The future of tourism: social cultural enterprises

One of the best experiences of my trip to Vietnam was participating in a cooking class called Oodles of Noodles run by Streets International in Hoi An.
Doang was the first up from the Oodles of Noodles team. She taught us about the program and asked us to “please correct our English so we can learn”. Throughout the experience all the hosts were very good at interacting with the group. “We need your help to learn. You will do that, yes?” “Yes!” we all promised.
Next we watched a short documentary about Neal Bermas’ vision for Streets International. They conducted research to find the right city and chose Hoi An due to the high levels of visitation and its history as a multicultural port and culinary destination. Their goal is to launch careers in hospitality.
The program provides participants with full health care, lodging, and three meals a day. These are orphans, children from HIV backgrounds, or formerly trafficked and prostituted people. The facility has a working kitchen, a classroom for culinary lessons (both internal and external, like ours), and a 16-station computer lab for learning English.
The cooking class that followed the program description was immersive and entertaining.
Nho the noodle expert

A young woman named Nho taught us about noodles and I now consider myself a rice noodle expert. Dai from Hanoi did a demo which was also broadcast on a TV for the people at the back.
M Nhi is from close to Sapa. She taught us to count down in Vietnamese as well as guided us through the noodle making process at our table. Our noodles were combined with a charcoal broiled variety to make a smash cake which made a delicious appetizer.
The tables were then wiped down and we were served the local specialty prepared by the culinary students.The entire group agreed that the meal, the service, and the cleanliness of the facility far exceeded anything we had experienced so far.
Streets International also runs a restaurant, one that is designed to stand on its own. The servers, hosts, and culinary team are all program participants.
Recognizing that front-of-house trainees receive the lion’s share of immersive language and hosting experience, Streets International also partners with local tour operators to offer tours led by back of house staff. These tours allow budding chefs to take guests through Hoi An, where they practice English and share the culinary history of the destination.
Intake for this program is every nine months. So far 250+ youth have graduated and there are more job offers (high end restaurants, resorts, etc) than graduates. A second location recently opened in Hanoi.
My experience of Hoi An was one of a busy destination, one where popular sites were choked with tourists barely grasping the significance of what they were seeing. While at times I experienced the dreaded ‘overtourism’, the afternoon spent at Ooodles of Noodles was educational and entertaining – all while making a difference in the lives of young people.
This is the future of the industry as far as I’m concerned and a model for tourism done right. I’ve already challenged my soon-to-be tourism graduates back home to explore this model and see how they could bring it to BC.

Top ten reasons to book a packaged tour

I’m in the middle of my trip to Vietnam and it’s been an incredible experience so far. Based on my social media posts and pictures, a few people mentioned they’d like for me book their travel for them.

Well, folks, here’s the secret: I didn’t really plan this trip!

Our packaged Vietnam Family Adventure has been fantastic, it’s true. So here are my top ten reasons to book a packaged tour. These are especially applicable for cross-generational travel or travel to areas where you are completely a fish out of water.

10. A support team stands behind you.

I initially mis-read our itinerary and completely missed our departing flights. I connected with the company through Messenger and started getting instant advice, and partnering, on how to correct the mistake and reunite with our tour. They re-booked our airport pickup and we seamlessly joined the group on arrival.

As an aside I highly recommend booking your own flights (unless included) so that you are 100% comfortable and familiar with the itinerary. If not, triple check the dates and times you are sent. (It just didn’t ‘click’ for me when it was booked on my behalf).

9. Quicker jet lag recovery and routine building. 

After three days we were completely on Vietnam time, thanks to a thoughtfully constructed, tried-and-tested itinerary. It’s hard to motivate yourself to push into a new time zone, with a tour it’s done for you. Get up to do the thing. Lather, rinse, repeat. Congrats! You’re on a new schedule.

8. Vetted optional activities at better prices you can negotiate yourself.

We participated in a kayak tour and a motorcycle tour. I know for a fact that an FIT (fully independent traveller) could not have gotten those rates.  I also knew I could trust the safety record of the suppliers. Our CEO (chief experience officer) Son also was able to cancel us out of an optional activity when it became clear my daughter wasn’t feeling up to it. “Our suppliers understand when this happens, if you don’t want to participate you won’t be charged any money.” This just isn’t the case when you book yourself.

7. Mind-blowing optionals.

Kayak to a remote part of Halong Bay.

Want to rent a motorbike and travel to the Vietnamese countryside to see an ancient tomb? It’s possible. You might get there at the busiest time of day, the road might be flooded … or you could walk out of your hotel and jump on a bike and enjoy the activity. Most of the sites we visited had zero people (outside our group).

We also did a cooking class through Streets International that I will remember always. This particular class is not open to the general public, only g-Adventures guests, and you can read about it here.

6. Better connection with the locals.

We were led around Hanoi by a young woman named Lan, who introduced us to six different types of street foods. Personal stories, learning how to do a ‘cheers’ in Vietnamese. Can you meet locals like Lan using apps and other tools? Of course. That said, this was a vetted experience and took zero effort on our part. She showed up in the lobby of the hotel, Son had already made all the arrangements, and then we paid her cash at the end of the trip.

To put this in perspective, a family from our tour went out to find a certain dish and vendor themselves, and they ended up walking for over an hour, and getting caught in the rain. While that’s part of an FIT “experience”, I’m not able to do that with a 7-year-old.

Later in this trip we’ll stay with Vietnamese families in their homes on the Mekong Delta. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to plan that myself.

5. Access to what you need when you need it.

My daughter became suddenly ill while walking to the citadel in Hue. I mentioned this to my group leader and he immediately found a clean bathroom for us at a scooter dealership. Now, unless you speak Vietnamese, know the culture very well … there’s no way to negotiate that. And trust me, she needed a bathroom. Like most travel tummy troubles we had maybe two minutes’ notice.

Later in Hoi An, I was able to use Messenger to chat with Son and get the address of the local banh mi kiosk he had recommended. He even offered to go for us in case my daughter wasn’t up to it. Service!

4. Instant travel buddies!

Our group of 20 started calling ourselves “sticky rice family” after Lan’s advice that we stick together (like sticky rice) when crossing the street. My daughter played Uno with the other children, including a little girl from Bremen who is still learning English. She had kids to play marco polo with in the water. And I had other adults to chat with.

3. Insider tips.

My girl at the Hue train station.

Did you know that the train from Hanoi to Hue leaves from the centre platform? Son does. I would have missed that train for sure (it was hidden behind another train, and the announcements were in Vietnamese). There were backpackers in the station holding tickets to cities they didn’t want to visit, lining up to talk to agents who didn’t quite understand them.

Now, I had an experience like this in Thailand as an FIT where my friend and I bought tickets for a train-bus-boat trip to an island that, upon arrival for the final leg, was missing the final boat ride. She spoke enough Thai to get us passage on a fishing boat. It’s one of my favourite travel memories! But I was 21, had days to spare, and went almost a day without food or drink. That’s less appealing as an adult on a schedule, especially with a child in tow.

2. Efficient itineraries.

Did you know that the train always leaves late? Son does. Do you know when rush hour starts in Hanoi? Lan does. How about the best time to visit the really crowded areas?

When you travel on a packaged trip, they’ve run through the itinerary dozens of times themselves. They’ve tried it with people of different ages. They’ve learned that if they hit a specific attraction at a specific time, it can be viewed just before the crowds hit, and if followed by lunch at a specific restaurant, the meal will happen right when everyone is hungry.

It really is possible to see a lot in a short amount of time, and still have down time, if you’re travelling with the experts on that region.

1. The right amount of down time. 

Not every optional activity is going to work for every traveller, even if they share demographic and psychographic characteristics with the rest of the group. Some people want to go for dinner by themselves. Some couples (or parents and kids) have a spat and want to work it out in private. Believe me, tour operators know this and they factor it in. We had almost three days in Hoi An where I had a bunch of tailored clothes made, my daughter swam her face off, and we did lots of relaxing in our air-conditioned room.

This was optimally planned for just when we needed it.

Some people think that technology and other shifts are going to kill the packaged tour. I disagree! There’s a role for this kind of product in our industry. And I highly recommend the experience.

Like all things #tourismnerd, this post has not been sponsored in any way and I paid full market rate for my trip. 

The Baby Bird Nerds are Victorious!

What a proud day for me! 

Our tourism marketing students were awarded first place in the provincial finals of a business case competition at the Tourism Industry Conference

Organized by go2HR and sponsored by Destination BC and the Tourism Industry Partners Society, the competition brought together teams from TRU (Kamloops), VIU (Nanaimo), Selkirk College (Nelson) and BCIT. 

Each team had to win regional competitions to earn the chance to present their cases in front of a room packed with industry delegates.

That’s a nice trophy!

BCIT’s pitch proposes to take guests by floatplane in downtown Vancouver to Seton Lake and Lillooet for an immersive Indigenous cultural tourism experience. The team gifted the business plan to the St’at’mic First Nation and generated significant buzz and interest for the project amongst industry delegates. 

The other pitches included a Cannabis-related hotel and spa, a Nanaimo Bar related festival, and a Kootenays-based railway tour. 

While I’m insanely proud of my team, I’m also heartened by the great presentations from all four schools. All of the teams presented ideas that could, conceivably, help bring more visitors to the province in the shoulder season as well as move tourists from “overtourism” areas to under-visited parts of BC.

The industry is in good hands!

It’s TIC Time!

I can’t believe a year has passed since I started this blog at the Tourism Industry Conference. Here we are again getting ready to learn about pressing issues in our industry including:

  • Labour
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Marijuana Legalization
  • Taxation

And all of the marketing best practices that can have an influence on the way that destinations and businesses sell themselves. First up we had the TIABC Town Hall where delegates broke into tables and went deep on an issue.

The feedback is going right to the top where TIABC will take forward our suggestions to help advocate of the policies that will shape our industry.

I hope to publish at least two pieces out of the conference*, but first up, the Winning Pitch provincials where BCIT will battle it out with TRU, VIU, and Selkirk College for the crown!


*I fly to Vietnam with my daughter late Friday night so we’ll see what I can do

It’s my last day at BCIT …

Three years ago I found out that LinkBC, the organization I helped build for 10 years, was closing. I was at a complete crossroads: on maternity leave, with a Vancouver-sized mortgage, and a sense I wanted to work in tourism and education but no idea of how to do it.

I took steps towards going back to university to become a high school teacher. I reached out for coffee with friends. I accepted a one-day-per-week contract at the University of the Fraser Valley, knowing there was no way I could get a post-secondary job closer to home.

Then on one of my coffee chats, an old friend from Royal Roads mentioned that BCIT wanted an instructor with a tourism background. She forwarded me the posting and I quickly hopped on the phone to the program head. A month later I was interviewing for the position. It was the most stressful interview of my life, but miraculously, I got the job.

That fall, I returned to the workforce with three jobs: teaching at UFV, wrapping up LinkBC, and teaching at BCIT.

I knew from day one that BCIT was my place. It’s my alma mater. It changed my life and gave me a career in an industry I’m passionate about. And to be walking the halls of SE6 felt right. I was home.

So why is it my last day at BCIT?

That’s an incomplete thought. It’s my last day at BCIT as a temporary instructor. I am thrilled to say that I competed for, and was awarded, a full-time permanent faculty position in the department.

Effective tomorrow, BCIT is officially my gig. I am over the moon grateful and very excited for what’s to come. Thank you to my students, my colleagues, my friends, family, and industry contacts. Your support has been, and will continue to be, greatly appreciated.

​ 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.


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…

View original post 375 more words

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:

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.


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

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