Expedia: the platform for moving people

It’s TIC time, folks! This blog was born at the 2017 BC Tourism Industry Conference and I’m continuing the rich tradition of profiling noteworthy content from the event.

First up, some thoughts from Mark Okerstrom, the President and CEO of Expedia, who opened the conference. Mark is a home-grown talent (Port Coquitlam) who joined Expedia and rose through the ranks to helm the global brand that now includes Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Trivago, VRBO, HomeAway, and other dominant companies in the OTA space. 

He opened with a famous quote from another famous Mark. In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain said that

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Today, the WTTC reports that tourism encompasses one in ten jobs in the world and accounts for one in every five new jobs. Travel and tourism is responsible for 10% of the global GDP.

Can we keep this run going? According to Mark (from Expedia, not the ghost of Mark Twain) we should have a “good but slightly cautious outlook” on the industry. 

Economies in Canada and the US are strong, the Chinese economy slowing down slightly (from 7% to 6.5% growth), while the situation in the Eurozone (e.g. UK/Brexit) are concerning, and Latin America remains volatile.  But even though our industry growth is tied to the global economy, tourism is still forecast to grow by 5.3% (FocusWright).

So the question, according to Mark, is will not WILL travel and tourism grow but HOW will travel grow? 

It seems like Expedia will continue to be a major player. That’s because of their massive scale. If Google is the platform for the organization of the world’s information … then Expedia is the global platform for the movement of people.

The company books over $100 BILLION in travel a year and employs roughly 40,000 “Expedians”.

Mark says that moving forward the platform will capitalize on trends that see us moving away from “big data, big data, data science, and a little human intelligence thrown in.” Instead we should be focusing on “streaming real-time data, AI and automation, and human creativity.”

He provided an example of a common occurrence, flight delays. What if, instead of an announcement from the cockpit and a mad dash to find an agent upon landing, a passenger could be served up a notification that enables them to rebook a connecting flight or book a hotel overnight or make a dinner reservation.

Mark said that at Expedia they “want to put the A (agent) back into OTA” to work to make the right recommendations and inspire travellers to pursue new journeys. 

Apparently 70% of Expedia visitors don’t know what destination they are going to book, or choose a different destination by the time they book on the platform. There is an opportunity for destinations to influence that.

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Atout France (National DMO) partners with Expedia 

He used the example of a partnership between Expedia and Atout France.  Expedia bookings represent 10% of the inbound travel to France. Working together, About France and Expedia worked to feed the demand for Paris into the outlying areas (Loire Valley) and used Expedia data to help the DMO understand what the competition is, what positioning and targeting is needed, and how to push those visitors outward.

Is your destination working with Expedia? Do you think they can put the A back in OTA? Weigh in down in the comments.

Drinking the Airbnb Kool-Aid

One of my lesser-known tourism hustles is the Airbnb I run in my basement. My TV room, to be exact.

This little space is comfortable, clean, centrally located, and a great way to offset the fact I’m a single mom carrying a Vancouver-sized mortgage. It also doesn’t displace any long-term rental inventory since, seriously, it’s a TV room in my basement.

So imagine my delight when our dean suggested that faculty and a handful of students attend a Greater Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon featuring Chris Lehane from Airbnb. Chris is the senior VP for policy and, frankly, a dynamic and cool speaker.

It’s clear that, in his own words, Chris has started drinking the Kool-Aid at Airbnb, and as a host I’ve been enjoying it for some time. Here are some of the points raised during his presentation.

We live in a time of significant global challenge. 

The first challenge Chris mentioned was that of economic inequality. Today the 26 richest people on earth own as much as the 3.8 billion poorest … a divide that is growing as we see the emergence of AI and the loss of up to 40% of jobs to automation.

The second challenge he addressed was that of conflicts, whether intra-state (Venezuela, Syria), through cyberattacks, the online polarization of people and viewpoints through social media, and the displacing of billions of people due to unrest.

The last challenge he mentioned was that of global climate change, which in the last four years has seen the hottest temperatures on record, and closer to home (both ours in BC and his down in California) has contributed to annual ravaging wildfires.

It’s no wonder, according to Chris, that the world is now sinking to a ten year low in happiness.

Travel has a a role to play in addressing these challenges. 

Chris explained that travel has a rich history of contributing to migration and immigration and cultural exploration. He shared a picture of Burnaby-born hockey hall-of-famer Joe Sakic explaining that the movement of people has real benefits (in this case helping the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, twice).

He then shared the Confucian quote that “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. Bonus points for going from Sakic to Confucius! This part of Chris’ presentation resonated with me — as some of you might know my father is an immigrant and I’ll spend part of this summer going back to the town of his birth.

Chris talked about historical names for travel and its impacts including the Ancient Greek “philoxenia” – the opposite of xenophobia, a love for strangers and an eagerness to be hospitable.

This is where Airbnb comes in.

Airbnb’s mission is that anyone can belong anywhere. Chris was quick to address the fact they’re a disruptor and that new technologies always lead to disruption. And he was clear that in this new digital era we’ve seen the emergence of platforms that are larger than any one country in terms of population and yet, at times, highly unregulated.

He presented different platform models — hierarchical, ad-based, the short-term labour model, and finally the community-based model (people to people) that tracks back to the original model of capitalism, in his opinion.

Chris shared the story behind Airbnb, of a couple of students offering air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco apartment to pay their rent. In his view, the core of Airbnb has always been about disrupting FOR humans, not being disruptive TO humans. He credits the founders’ art student backgrounds in that they wanted to build something 100 people would love instead of something that 1000 people would like.

I’d say, in that regard, they’ve been successful. Today on Airbnb:

  • Six guests check in every second 
  • There are over five million listings
  • They’ve seen 15% growth over the last year in Vancouver alone

Their future, according to Chris, is as an end-to-end travel platform that facilitates how you get somewhere, and where you stay, who you spend time with, and what you do while there. The ‘Airbnb experiences’ catalogue alone has grown to 20,000 experiences in 1000 cities since it was launched.

It was the transportation vertical (how you get there) that got my attention. Airbnb is proposing to use existing infrastructure to help legacy businesses tap into wider consumer markets (e.g. rail travel) while encouraging innovators to bring their ideas to market.

Another passion of mine is destination development policy. Chris’ particular area of work focuses on exactly this — Airbnb’s commitment to help evolve policy, pay their share of taxes, and share data.

He says their next focus will be the office of healthy travel. Tourism already makes up 10.4% of Global GDP, so why not grow the industry sustainably? Chris spoke about Airbnb contributions including:

Investing in community development, like in Maharashtra India, where they partnered with government to help locals start up immersive homestays in the region.

Enhancing experiential authenticity while increasing spending in neighbourhoods —44% of which stays in the micro community where guests spend the night. In 2017 that meant an increase of  $107 million in spending to Vancouver restaurants.

Supporting diverse experiences by providing guests an opportunity to stay in non-hotel districts and rural areas.

Being inclusive, where currently 55% of hosts are women, and the fastest growing cohort of hosts are seniors.

Creating traffic to underserved areas through initiatives like their Cape Town partnership, and working with the NAACP to develop hosting capabilities in urban communities.

His final words were on the ways in which Airbnb is creating sustainable options simply by using existing buildings (millions of empty homes), in the place of new construction. For example massive events like the Rio Olympics saw an increase in hosting, which diverted the need to build up to 257 new hotels for the event.

Chris Lehane clearly “drinks the Kool Aid” on Airbnb. Vancouver is drinking it too. In 2018 the City and Airbnb signed a historic agreement to recognize and regulate home sharing, which was shortly followed by an announcement of a first-of-its-kind partnership in Canada with Tourism Vancouver.

I’m starting to drink this Kool Aid too. Are you? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Doxey’s Irridex 44 Years On …

Every time I read an article or post about the scourge of “Overtourism” I’m reminded of a portmanteau created by Doxey back in 1975: the irritation index or “Irridex”.

Back then, Doxey created the model to explain the four stages of resident response to tourism:

Euphoria: residents and guests are happy as a few visitors come to appreciate the destination as an underdeveloped ‘new’ experience; visitors represent new revenues o the community and the benefits clearly outweigh any drawbacks.

Apathy: residents and guests begin to take each other for granted, and there’s a need for greater stakeholder collaboration, foresight, and planning.

Annoyance: while guests are having a positive economic impact (and tourism gains political traction as an ‘industry’), residents are increasingly frustrated with their presence.

Antagonistic: as traffic, noise, pollution, and competition for resources like water and housing increase with visitation, residents openly protest tourism and clash with guests.

While the term ‘overtourism’ might be relatively new, the fact is these clashes have existed in some communities for decades.

And what made me think of it today? Hopping up to the local ski hill to catch a few runs only to find all the EV chargers occupied, the parking lots full, and massive lineups for lifts. The very things that make me an enthusiastic Vancouverite (yes, we really do ski in the mornings before work!) make me an annoyed Vancouverite (it’s only 10am and I have to wait 10 minutes to get on a lift?).

Cadillac problems to be sure. But something that should be on every tourism marketers radar going forward.

Where does your community sit on Doxey’s Irridex? What planning or coordination could help alleviate it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Down with DST?

Am I down with DST? No, you know me! Daylight Savings Time (DST) has been the scourge of my existence as a parent and educator (and shiftwork employer) for some time.

Actually, that’s not accurate! I’m a fan of DST and want to make it a permanent fixture; leaving us with an extra hour of daylight in the evenings simply by not setting the clocks back in the fall (and leaving them alone forever after).

Recently I was asked by a local TV station to share my thoughts on DST and the tourism industry. Here are my musings on why a permanent time shift forward in BC would be beneficial:

More outdoor play when consumers want it. Parks usage studies in the UK show that evenings are becoming increasingly popular recreation times (over mornings) as the local market seeks these activities after working hours.

Healthier for residents. A Washington state economist asserts that daylight saving hours in the evening lead to an increase in recreation and a decrease in screen time. And this is in addition to avoiding the well-documented risks of the time change which include heart attacks and traffic accident upticks.

Healthier for staff. I myself have had challenges with DST, as once per year I’ve experienced staff showing up late for shifts, or falling prey to sleep-related challenges. We’re a people-based service industry and this can only keep our front-line staff more alert and prepared.

On brand. As a recreation-focused, Super Natural brand, with BC residents constituting half of our own leisure tourism spending, this move would encourage more outdoors fun by the guests that matter.

Fewer administrative headaches. As an industry based on itineraries (departures and arrivals, reservations, or check-in times) we are forced to update our systems and records twice a year. By keeping a consistent time zone we save pain and effort (and errors) from having to adjust these twice a year.

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The interview site was really windy. Fun!

Despite these advantages, the drawbacks might include:

Changes for small niche operators in transportation and other sectors. I’m not privy to the schedules of Harbour Air, but my guess would be that the shift in daylight to the evening would impact their operations (they only fly during daylight). This could also be a challenge for daylight-dependent wildlife viewing or fishing … although I can’t imagine guests objecting to an extra hour of sleep (over previous years’ itineraries).

The need for harmonization with other markets like Alberta, Washington, and Oregon. Our DST plan would need to be consistent with changes in these top BC traveler markets to ensure seamless transition for our visitors.

I’m far from the definitive expert in this area, but I did my best to bring these points to the fore. You can watch the piece here

I pop up around the 10-minute mark in Part 1.

How do you feel about the time shift in BC? Let me know in the comments.

Healthy Ways to Cope

It’s obvious that I’m a do-er. I do. A lot. I get the proverbial “sh*t” done.

But while I’m passionate, there’s a risk to the way I roll, and it’s called burnout. Surrounded by germs on campus, early mornings, late nights, stress … it can easily take a toll.

This term I’m making an even more conscious effort to take care of myself. This includes:

  • Continuing to abstain from drugs and alcohol (I’m coming up on 10 years sober)
  • Morning prayer and gratitude lists
  • Training for “races” (all of which have been in the rain so far!)
  • Going to the gym and hot yoga class whenever possible (and carving out additional time to do this)
  • Spending quiet time with my kids (reading, board games)
  • Taking about 11 million hot baths
  • Continuing to cut back on caffeine (‘half-caff’ to the rescue)
  • Trashy TV when possible
  • Chocolate
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Run. Get a medal. Feel better about just about anything. 

The next question for me has been, what can I drop?

I recently had to back out of hosting experiences with Kudoz, a really cool initiative in the city. I simply can’t find time in my schedule to do this well. While I have a lot to give, it’s important that I take this time to give to myself.

I don’t know how successful I’m going to be, but this post is one way I can hold myself accountable that health is the cornerstone of me, and I need to be well to meet my commitments.

I’m genuinely curious – what do all you folks do to keep it going? What ball do you need to let drop? Let me know in the comments.

In the meantime I’m going to dedicate this post to Molly and the other students this term who’ve dropped my class, because they needed to. Sometimes quitting is the best option!

All Fired Up!

This Tuesday morning I joined fellow tourism nerds at a Tourism Vancouver presentation of Alex Hunter: The Art and Science of Wow.

Alex is a former Virgin America executive who travels the world as a branding and customer experience expert and keynote speaker. He’s also the host of Attaché, an award-winning online travel show, which brought him to the Vancouver Playhouse main stage.

Alex is a phenomenal storyteller; it’s challenging to take his fluid ideas and anecdotes and pull them together into something cohesive, so here’s what stood out for me:

The Internet Ruined Everything

Maybe it’s because Alex is a fellow Gen Xer who remembers the good old days of pay phones and print ads, but his statement that “marketing was the easiest job in the world until we ruined it with the internet” really struck home. He pulled up the following ad which summarizes the kinds of things Madison Avenue used to be able to get away with:

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That’s a firm nope from me, bucko.

The internet comment was tongue in cheek, but he’s right that the good old-fashioned decision-making funnel has been obliterated. We can’t grab consumers with a big message (sexually harass her and you’ll be cool), hit them with some PR/evidence (doctors recommend Tipalet), and then do a little price-based sales promotion to nudge them over the line (Tipalet: now 2 for the price of 1).

Consumers today are in a cycle with more points of engagement. Marketers must strike a reasonable balance between pre and post purchase connection because our targets are not in a funnel, they’re on a see-saw adding and subtracting brands under consideration in any given moment.

We’ve moved from a push to influence at the “consider” and “buy” stages to an emphasis on talking with (not to) our customers at the “evaluate” stage (even if that means exposing them to other brands) and at the “advocate” step (encouraging sharing with their sociograph in person and online).

The Loyalty Loop

So if there’s no funnel, Alex argues, we need to pay extra attention to loyalty, which has been something of an obsession for him. The ultimate goal is to get your consumers into what he refers to as the “loyalty loop”.

You can’t have loyalty without someone feeling something, or in the words of Matthew Weiner on Mad Men:

“You feeling something. That’s what sells.”

Alex then called out Apple users (guilty as charged). When I remember back to my switch from the frugal but frustrating combo of a Microsoft Surface and a Samsung cell phone to a MacBook and iPhone in one day, I recall feeling free and relaxed.

And since that day, when I interact with Apple, I know I’m taken care of. I know where to go to get my problems solved, and they’re solved promptly, frequently exceeding my expectations. Prior to this, the tech devices in my life were a source of stress and confusion. Say what you will about the corporation, but Apple really does handle UX very well. By helping me to chill, they’ve got me in the loop!

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Alex Hunter and the Loyalty Loop (yes I snuck this shot)

Emotion is Greater than Reason

Alex also introduced us to Dr Donald Calne. Well, not personally, although Dr Calne apparently lives in Kamloops. Calne is a neurologist who discovered, through scientific study that:

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

So if we want our guests, visitors, and customers to conclude something about our destinations and businesses, then we can use reason. But if we want them to take action, we have to appeal to their feelings.

Hunter’s example was that of Coke vs Pepsi (specifically Diet Coke in his case). As a Coke drinker, I understood his story immediately. Because if somebody offers me a Pepsi as an alternative I feel incredulous and, frankly, insulted.

Coke is a special treat. It’s birthday parties, summer vacation, going to the movies in a real theatre, and Christmas dinner. Pepsi is … overly sweet Coke substitute. I will stick with water if that’s the only option.

As Alex puts it, “if brown water in a can can produce that reaction, no product or service is immune.”

The Small Stuff

Back in ye olden days, when I was a kid (so, the 1980s), businesses used to interact with consumers one-on-one. This is another thing the internet ruined, for a spell. We got so fixated on broadcasting wider and wider on the web, that we lost this connection. But we can get it back.

And it’s not that hard to do well. You’ve heard my example of being bowled over with the gift of well-timed water on a WestJet flight. And Hunter is loyal to a hotel in New York City where, time after time, they’ve stocked the fridge with Diet Coke, left a basket of his favourite snacks, and a handwritten note. The first time it was a surprise (based on a questionnaire he’d filled out). But they treat him to this every time he stays – prompting the comment “I am no longer a transaction, I’m not just a room night, I’m a relationship.”

We Are Magicians

We have all this data and the capacity to use what we know to create delight. And so many opportunities (touchpoints) to do this online and in person. But Alex cautions us NOT to tell our guests how we do it. He shared the story of a famous airline that used iPads to produce out-of-this world personalized greetings and experiences for their guests. Except in a PR move, they published a white paper on how they did it. They ruined the trick (“you don’t love me, the iPad told you”), and forgot the context of the relationship. To create magic for the guest, never forget that you are a magician.

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Just a few of the touchpoints for an airline customer.

The Handwritten Note

Take the time. Get the pen. Write the note. And for the love of everything, if you’re going to do a mail merge, do it correctly. Alex quit banking with an institution that sent him a “Dear null null” letter. I’ve broken up with a car dealership that uses my two middle names in all their communication. Get these things right the first time.

People Remember How You Make them Feel

There were so many nuggets in this presentation and the Q & A that followed. Ty Speer joined Alex Hunter on stage and they wrapped the session up with a from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Alex Hunter made me feel excited to work in tourism, excited to bring the magic to my students, and pumped to be a better businessperson and host. You can check out his website here, or follow him @cubedweller

Back-to-School (already overcommitted)

So in case your Facebook feed didn’t pile up with pictures of little back-to-schoolers on Tuesday, I’m here to remind you it’s that time of year again!

It’s the time of year I:

  1. Completely panic
  2. Realize that I am the teacher
  3. Promise not to take on too much
  4. Take on way too much

Here’s a list of commitments that I entered into over the summer, and am now realizing might be impossible to meet:

  • Elected member of the BCIT Education Council (EdCo)
  • Member of the programming committee
  • New volunteer at Kudoz
  • Volunteer member for the BC Hospitality Foundation scholarship committee
  • Member of a cool new committee to do with the Tourism Industry Conference (TIC is my jam, as you know)
  • Member of the selection committee for a new Associate Dean for our department
  • And assistant coach of the marketing team for JDC West

Of these, I have decided to drop the last item (coaching) because mercifully another (more qualified) volunteer stepped forward out of the woodwork. That’s great, because as an instructor I’m now having to go from public speaking hibernation to ‘on’ several hours a day. And plan. And prep. And parent. Also apparently I have a social life?

Don’t let the calm-and-poised instagram post fool you, folks, I’m low-key freaking out over here. Next post I hope to address some (relatively healthy) ways I’m trying to cope with the stress.

What are your ways of dealing with back-to-school stress? Hit me up in the comments.

 

 

Relocalization: The “Roots” Trip

On August 20th, 1954, the SS Groote Beer docked in Quebec City and my two-year-old father disembarked alongside his family to start their life in Canada. My Opa made the decision to leave Germany as a result of his experiences in World War II.

As I approach a milestone birthday in 2019 I’ve been working towards a trip that combines a bucket list destination (Paris) with an opportunity to connect with my German roots. And since I’m the “tourism nerd”, I’ve been thinking about this trip and what it means from an Explorer Quotient (EQ) perspective.

EQ is a psychographic tool developed by Destination Canada, and in use across the country, that attempts to move beyond demographics (age, gender, country of origin) and into the psychological motivations and desires behind travel.

Typically as Canadian tourism professionals we focus on the ‘hot’ EQ markets for our destinations: Free Spirit, Cultural Explorer, and Authentic Experiencer. These are great segments to target, and you can read more about them, and how to apply EQ, in this handy PDF: EQProfiles2015.

Originally, however, nine EQ profiles were developed. And while I’m not suggesting we should focus on all of these, in my circumstances think it’s important to note a ‘special’ category, which is the Personal History Explorer (PHE).

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The ‘Original 9’ EQ Types – there I am in my kilt and tam.

In the context of this specific trip, as a PHE I’m having a hard time accessing the resources I need. Part of this journey requires birth records (destroyed during the war), part of it relies on memories (my dad is a grandparent now, it’s hard for him to remember when he was two years old), and the rest relies on research that frequently yields incomplete results. For example, I’ve visited seven different websites with Groote Beer manifests, all of these are partial, most focus on arrivals to Australia and New Zealand … it’s a bit of a mess.

And let’s talk about shifting geography for a second!

My Oma and Opa were from the Sudentenland, which was the area of the now-Czech Republic inhabited by Sudeten Germans. Since Bohemia and Sudetenland are no longer political regions, and haven’t been for decades, I’ve had to rely heavily on my uncle to determine where, exactly, I should be visiting.

Finally, there is the emotional component of developing a trip like this. Immigration is a stressful change for a family, even when it’s for the better. Talking about family origins can dig up deep feelings of regret, loss, or even anger. If I’m honest I’m currently harbouring some resentments at my father for choosing not to keep his German citizenship, and for not teaching us to speak German – even though intellectually these decisions make sense in hindsight.

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My dad (no apples) and his two older brothers.

In his book “Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche“, Bill Plotkin talks about our need to return to our psychospiritual roots. He asserts there is an innate connection we have with our ecology of origin. I’ve looked at photos of the Black Forest (Schwarzwaldsince childhood and deeply known that those streams, trees, and mountains are somehow of me, just as parts of British Columbia like the Fraser River, North Shore Mountains, False Creek, and Burrard Inlet are part of my makeup.

Returning to these primal, ecologically-emotionally connected places is what Plotkin calls “relocalization” (p.55). I think as more boomers, Gen X, and even Millennial travellers start seeking out PHE trips, tourism developers and marketers will need to provide more support for this type of journey.

What I’m recommending is:

  • Local tourism professionals keep an eye out for unique stories like these and create customer journey maps to understand the ‘pain points’ of developing this kind of trip
  • Residents, staff, or other passionate locals help PHEs develop itineraries
  • Destinations with shifting geography/place names make this very clear in their marketing materials
  • Tourism marketers use these stories as a means to connect with other PHEs who may be interested in the region

Do you have a PHE trip on your mind? Where might you need to go to feel truly reconnected to your psychospiritual roots? Share in the comments.

What is “dark tourism”?

A question I get asked regularly is “what is dark tourism”?

Many people conflate dark tourism with sex tourism, exploitation, and other challenges related to overtourism.

According to Stone, Seaton, Sharpley and White, dark tourism is “the contemporary commodification of death within international visitor economies.” The distinction here is death, which is why the phenomenon is also referred to as thanatourism from the Greek ‘thanatos’ or personification of death.

An example of dark tourism is a visit my daughter and I took to the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, included as part of a group tour of the country.

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My daughter being lowered into one of the tunnels by a re-enactor.

This network of underground tunnels just outside of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was used during several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, serving as the Viet Cong’s base of operations.

We visited the Ben Dinh site, featuring reconstructions, re-enactments, with tunnels widened to accommodate visitors. Guests are taken through the tunnels (if desired) and shown various components of life during the war. I was taken aback by the shooting range where guests paid by the bullet to fire M16s.

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How do you explain to a child that this was used to kill people? Ingenious, but terrifying.

Ahead of our visit I did the best I could to debrief my then seven-year-old on the Vietnam War. Our guide was a former solider who walked us through the areas and provided colour commentary. But if I’m honest my daughter mostly knows this as “the place I went in the tunnels from the world war” (she doesn’t understand the difference between conflicts). And I had been reluctant to visit the site from the start.

So who are Stone, Seaton, Sharpley and White? They’re the co-authors of the definitive reference text for the study of the phenomenon of dark tourism. Their newly-released text (click here for more) examines dark tourism and visitor sites of death or disaster in order to better understand issues of global tourism mobilities, tourist experiences, the co-creation of meaning, and ‘difficult heritage’ processes and practices.

I was privileged to work on a chapter with Dr Geoffrey Bird of Royal Roads University and Natalie Thiesen of Tourism Winnipeg. We argue that marketing plays a major inventive role in tourism world-making, the shaping of culture and place. Additionally, we consider how marketing can be consciously, responsibly, and appropriately employed in politically charged sites of memory. Our section starts on page 645 – this truly is THE handbook for the subject, and it’s the size of a phone book (if some of you remember those).

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One of the statues demonstrating life at Cu Chi during the war. A rosy picture.

Having now experienced a dark tourism attraction, I’m struck by the popularity and Disneyfication of what is a profoundly disturbing place to me. Tour groups jostled each other to get a position climbing on a tank for photos. Our guide’s dialogue was fascinating but at odds with the story we were being presented. My daughter was encouraged to scramble through the tunnels as if it were a game, not really grasping the severity of the conflict or how many lives were lost.

One of the principles of dark tourism is that the visitor and the site co-create meaning in the moment of the experience. Overall I was grateful for the chance to visit a challenging site, but wish I had been better prepared to work through it with my child.

Are there any ‘dark tourism’ sites in your community? And if so, how are they approached?

I met Expo Ernie!

Last week I got the thrill of a tourism nerd’s lifetime when I met THE official EXPO ERNIE!

For those of you who haven’t sat (suffered) through one of my lectures on the growth of BC’s tourism industry, Expo Ernie was the mascot for Expo ’86, which marked the birth of our industry as it is today. Approximately 22 million people descended on Vancouver for the World’s Fair from May to October 1986.

Not without controversy (which you can read about elsewhere), to this then 7-year-old Vancouverite Expo was a thrill. Check out this CBC retrospective on the event to get a sense of the scope.

But how did I come to meet THE Expo Ernie? He was the guest of honour at the official re-launch of SuperHost, a program developed in 1985 in preparation for Expo, which has become the standard for service excellence in BC and an internationally recognized leader in training for the tourism industry.

With go2HR now in charge of the program, there was no better time than Tourism Week to announce that the suite of courses has been revitalized with a new Foundations of Service Quality to be followed by Service for All and Destination Ambassador, available later in 2018.

I’m proud to be a SuperHost trainer and happy to offer it to our tourism students each fall, as well as to new industry entrants through programs like Embers, and private-sector clients in the hotel and food and beverage industries.

At the launch, Grant Mackay from Destination BC referenced our goal for British Columbia to be the most highly recommended destination in North America. We can’t do that without offering our guests exceptional service – a tradition that started over 32 years ago, and continues to this day.

Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of BC, talked about the excitement of Expo 86 and how if you “take the experience and extrapolate it to 365 days a year, that’s the life of a tourism professional.” I couldn’t agree more. What makes me such a tourism nerd is that I get to share this province with visitors, and help shape the strategy that makes us great, but more importantly I get to share my enthusiasm for BC with the world.

“Beauty is not what sets us apart,” he added. “It’s the service by well-trained professionals that turns visitors into advocates for our province.” Hear, hear.

I’m going to take my exuberance at meeting Expo Ernie into my SuperHost training at a local hotel this month, because #bctourismmatters and #superhostmatters!