

We offer extra touches like in-destination support. And we have access to the same information and often even more, because our partnerships behind the scenes can really help. I know exactly which airlines will offer name changes and which won’t, and how to take care of details like that should they arise. I don’t know of any OTAs that will go that extra mile for their customers.”

TN: How can today’s consumers make the most of working with a travel agent?

“Firstly, if you value your time, you will come to love working with an agent. Again, I’ll do whatever I can to make the trip special, even if it comes down to things like doing a seat select, I go over and above. I like taking care of things and anticipating customer needs. Everything is a little project and because of my experience I know what little things can come up and I can handle them instantly.

I would also encourage clients to really soak up the advice from their agents. Your agent is going to know about logistics (for example, making sure your passport is valid and up-to-date well beyond travel dates).  I qualify my clients as best as I can before booking to make sure they’ll actually be able to take the trip. Again, this isn’t necessarily something you’re going to get with an OTA.”

TN: Any advice for tourism or travel students?

“Well, if you choose this industry, you’ll never have a dull moment, honestly. You always have to think outside the box.

And at the end of the day, you get to travel. What’s better than that?”

Thanks to Aphrodite for the chat! 

To book a trip to the Mediterranean with Aphrodite and her team, visit LandoftheGods.com.

*OTA = online travel agency (e.g. Expedia)

 

Forget the Work and Get Outside?

I’m slugging through the winter break, trying to push ahead into my next term of teaching and attempting to ensure I’m ready. I’m not.

I’m also in the middle of a contract editing a test bank. Yes, that’s a bank of test answers. It’s very dry work. I’m not sure what I was expecting but. Wow. So dry.

So it may not make much sense, but I’ve been blowing off work and heading into the mountains to pursue a hobby I’ve wanted to try for years: snowshoeing.

Snowshoeing is AMAZING. It’s like skiing or snowboarding in that you’re outside, in the fresh air and mountains. But it’s also way easier to do, which is great because alas I am not very coordinated.

Now when I’m not outside, I’m dreaming about being outside. I think this is a very ‘tourism nerd’ dilemma – to have our day jobs (which are generally very awesome in and of themselves) and yet to be pulled to get out there and enjoy. I preach and teach about #exploreBC, so shouldn’t I be out there doing it?

Alright. Back to the grind. This test bank will not edit itself. (Unless … no. It won’t). I’ll try to remember that contract work like this helps pay for my adventures.

See you out there soon!

What makes a Super Host, part two …

Last week I wrote about the SuperHost program and how it taps into fundamental customer service tools to help businesses improve their NPS scores.

But there’s another fundamental component covered by SuperHost: appreciating the emotional experiences customers go through.

I was reminded of this “emotional component” a few days ago. Some students asked if they could have a meeting with me. It was a busy day, so I asked them to follow me into my next lecture. I was expecting them to ask me for an extension on a project or some advice on studying for the exam.

I was wrong. One of the girls pulled out some stuffed animals, while another produced a card and a small plant. “We read your blog and we heard you’re having a tough term,” they said. “We want you to know we appreciate you and we hope things are going better.”

With that they left. I was blown away. The card expressed the same sentiment with the added words “You are awesome!”

Of course it brought tears to my eyes. The stuffed animals are for my kids, the plant for my desk, and the card … for my heart.

Working in the service industry, it’s easy to get caught up in scores, and ROI, and the grind … don’t get me wrong, these things are important.

But the heart of the matter is that customers are people, with lives outside the scope of our interactions, who need some TLC from time to time.

I’m confident these young women will make great additions to any tourism team because they have the brains, but more importantly, the heart, to make a difference with our visitors.

What makes a Super Host?

This summer my family and I pulled into our motel after a long day on the road. There had been an accident on the highway. We were cranky, and tired. The kids were DONE.

We stumbled into the office to check in, and a friendly woman appeared behind the counter. She offered my kids a glass of water and checked us in immediately. Five minutes later we were hydrated, settled in our room, and had the name of the best place to order a pizza.

It’s times like these that make me glad we live in a province of exceptional service providers. Tourism is about experiences, and the more we can foster remarkable front-line interactions, the more our guests are likely to recommend us.

Why do recommendations matter? Beyond TripAdvisor and other review-based platforms, recommendations are the heart of metrics like the Net Promoter Score, a tool whereby your detractors are taken from the promoters to give your experience an overall score. This score can be negative! It’s especially hard to achieve a positive score when you have multiple neutral customers. They don’t count in this calculation.

NPS is being used by Destination BC, Tourism New Zealand, and many other major brands.

One of the keys to helping BC achieve high scores with our visitors is consistent, industry-driven customer service training. That’s why it’s so exciting that go2HR has re-launched SuperHost, a training program first launched in 1985 in preparation for Expo86.

I recently had the privilege of piloting SuperHost with my students in the BCIT tourism marketing program. It’s a hands-on way for new entrants to the industry to learn what it takes to deliver remarkable experiences. The activities are fun and memorable.

Want to learn how you, or your team, can get the SuperHost designation? Visit https://www.go2hr.ca/training/superhost-customer-service-training for more info. Or contact me to set up a workshop!

 

 

Travel Through Tough Times

I’ve been going through a tough time lately in my personal life. It’s not something I can share about here … but I’m okay, the people I love are okay, and it’s going to be okay.

That said, this rough patch is starting to make me reflect on the way travel can be used to get through tough times just like these.

It’s not always possible to go vagabond when the going gets rough – but just the promise of a future trip is something that can help us get through.

For me, it’s a tour I booked last August that doesn’t take place until March 2018: my daughter and I are going to Vietnam!

It started as an attempt to plan an intergenerational journey with my dad and the planning ended with just the two of us signing on the dotted line. We’ll catch dad on the next one.

Ah, Vietnam! For twelve days my little girl and I are going to eat noodles, swim, visit monuments and historical sites, sleep on a boat, take an overnight train and hop a puddle jumper over rice paddies. We’re going to practice our French if we can, and eat all the pho. Did I mention there will be noodles?

When I get through a long day of teaching and come home to a pile of marking – only to be faced with another personal hurdle –  I go over to the G-Adventures site and read through our itinerary.

Travel gives us hope. It gives us something to look forward to. And, yet again, I’m reminded why I work in the best industry on earth.

When it rains …

Ever heard that expression “when it rains, it pours”? That’s my life right now. I don’t know how it works, but it feels like ALL the things are happening at once.

Here’s a snapshot of my week so far:

I’m completing training for the new go2HR SuperHost program.

I attended an awesome session at Hootsuite hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association called “AdventureConnect“.

I’ve been pulled in as a judge for BCIT’s team in their practice run-off for JDC West, a major business competition.

I’m organizing a field study for next week with nine activities, industry speakers and an overnight in Whistler.

I’m teaching a night class on sales (on top of my regular course load) out at BCIT.

Oh … I have a full-time job teaching at BCIT.

And … I have two kids and their dad is away for work!

Also … did I mention that I run a consulting practice and am trying to generate content for my business (you’re reading it right now).

What’s a working woman to do in this situation?

I wake up each morning and I write down at least five things I’m grateful for. I make a plan for some time in my PJs with some form of nachos. I book myself in for a hot yoga class. And I take a deep breath, remember how lucky I am to do what I love, and look forward to a time when the rain breaks.