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Flashback - From the 1st Air & Marine Tourism Conference
by Air HIghways and BC Scene Magazine, Vancouver, BC

Hotel and Tour Packaging
by Kevin Walker

I grew up cleaning swimming pools and making beds, as far back as I can recall, it was part of my upbringing. I remember a time 18 years ago, when my father, grandfather and myself were all sharing desks at the same hotel. The significance of this, is that family hoteliers today seem to be somewhat of a dying breed, as hotels are more and more becoming corporate entities." In addition to the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Walker is owner and General Manager of Pride of Victoria Cruises. Launched in 1983, the company operates two 45-passenger whale watching and dinner cruise boats that sail to the Gulf Island and San Juan Islands. "It's how we strategized to advance our interests at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, and was a real opportunity in the early 1980s," he added.

"At the time, it wasn't really in vogue for a hotel to participate in a consortium of 4 different companies involved insoft adventure.Adventure Tourism has since grown a life of its own, and now we find tourism buffs very interested in exploring Eco and Adventure Tourism. It was a radical new thought, yet we could see the change taking place in the hotel marketplace in Victoria, where our Oak Bay Beach Hotel once shared exclusive rights to the upper end trade with the Empress. We recognized the need to do something a little bit different to allow people to identify us as an exciting accommodation experience."...

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Putting it all together: As several new upscale hotels entered the market, Pride of Victoria launched a modest dinner and luncheon cruise operation, with a few cruises a day just for room guests. A year later, Clipper Navigation began offering a fast catamaran service between Victoria and Seattle, which led to the birth of a local consortium. Kevin's proposal to the 3 companies was as follows. "We've got a great accommodation spot, you've got the transportation, and we also have a soft adventure component we'd like to tag on.

If we tie in a rental car company, we've really got an opportunity for a complete package for our traveling public". So, they all put a few thousand dollars into the pot and launched a successful campaign. It was the first time the hotel had diligently linked itself with other companies having different interests from those of a hotelier. "That foundation is what we've built today's success upon," he said. Walker and partners then created similar partnerships with airlines, rail tour companies and attractions. He confirmed that a very high percentage of today's customers are now packaged travelers, who know that one call to a 1-800 line sets them up for a beautiful 3 or 4 day vacation.

Views on the industry: The British Columbia & Yukon Hotels' Association represents over 600 hotels, which as Walker added, "includes everything from the CP Waterfront Center, Hotel Vancouver, Empress, Lakeland Hotel in Burns Lake, Hudson's Bay Hotel in Smithers, Inn of the South in Cranbrook, Penticton Inn, Fairmont Hot springs and others. Some might say its a very eclectic mix of accommodation products. I've just returned from a 5 week tour of BC and the Yukon, and it's quite a challenge to address the specific and quite diverse interests of our hotel members. Part of my strategy in getting to know them, is to tour the entire province, meet with hoteliers and hear their views. I have some fresh ideas of what is really taking place in the hotel sector and I must conclude that this is an industry that is clearly in transition.

Government just doesn't get it. Tourism, the greater industry we are all a part of, is clearly becoming a focal point of job creation and economic growth in the province. Yet tourism is a product that is so hard for people to clearly understand. When I say people, I speak of the many publics we are addressing as a hotel association. First of all, government has a terribly hard time to understand this thing called tourism. Governments historically, readily understand a resource based industry, such as logging, where we're hauling trees down off the mountains, turning them into 2x4s, houses or whatever else we might build. That's a very easy industry to identify."

On selling tourism: "What are we really selling when we're selling tourism? Is it good times, perhaps rest and relaxation, or maybe we're selling adventure?" As Walker added, "It's difficult to hold this product up and say, "this is what we produced today for our investment of effort, time and money. So one of the first challenges we face in the tourism industry is to be understood by our colleagues and recognized as a viable alternative to the creation of jobs, and a good solid economy for the years to come. That is clearly where we're headed, and we're privileged to be part of the process. I think its very necessary at symposiums like this, to pause and consider where we're at in the evolution or transition our economy is leading us through."

Terry's tale hits home: His name was Terry and he pulled me aside just after they'd taken their wedding vows. "Kevin," he said, "I understand you're in the tourism industry, I want to talk to you about it. I've been logging and working in the Burns Lake mill for over 20 years, and I see myself retiring from this industry. I asked myself, why do you want to talk about tourism? I've got three boys. I've been thinking about these guys, and I'm not going to give up my job at the mill for them. I don't think anybody else at the mill is going to give up their jobs. What are my sons going to do when they start looking for a job? I hated to have to send them down to Vancouver when they love it up here. Quite frankly I don't know anybody that can track moose and bear like my boys. Do you think there is an opportunity? Can I get plugged in somewhere that we could start operating some business where my boys can be the guides?

"Terry," I said, " you need to link up with somebody that's already tapped into that market. We've got Europeans by the tens of thousands, who want to buy a product like that in Northern British Columbia. Guys like you are what those wholesalers are looking for, because you're really the experts. And what better experience for our room guest from Germany have than to meet a born and raised twin brother 18 or 19 years old who's been tracking moose for the last 10 years near Tweedsmuir Park. The most wonderful thing about this, is that all they really want to shoot is their cameras, and they'll take home an experience they won't soon forget.

We are trying to get Terry linked in so that there can be some opportunity for his boys. And I would suspect there are thousands of these highly skilled individuals looking at tourism for their future. As an industry, the hotel business is primed and ready to linkup with air carriers, and marine transportation carriers. We've been working very closely with BC Ferries. One hotelier in Kamloops said to them, "You've got to get another ferry running between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy. What interest would you have in ferry way up in that part of the province.? Let me educate you. I have tour wholesalers wanting to move bus loads of Europeans through the interior of BC circling up to Rupert, back across along the islands to Port Hardy, and we can't get them on the ferry, there isn't enough capacity."

As an industry we're looking at the infrastructure and that means transportation needs, and we're looking at convenient ways of packaging these products, linking various product sectors into one travel experience for the public. I'm committed to that as our goal as an industry over the next few years. And I'm sure that will continue on into the new millennium and I appreciate that there are so many of my own colleagues sharing those same goals.
Kevin Walker
Kevin Walker is Past President of COTA (Council of Tourism Associations) and Past President BC & Yukon Hotels' Ass'n. Mr. Walker was a speaker at Air Highways Air & Marine Tourism Conference. Our site is proud to carry COTA News Reports to the industry.
Coming in this space: Kevin Walker's Comments on the state of Tourism in British Columbia from recent media interviews and talks at the BC Yukon Hotels Association Convention and the BC Business Summit, which was attended by our editors. In this same edition is Mr. Walker's personal story
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Thanks Boeing for a delightful introduction
Future of Flight Aviation Center

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The International Air Cargo Association's vision of creating a neutral forum for stimulating discussions and solutions among all segments of the air cargo industry has created the world's premier air cargo event. The 2006 edition will be held in Calgary, Canada, September 12-14

Travel Tourism Marketing Ass'n 4th Annual Awards, LA, October 11
June 15-18, 2006



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