Saturday, June 30

Oral history lives on through puppetry at UNESCO site

(Originally published in TOURISM)

It has long been recognized that oral history has stood the test of time among Canada’s indigenous societies as a valid historical record. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been preserving this tradition through a puppetry initiative at the interpretive centre that will become part of the regular program this summer, according to marketing director Quinton Crow Shoe:

“The puppet show is something we want to push this summer because First Nations culture is an oral culture. Many of our stories, traditions and customs are passed down orally. We have taken it a step further – successfully – with puppeteers for school groups and visitors, and we are making this a regular program during the summer for guests to enjoy.”

The heritage site has also enjoyed much success with its tipi camp, which is booking up fast. This is an adventure for all ages, but it appeals most to families or recreational groups who get to spend the night in a canvas tipi and may, upon request, be part of camp set‑up to learn the traditional methods of assembling tipis, as part of an authentic Blackfoot experience.

Company focuses on the traveller

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Good Earth Travel Adventures has kept its energy solidly anchored in the Canadian Rockies and West Coast since the company was launched over a decade ago, but what distinguishes it from others in these iconic destinations is the fluidity of the relationship the company establishes with its customers. In owner J.P. Obbagy's view, tailor-made travel… means “tailor-made” throughout:

“There are a number of self‑drive packages on our website that we use as a template for people to pick the type of vacation that they are interested in. We take those templates and modify them according to what their real interests are. Our customers tend to be people who don’t want to travel as part of a group, who seek an independent experience. Yet, they like the idea of having the assistance in organizing the trip and the support while they are travelling.

“We go through a whole interview process with them – about 15 to 20 minutes – to find out what they like and what is important in their idea of a vacation. From this interview, we create a trip proposal which goes back to them. We go back and forth making refinements until it is what they want. If they accept, we put it together and make it happen. We specialize in multiple destinations and more complicated itineraries. We don’t focus so much on single destinations (like staying in Banff for a week) because that is where we provide the best value for a complete travel experience.”

Good Earth then delivers a single package with a price that includes car rental, accommodations, meals (if requested) and activities for each location.

“They have a whole menu of activities to choose from and a few possible upgrades available. For instance, they might prefer a private guide to hiking in a small group. We are buying at wholesale and we’re building in a mark‑up that covers our services. Within that, we include the assistance in helping them choose activities and the coordination between all the destinations – plus they can phone us at any time. It is an open door policy once they book with us.”

About three to four weeks before they arrive, Obbagy says customers receive a travel package with guide books, maps with the routes highlighted and (what he calls) a TravelJournal: “It is a custom‑bound document specifically tailored for them with driving directions, instructions specific to their trip and all the vouchers that they just tear off, with tips for each destination they are visiting. When they don’t have anything scheduled, they can explore on their own. We also include special short driving tours they might want to take or short hikes, walks, suggestions for local restaurants or coffee shops. We try to focus on the local stuff and stay away from chains, so we can really get them involved in the destination.

“The one final inclusion – and one of our biggest features – is our TripConcierge, whereby customers have 24/7 access to a live person while travelling, for whatever reason. We recently had some customers who had difficulty following driving directions or a map, phoning us twice a day for guidance. Or, something may be wrong at the hotel or they may not be happy with the room; we just tell them to call us, so they don’t have to worry about it. They can go out for dinner, enjoy the evening and it’ll be all taken care of when they get back. It is the support element in what we do that is probably one of the most important reasons why people choose us.”

Obbagy is well aware of the amount of preparation work required for people who travel independently. “I know there are a lot of folks who don’t have that much time on their hands. There are many FIT companies out there doing a good job, but I wanted to hit the next level of support that would allow people to have real choice. I very much believe in the concept of being a traveller, as opposed to being a tourist. I believe that there are many people out there who understand that difference, even if it is not constantly on their mind.”

Obbagy has given much thought to where tourism operators are headed as tourism experience crafters: “I believe the future lies in being able to empower consumers to customize their experiences through automated mechanisms, because what we are doing right now is very labour intensive. Some people will use us to plan a trip without ever booking. It is frustrating. I also have found it is very important to communicate properly the value your company is providing to consumers and to be very clear on what that value is.”

With this in mind, Obbagy’s team will be launching a new web storefront later this year to properly communicate that value to consumers. “They may not be able to book everything online, but if we can tailor our travel product acquisitions in the way we are able to buy computers online right now, with the proper knowledge of what the real destination is about (not just the touristy stuff but real insight into the destination), I think that is the future.”

Obbagy has studied the power of relationships with one’s partners, and the importance of treating people fairly; he knows that some values just don’t come with an expiry date!

Having multiple activities pays off

(Originally published in TOURISM)

With its boreal location in Northern Saskatchewan, La Ronge’s Eagle Point Resort is a little off the beaten track for most prairie travellers. However, it has been doing steady business in short-haul markets over the years, according to manager Lolita Poirier, because of its efforts to offer guests a wide array of activities. “There are more groups wanting to experience different things throughout their stay. They don’t just want to stay in one of our cottages; they like to tour the area and take in activities like hiking and day tours to Nistowiak Falls. We make these activities possible for our guests."

"The operational watchwords at the resort are "never say no,” Poirier points out. “If they want it, I can get it for them. If I can’t, I’ll find the person or operator who can.” Poirier sees a trend emerging at Eagle Point towards more groups and family reunions. "Guests stay in cottages and RV sites, they eat at our restaurant, they just might do a mini‑golf tournament and may want to have a taste of the houseboat experience, or they may book one of our half‑day or supper cruises on Lake La Ronge. We are seeing a small increase in people coming from Alberta, while most of our guests are from Saskatchewan."

Making it easier for trade partners to do business with you

(Originally published in TOURISM)

CanaDream Campers president Brian Gronberg is looking forward to a strong summer, thanks to the fact people like Canada, he says, and to a forecasted recovery from last year’s challenges. “Germany is a significant growth market but all markets are reflecting growth,” he notes.

Gronberg’s mind never strays too far away from another factor that makes a world of difference in RV rental and other travel trade sectors: the need to make it easier for trade partners to do business with you. “We always work on technology aiming to make our product more accessible to our partners through their web programs. We focus on a He who gets the costumer first – wins! approach. And we make the technology work to bridge real time inventory and online bookings through our partners' sites, while supporting their efforts – and their brand – in the marketplace.”

There is one key factor in this equation that is beyond Gronberg’s control: the availability of flights to locations carrying his inventory. Even there, he remains optimistic: “There is good flight capacity to Canada this year, and this helps support awareness of Canada. In terms of our activities, the West is seeing the greatest increase, a result of that great relationship to flights.”

Communities tout cultural and heritage tourism

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Paralleling global and US trends, cultural and heritage tourism continues to grow in popularity in Canada. Not only is it among the mix of top tourism products, it is also a tourism development priority for communities across Canada, according to Grant Thornton LLP’s recently published Tourism Insights 2007 Study. Grant Thornton’s first national survey on local government and community perspectives on tourism development was initiated in response to the company’s growing number of business and government clients involved in tourism, and the importance of tourism as an economic sector in the Canadian economy.

Tourism Insights 2007 presents the viewpoints of 164 local and regional governments from multiple communities of various sizes and locations dispersed throughout Canada. The survey was completed by respondents at various levels of local and regional government of which a significant portion were chief administrative officers, councillors, and mayors. The number of senior‑level individuals who took the time to respond to the survey, as well as an overall enthusiastic response to the survey, is indicative of a strong interest in tourism development from communities across Canada. As well as collecting data, the survey sought to capture respondents’ personal accounts of issues, experiences, lessons‑learned, and best practices related to tourism growth.

Tourism represents one of the largest and strongest industries in the Canadian economy. The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) reports over 18 million overnight international visitors traveled to Canada in 2006, and spent approximately $67 billion. According to Tourism Insights 2007, tourism currently plays an important role in the economy of over 80% of the communities which responded to the survey, and will continue to do so in the future. When asked about the likelihood tourism would play a significant role in communities over the next three years, 42% indicated “extremely likely”, 20% indicated “quite likely”, and 21% indicated “likely”. On a regional basis, the majority of respondents that indicated “extremely likely” were from Central and Atlantic Canada.

A key objective of Tourism Insights 2007 was to identify emerging areas of specialized tourism opportunities in the Canadian marketplace. Respondents were asked to identify specific forms of tourism that their communities were either currently pursuing or intending to pursue. Following closely behind cultural/heritage tourism as a top tourism product opportunity for communities is sport tourism. This is not surprising as, according to the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance (CSTA), Canada’s sport tourism sector is worth approximately $2.4 billion and benefits a wide range of both small and large communities:

“The recent increase in activity in the sport tourism industry is a phenomenon that has been evident not only in major metropolitan areas, but smaller communities across Canada as well. Although major international events such as the Olympic Games tend to receive most of the media profile, the critical mass of activity in sport tourism continues to occur at the community level”.

Additional opportunities that hold the most promise for communities included nature tourism, adventure tourism, conventions and conferences, and agricultural tourism.

Respondents also indicated key barriers they face in capitalizing on tourism product opportunities and tourism growth within their communities. Common constraints included insufficient funding for planning, product development, marketing and capital investment, as well as a lack of tourism marketing plans and tourism destination management plans. Interesting regional differences also surfaced in the survey: while the above barriers were common problems across all three regions (Western Canada, Central Canada and Atlantic Canada), a lack of facilities was reported as the second greatest problem in Atlantic Canada compared to the fifth greatest problem in the other two regions.

Tourism Insights 2007 also shed light on lessons learned, best practices and opportunities in the tourism sector. A prominent best practice that validates Grant Thornton’s experience in the industry, is the development of partnerships. Respondents indicated that smaller communities can achieve greater return on marketing investment by partnering with other neighboring communities on joint marketing that promotes the regional destination, that partnerships between various levels of government are important, and partnerships between government and operators are important:

“We have formed a joint tourism partnership of municipalities in the region where we are located, and we hope that through some joint marketing efforts we can see an improvement in the number of tourists coming to our area. It is difficult for a small population town to justify spending a large amount of money to attract tourists or potential residents to our community.” (Survey respondent)

Grant Thornton has found mutually beneficial partnerships are critical to the success of tourism‑related projects, destination development and marketing. Organizations in both the public and private sectors are forging innovative partnerships to further tourism growth. Grant Thornton has observed that:
  • Businesses are recognizing the advantages of creating partnerships with other businesses to create a thriving and diverse destination, rather than viewing each other as competitors;
  • Communities are recognizing the advantages of partnerships with neighboring communities to create a regional destination with pooled marketing resources, enabling more extensive marketing, rather than viewing each other as competitors;
  • Businesses and various levels of government are recognizing the benefits of working together to develop and market their tourism products and destinations; and,
  • First Nations and non‑First Nations businesses and communities are working together to develop interesting tourism products that respond to market demand.
In summary, Tourism Insights 2007 provides a range of perspectives and many common themes on tourism development from more than 160 communities across the country. The study will serve as a valuable tool for Canada’s local and regional governments, tourism businesses, tourism associations, and tourism stakeholders with regard to identifying growth opportunities and mitigating obstacles to tourism development.

The full report and executive summary are available on the Grant Thornton LLP Canada’s website at www.grantthornton.ca.

Yukon reaps rewards of Jeux du Canada Games exposure

(Originally published in TOURISM)

City of Whitehorse tourism coordinator Sheila Dodd is gearing up for her usual tourism year with “lots of traffic on the road that comes mainly by RV.” Yukon has enjoyed steady growth on the tourism front in recent years, unaffected by crippling event like SARS or 9/11.

Explains Dodd: “People seem to think this is a place where nothing like that could ever happen, and they are entirely right. “Visitors come from all over the States, from places as far away as Texas and Alabama. But this year we also have special things happening because we have just had the Canada Winter Games here, which gave us a much bigger profile across Canada because of the exceptional air time and media coverage that came with the event.”

As a result, Dodd says, her office is getting many more phone calls and emails from Canadians who have seen Whitehorse on TV during the Canada Games and from people who know someone who participated in the games. “They are now calling to find out how to get here and what it is like in the summer. That is the change we are seeing this year, which is fantastic because tourism is our #1 industry.”

A heritage museum where guests become the “hired help”

(Originally published in TOURISM)

For several years Upper Canada Village has been offering popular youth programs that allow children to immerse themselves in 1860s life. Now adults can also become a part of village life when they participate in an “Adult Overnight Live-In Adventure.” From Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon on select weekends in 2007, adults can become 19th century village inhabitants.

Upper Canada Village marketing officer Jancis Sommerville likes to remind people that the institution has been creating trends since it came into being in 1961: “We have always offered quality and award‑winning attractions at our living history museum where all interpreters wear period costumes. We have operational mills, farms and animals, right down to the gardens, so guests are able to step into the past," she continues. "We started this latest initiative last year. Adults can now come and get into costumes themselves and actually learn how to do some of the artisans' trades, work in the mills or engage in heritage cooking activities.”

Sommerville believes this is a natural evolution in terms of product offering for the institution, and a timely one as it allows guests to become part of the museum instead of only being invited to visit. “We are just getting one step deeper into it,” she concludes.

Quebec's Eastern Townships: steeped in county living

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Quebec’s Eastern Townships region perhaps illustrates most vividly that quality of tourism experience expressed by the French word “villégiature”. "Villégiature" refers to the kind of bucolic holidaying around countryside and small villages that seem to emanate a deep sense of place – a sense of place powerful enough, it would seem, to rejuvenate the soul.

The Eastern Townships offers this, and more. The region boasts being the premier cycling destination in Quebec, with 500 kilometres of trails along the Véloroute des Cantons. (The route is divided into seven circuits designed to let cyclists enjoy the most picturesque corners of the region.) Furthermore, the Townships Trail is a new driving route that meanders around the countryside over 415 kilometres, crossing 31 municipalities from Ulverton to Bromont.

For an even more in‑depth experience of the Townships Trail, drivers can pick up a two‑CD pack which brings the region’s history to life, a history that plays a critical role in imparting a distinctive flavour to the region. After the American War of Independence (1775‑1783), the open lands that stretched along the border were surveyed by the British, and made available to exiled Loyalists from what became the United States of America. The regional architecture is heavily influenced by those first settlers, who came mainly from New England; after 1850, francophones started to settle in the region and today make up the majority of the population.

The Eastern Townships is home to quaint villages and a variety of remarkable tourism experiences where, for example, one can board the magnificent Orford Express Tourist Train and enjoy the compelling landscapes of the Sherbrooke, Magog, Eastman and Bromont regions, a pastoral landscape where mountains, valleys, prairies and lakes lend themselves to scenic enchantment.

One may also visit l’Argus Bleu, a museum dedicated to insects – with more than 1,600 species from some 50 countries – at Lac Drolet, not far from Lac Mégantic. At l’Épopée de Capelton/Capelton Epic (formerly Capelton Mines), visitors can go on a Tour du Prospecteur (Prospector’s Tour) and on Visites Nocturnes aux Flambeaux (Underground visits by flaming torch) in a decommissioned 140‑year old copper mine.

Reflections of an almost exotic heritage

This summer, at the Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, there will be workshops showcasing the craft of the cooper (barrel maker) and a new exhibition interpreting the harvesting of cork and how it is made into stoppers for wine bottles. There will be numerous activities this year throughout the 14 wineries along the Eastern Townships’ Route des Vins (Wine Route).

At the Village of Fitch Bay, romantics at heart can discover Bleu Lavande, the leading lavender producer in Canada with 220,000 plants. The company has added 10 new cosmetic and culinary products to the items on sale in the boutique for 2007. Every Tuesday in July and August, visitors can picnic in the lavender fields while enjoying the soothing strains of classical music: Les Mardi Bleu Classique (as the concerts are called) are produced in conjunction with the Centre d'Arts Orford.

It is fair to ask what factor has led to such a blossoming of regional tourism experiences in the Eastern Townships. We contacted Melissa Provencher of the Manoir Hovey at North Hatley. The Auberge Ripplecove & Spa and Manoir Hovey are two five‑star inns located on the shores of Lake Massawippi, just over one hour southeast of Montréal and 20 minutes from the Vermont border. The two institutions are launching a joint biking package in May, for which the inns' chefs will prepare a gourmet lunch of local delicacies, packed into an insulated picnic backpack (itself a gift included in the package price). By night, guests will enjoy guilt‑free gourmet dining at the inns' dining rooms, both of which overlook opposite ends of Lake Massawippi. After two nights at the first inn, guests will leisurely bike their way to the second inn along scenic back roads while their car and luggage are transported by valet service and await their arrival.

Provencher says the package can be tailored for people of all ages because the distance traveled is established by cyclists themselves: “We planned for about 20 kilometers from one inn to the next to get from the Manoir to Ripplecove Inn and Spa. For cyclists with ability for greater distances, we help them with their itineraries.

Diversifying the market

"We expect most people to come from Montréal, Québec or other points of origin," she continues. "Our inns have traditionally attracted quite a few people from the US, perhaps fewer for the cycling package. We are just starting with this package, but about 60% of our guests used to originate from the US and 40% were composed of Quebeckers, Germans and Europeans in general.”

Provencher says that with the exchange rate being the way it is (against the American dollar), there are fewer US visitors to the region and the effects are felt in nearby villages: “I have noticed some of the gift stores that rely on tourism have closed in places like Knowlton and Sutton, so we must continue to tap into the unique character of our villages to find new revenue streams. From the perspective of our inn operations, the reason why there seems to be so much going on in the Eastern Townships on the tourism front is a need we feel to reach a younger audience that is passionate about our roots because we are very much a historical village."

Provencher continues: "We are working hard to lure younger consumers while maintaining the relationship we enjoy with our regular clients who have been coming here for the last 20 years. It is like in any sector facing economic sustainability challenges; we must show innovation and we are coming up with new ideas and packages so we can acquire these new clients.”

Fortunately, Provencher says, the Eastern Townships region is putting extra emphasis on promoting regional products. Such products are inspired by culture, worldviews, landscapes, livelihoods through the ages, and the contrasts between what consumers experience in their day‑to‑day life, and the experiences enjoyed by folks who inhabit host destinations. Tourists seek a chance to become temporary inhabitants, where they are exposed to pleasures they can’t enjoy at home.

The Eastern Townships, it seems, can deliver these experiences, and deliver them with confidence and authenticity.

RV rental company gives consumers a break

(Originally published in TOURISM)

High fuel costs are prompting at least one RV rental company to come up with ways to give travellers a break on their final holiday tally. For a limited time only, Cruise America is offering a discount mileage special on all rental reservations made at any location in the US or Canada for travel through the end of 2007, according to a company release.

“The last thing we want Americans to do is cancel vacation plans over high prices at the pump,” says Mike Smalley, vice president of operations for Cruise America. “With this discount mileage special, families will still be able to afford the vacations and RV road trips they’ve earned – without cringing every time they fill up. At just 16 cents per mile, down from the standard rate of 32 cents per mile, this discount will more than offset increasing fuel costs.”

The release quotes a May 2 report by the Washington‑based think‑tank "Civil Society Institute", which suggests that 46% of Americans plan to cut back on summer and holiday travel in 2007 if gas prices reach $3.50 per gallon. With the US average now at $3.10 and some areas of California reaching $3.49 already, that price appears inevitable for much of the US.

Cruise America acknowledges in the release that the rise in gas prices isn’t the only subject on the minds of travellers: “As ‘green’ becomes a household term and carbon emissions data turns into water‑cooler conversation,” Americans have become increasingly concerned with their impact on the environment – particularly their travel habits.”

The release quotes George Monbiot in the May 7 edition of The Nation who notes, “the effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses released by jets during air travel are around 270% higher than those of average emissions caused by driving the same distance.”

This piece of common wisdom is regularly used by RV tourism promoters. However, the Cruise America release does not state whether Monbiot (a well‑known UK journalist and environmentalist) issued his comment as an official endorsement of RV touring as an alternative to flying.

Airline offers carbon offset option to its customers

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Air Canada is offering customers the choice to reduce the environmental impact of their travel in cooperation with Zerofootprint, a not-for-profit organization operating carbon offset programs.

"Air Canada is committed to giving customers the opportunity to reduce the environmental effects of their travel," said Charles McKee, vice‑president of marketing at Air Canada. “We not only want to make it possible for people to make good environmental choices, we also want to play our part in addressing climate change."

McKee explains that by working with Zerofootprint, Air Canada will make it easy for people to calculate the impact of their journey and “mitigate those effects with a small, voluntary additional payment to support environmental projects which reduce greenhouse gases."

According to the carrier, customers booking travel on Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz or their regional partners through www.aircanada.com will have an option to purchase a carbon offset for their trip. The website will display information about carbon offsets for customers; it will feature a calculator to determine the amount of carbon dioxide their trip will generate, the cost to offset it, and it will provide a convenient way to pay the cost of offsetting their trip either with their ticket purchase or at another time.

"Offsetting makes a real difference to the environment in three important ways," said Deborah Kaplan, Executive Director of Zerofootprint. "It balances out climate‑changing carbon dioxide that is put into the atmosphere by our activities, it highlights the environmental cost of goods and services we buy, and, when you offset with trees, it restores ecosystems, habitats, watersheds, greens communities and creates jobs."

Among other measures it says minimizes the environmental impact of its operations, Air Canada has instituted an active weight reduction program and adopted more fuel‑efficient procedures for take‑offs and landings, reduced engine usage on the ground during taxiing and ground delays and cut fuel consumption in the air with more efficient flight plans.

Morever, Air Canada says it has expanded its on‑board recycling program, employed hybrid technology for ground support vehicles, and continually upgraded its fleet (most recently with the addition of new Embraer and Boeing 777 aircraft, with a resulting 28% improvement in fuel efficiency since 1990 and 82% since 1970.

Usage of feed grain and forage listing service picking up

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food’s Feed Grain and Forage Listing Service remains available to match producers with feed for sale with those with a feed shortage.

The service is available to farmers throughout Saskatchewan, as well as those from neighbouring provinces and states like Alberta, Manitoba, Montana and North Dakota – all at no charge to users.

The tool also provides postings for popular custom farm services such as grazing and feeding, cutting and baling, seeding, spraying, trucking, combining, grain drying and manure hauling.

“The season usually starts with the standing crops that are for sale,” said Andre Bonneau, a Forage Conversion Specialist with SAF. “I’m getting the sense this year that there is more interest in putting up custom grazing listings.”

The listing contains interactive maps that enable users to see, by rural municipality, where there are postings for available baled forage, standing forage, feed grain and various custom services. A complete listing for the entire province is also accessible.

“The nice thing about it is you can look at the whole province and compare prices,” Bonneau stated. “You can also get very close to home, to the point where you may very well know the person who is selling to you through the site.”

To advertise a product or service, or to browse the listings, internet users can visit the SAF website at www.agr.gov.sk.ca and click on “Feed Grain and Forage Listing Service” under the “Programs and Services” link.

Farmers who do not have internet access can call SAF’s Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to have items posted for sale on their behalf or to have a copy of the listing sent to them.

For more information, contact:
Andre Bonneau, Forage Conversion Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 694-3721

Irrigated pastures offer many benefits to producers

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

With the expansion of the livestock industry in Saskatchewan, many producers are searching for new ways to meet their forage and pasture needs. Depending upon the region of Saskatchewan in which they reside, irrigated pastures may be a good option for them.

Charlotte Ward, a Forage Development Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food, states that a good irrigated pasture in Western Canada can produce more than 25 times the forage per acre that native grassland yields, and seven to 10 times more forage than cultivated dryland pasture.

“Irrigated pastures may still experience yearly and seasonal variations in forage yield and quality, but not to the same extent as dryland pastures,” Ward said. “The greatest potential for increased forage production is on good, well-drained soils where water supply is not restricted throughout the growing season.”

Grasses are quite often used as the basis of irrigated pastures because they are predictable and easy to manage. Legumes such as alfalfa have also been included, since they provide added nutritional value and decrease the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Using a legume such as cicer milkvetch eliminates the risk of bloat, which may be a concern if livestock are grazing young, vegetative alfalfa.

“Pastures need about 60 centimetres of water during the growth season,” Ward noted. “Very few areas in Saskatchewan can meet that requirement without the use of irrigation.”

On established pastures, the amount of water applied at once will depend upon the system’s capabilities. Ward says most producers have their systems set to administer between three-quarters and an inch of water in one application, usually applying 12 to 14 inches of irrigated water throughout the growing season.

“Because soil’s water-holding capacity varies with soil type, irrigation strategies will have to account for the fact that grasses get most of their water from the top 30 centimetres of the soil,” she said. “As a result, in sandy loam, the soil may only be able to hold a four-to-six-day supply of water to that depth at the peak demand of the season.”

It is also recommended that irrigation be timed to occur after grazing, haying or fertilizer treatment in order to ensure that moisture stress does not limit pasture regrowth. Watering can occur while cattle are grazing other paddocks to ensure that the soil-water capacity is being met.

On grass pastures, multiple nitrogen fertilizer applications will be required to maintain high yields. If legumes are included in the pasture, nitrogen fertilization will favour grass growth and decrease the quantity of legumes in the pasture. Pastures which contain at least 50 per cent legumes should not need nitrogen fertilization, but may require phosphorous and other nutrients if soil tests reveal deficiencies.

“Producers will want to carefully weigh the cost of fertilizer and application in relation to additional forage and animal production,” Ward noted.

Intensively grazed systems where livestock are moved frequently provide an opportunity for greater overall animal production per acre compared to extensively grazed, irrigated pastures. According to Ward, the timing of rotations is important to maximizing productivity.

“If cattle are allowed to graze forages too close to the ground, recovery after grazing will be delayed. If cattle are allowed to graze too lightly, forages will mature too quickly before the next grazing cycle,” she stated.

“A number of producers have had success limiting cattle to only two to four days worth of pasture at one time, which allows for longer plant recovery periods compared to pastures that are allowed to be grazed for durations of greater than a week.”

Some producers divide their pasture into multiple paddocks to allow for management of surplus forage in the spring. Another strategy to maintain the same herd size throughout the grazing season is to set aside one-third to one-half of the pasture area to be harvested once as silage or hay. This will allow usage of the forage before it is fully mature and allow timely regrowth for grazing later in the season.

Another suggestion is to avoid grazing while the ground is still wet from irrigation. “Grazing wet ground will result in greater trampling and soil compaction, and may lead to a loss of desirable species,” Ward said.

“Also, as with all grazing, herd health must be monitored continuously, as concentrating livestock on a small area may lead to an increase in the incidence of diseases such as pink eye or foot rot.”

For more information, contact:
Charlotte Ward, Forage Development Specialist
Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food
Phone: (306) 867-5559

Partnership a win-win for agri-businesses and students

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A sustained partnership between the Saskatchewan Council for Community Development (SCCD) and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) will continue to benefit both the provincial agri-food sector and post-secondary students this year.

Since the demand is high in the agriculture and agri-food industries for individuals with knowledgeable and creative marketing skills, the SCCD and the U of S are once again teaming up to provide agri-businesses with the opportunity to have a professional business and marketing plan crafted for their operations.

SCCD Value Chain Specialist Bryan Kosteroski says the demand for marketing skills is coming from a positive place.

“The agri-food industry in Saskatchewan is growing. A lot of product development has happened, and these companies are now looking at developing marketing strategies to move their commercialized product to the retail marketplace,” he said.

The program, the Agri-business Student Business and Marketing Plan Program, allows enterprises to access a comprehensive but affordable business or marketing plan, while at the same time allowing

U of S students to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Kosteroski says that is a win-win for both the students and the businesses.

“The students are doing a great job on these marketing plans. They are a stepping stone for the development of more in-depth marketing plans, so they are also giving some good focus to Saskatchewan agri-food companies,” he stated.

The plans are formulated by third- and fourth-year U of S students from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources who have studied this area of expertise. The students work alongside the clients to structure a plan that is tailored to the individual needs of their specific enterprise. The initiative is supervised by professors Bill Brown and Tom Allen.

The program will expand this year to include 15 business plans and 15 marketing plans produced in each of three upcoming school terms.

Participating businesses will pay $250 of the $500 total cost of the service, with the other $250 subsidized by SCCD through funding from the federal Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Saskatchewan (ACAAFS) initiative.

A further opportunity for both agriculture and agri-food businesses and the students is the new partnership between the Agri-business Student Business and Marketing Plan Program and the Agri-Value Marketing Internship Program funded by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF). This valuable link will connect graduates of the program with businesses looking for marketing assistance.

The Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP), which is administering the initiative on behalf of SAF, will keep a database of names and contact information on U of S graduates that businesses will be able to access when seeking employees.

Application forms for the Business and Marketing Plan Program will be available on the Value Chain section of the SCCD website at www.sccd.sk.ca/valuechains. More information is available by contacting SCCD toll free at 1-800-641-8256 or by e-mailing info@sccd.sk.ca.

Agri-food businesses requiring more information on the marketing assistance available through the SAF-funded Agri-Value Marketing Internship Program can visit the STEP website at www.sasktrade.sk.ca or call 1-877-313-7244.

For more information, contact:
Bryan Kosteroski, Value Chain Specialist
Saskatchewan Council for Community Development
Phone: (306) 975-6851
E-mail: kosteroskib@sccd.sk.ca

Grants available for rural women to make positive changes

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

Grants are now available to rural and farm women who are willing to take action and make positive changes in their communities.

The main goal of the Rural Women's Issues Committee of Saskatchewan (RWICS) Action Grant program is to enable women to address the main concerns of their specific communities, create a vision and a plan, and then put that plan into action locally. Further steps include interacting on a provincial or national level to realize those visions on a larger scale.

RWICS released a report in 2004 entitled "Rural, Remote and Northern Women's Health," encompassing a study conducted across Canada. The report contained a number of recommendations to increase the body of research pertaining to rural and farm woman.

It was found that the role of rural and farm women often consists of a triple or quadruple workload, including duties such as care giving, managing farm employment, helping on the farm themselves, looking after the household, and contributing to the community.

One of the key concerns identified was that the health of rural and farm women is often adversely affected by where they live. "Negative effects such as lack of confidentiality and fewer choices for services play a part," said Joanne Havelock of RWICS. "In rural, remote areas, women are also more dependent on primary industries, which tend to experience a variation in income and often income difficulties. This has proven to be very stressful for women."

To further explore the area, RWICS organized several workshops that were held in the province over the past two years. These workshops looked at the concerns brought on by the report and uncovered further challenges that rural and farm women commonly face.

Among the topics discussed were leadership and networking among women, focusing on caring for themselves, the farm income problem, community kitchens, the environment and recycling, and the need to build links between farmers and city consumers, seniors and youth of all cultures.

"The women involved showed a great appreciation to get together, talk out these issues, and think about what they might do to act on them in a positive way to create a positive change," Havelock said.

"Our intent in providing the grant program is to give women in those communities an opportunity to take that action and start making those positive changes required for their local community."

Grants vary from $250 to $500 per project. "With these amounts, we are not expecting a huge initiative, but some local action that relates to the issues identified in the workshops," she added.

The type of projects that will receive funding will be focused on creating positive action towards a situation that enhances the wellbeing of women and their communities.

Havelock says it is important to give rural women a chance to do something that focuses on their needs. "Rural women are doing a lot of things for other people. I think they appreciate that role, but we need to look at issues from their viewpoint," she stated.

"These grants will give them an opportunity to work locally and to address some of the issues facing rural communities that have been identified as being significant."

Over 300 recommendations were generated by participants at the workshops. The report from the exercise is posted on the Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence website at www.pwhce.ca. Readers are also able to look at the specific report for their particular area.

Rural and farm women who are interested in applying for the grants can contact Joanne Havelock at (306) 585-5727 or e-mail pwhce@uregina.ca. A short application package will be sent to them.

The final deadline to apply for funding is September 14.

"It is important that rural and farm women have a voice and that the diversity between them is used to promote positive changes in their local communities," Havelock said. "This program is giving women the opportunity to do just that."

For more information, contact:

Joanne Havelock, Policy Analyst
Rural Women's Issues Committee of Saskatchewan
Phone: (306) 585-5727

Saskatchewan fruit orchards: enjoy a mouth-watering experience

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

The time of the year has come to prepare for a mouth-watering adventure. The Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association (SFGA) is once again presenting its annual Summer Tour and Field Day, to be held on July 7.

The event focuses on bringing awareness of the province’s commercial fruit orchards.

This year, the tour will highlight two farms in east-central Saskatchewan: one in the Preeceville area and one near Yorkton.

The first stop is Fatikaki Farms of Preeceville, owned by Pat and Jeanette Meerholz and managed by Herman Meerholz. “The farm offers quite a site – over 60 acres of Smokey, Thiessen, Honeywood and Martin saskatoons,” noted SFGA Executive Director Charon Blakley.

The farm also grows five acres of Valentine, Evans, Carmine Jewel and Mongolian sour cherries, and one-and-a-half acres of blue honeysuckle, as well as apples for their personal use.

A variety of equipment will be displayed, including a mechanical harvester and a tree planter, plus other equipment required for orchard management.

After a lunch served at Chris’s Place in Preeceville, attendees will head to the second stop, Prairie Dome Strawberries just outside of Yorkton. The farm is owned and operated by Elwin, Marie and Tonia Vermette and Kirk Flaman, and features a variety of fruit.

Attendees will experience the two-and-a-half acre deep-planted Smokey and Martin saskatoon orchard in various production stages, as well as two acres of newly planted and five acres of established Kent and Cavendish strawberries.

The farm will also display several pieces of equipment, including a complete line of strawberry production equipment, saskatoon spraying equipment, and drip and overhead irrigation systems for strawberries.

The tour welcomes both SFGA members and non-members. Blakley stated that the purpose of the event is to create a hands-on experience for individuals. “They will learn what it takes to grow a successful orchard and see how an established orchard functions,” she said.

“If individuals are looking to establish their own orchards, they will be able to take some good information home and apply it themselves. Even experienced fruit growers find they can pick up a few tips.” Individuals will also have a chance to speak with other attendees during the tour and learn from their experiences.

The tour will be led by Clarence Peters, the provincial specialist for fruit crops with Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food.

“Individuals who have an interest in growing fruit and would like to learn more about what it takes should attend the event, as well as those who are just interested in taking a look at the processes used to establish a fruit orchard that grows produce available to the national consumer,” said Blakley.

The SFGA has been incorporated since 1988, and currently has over 150 members. It is a grower-directed association dedicated to the production and marketing of premium quality Saskatchewan-grown fruit, and the development of a strong and vibrant fruit industry.

To meet industry needs, the SFGA works with researchers, government, processors and consumers. They collaborate with these stakeholders on research, market development, quality standards and other initiatives.

If you are interested in learning more about the SFGA or registering for the annual Summer Tour and Field Day, visit the association’s website at www.saskfruit.com, or call toll-free 1-877-97-FRUIT (1-877-973-7848).

For more information, contact:
Charon Blakley, Executive Director
Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association
Phone: (306) 743-5333

Sunday, June 24

Looks like the makings of a fine summer

(Originally published in TOURISM)

If 2006 seemed the year of increased hardships for travellers and the industry, 2007 brings with it a fragrance of careful optimism after some rather acrid whiffs. To get a sense of the general mood for what is hoped to be a period of renewal, we have asked a few industry members about what developments prevailing winds may bring on the eve of yet another summer.

Lynn Flury, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn in Saskatoon, describes the coming summer as “looking pretty solid”:

“One of the things we rely on in this market (particularly with downtown hotels) are those national conferences that tend to come in the summer. It is very difficult to predict leisure travel at this point in time but I expect it will be strong, based on what we are seeing across the country. We see a significant amount of US travel on the business side (Hilton is such a strong brand in the US). We have seen a strong economy in Saskatoon in the last couple of years; if it continues to be strong, we will continue to see strength in our sector.”

A sentiment echoed in Alberta by Pierre Frigon, director of marketing and group/leisure sales at Jasper’s Sawridge Inn and Conference Centre:

“Our summer is going to be awesome. We are expecting fewer US travellers than ever before and more from Alberta than ever before. Our leisure peak is from June 15 to September 30-October 15 (on either shoulder of that is conference business). Jasper National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and to commemorate this, a play around the theme of water conservation will be staged in the ballroom which is under-utilized in the summer time.”

You might remember the fury of the storms that hit Vancouver’s Stanley Park this winter? Gerry O’Neil of Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours hopes visitors to Vancouver won’t think there is nothing left of the world-famous attraction:

“We have roughly between 5000 and 8000 trees that came down, and as a result there was substantial media coverage around the world. This has led to a number of tour operators calling to ask if things were still a 'go' for us. People should bear in mind the destruction affected less than 1% of all the trees in the park, in very concentrated areas away from where our tours run. We have advised those tour operators who have called of that; I am more concerned about those who haven’t called. It is still a bit early to say but all indications are there won’t be a drop. We had a good increase last year, with 12% more in sales than the previous year.”

For David Pancoe of Northern Soul, a Manitoba canoeing experience operator who has invested his marketing dollars strategically, there are signs of pending rewards:

“Deposits are coming in. I am following up on all the inquiries from the trade shows and things are falling into place, especially with guests from the UK. That is where I have seen my biggest leap in growth. I attribute it to the tradeshows I have been attending and to the availability of direct flights from London to Winnipeg.”

Industry veteran Paul Leeson of Purcell Mountain Lodge in BC offers this candid analysis of the trends he is witnessing:

“There is a bit of optimism, but the bookings are still not back to pre-9/11 level. The crawl back is very much slower than we anticipated; we are at least a little better off than we were last year. I don’t want to blame everything on 9/11; I think there was a perfect storm going on. There is a huge growth in the adventure and wilderness travel product and I really don’t think demand has caught up. Will it catch up? I don’t know. Globally, there is such a menu of adventure travel product and with the expansion in the industry in the last 10 years, no wonder some of us aren’t full anymore. Our focus now is on the travel industry itself, on packaging and small group kind of tours. This is what has to happen; our FIT is just not recovering and we are going to have to have better partnerships and relationships to make some inroads. We have had some success with Japanese group and other specialty hiking groups; we can’t just rely on North America anymore.”

Rudolf Hegetschweiler, commercial director at Victoriaville-based Misa Tours International, sees some encouraging signs of recovery. His markets are mainly European:

“It is shaping up to be a year more like 2005 than 2006, which hit us like a ton of bricks. We made it through that and things are looking up with increased bookings. Is this due to the stabilization of world currency markets? Is it because people have learned how to deal with fears and the stress of going through airports? I believe people have been forced to become more frugal about their travel plans in the last five or six years and stayed home because of that. The pressure to fulfill travel plans is getting stronger and they feel the urge to make them happen or to forget about them altogether.”

Nathalie Blouin is with Québec Maritime. She often gauges what the summer will look like by taking stock of what Europeans are up to:

“Because Europeans book earlier than short haul markets, we often get a sense of what the summer will bring by finding out what overseas visitors are doing. Reservations are coming along nicely. We recently attended the Salon Mondial du Tourisme in Paris with the CTC, where we really felt the longings of French-speaking Europe for experiences in natural environments. With our national parks, the marine mammal viewings we offer across our region, the sea kayaking and hiking opportunities, we are well positioned. The demand for these experiences shows no sign of tapering off anytime soon.”

Nunavut tourism industry representatives will be the first to point out that cruising experiences are a good way to see a greater portion of the territory at one time (rather than flying from community to community). Dugald Wells couldn’t agree more. He is the president of Cruise North. Cruise North’s expedition vessel is the Lyubov Orlova:

“The ship is our means of transportation, but we use it as a platform from which to launch Zodiaks and get ashore, hike and engage in wildlife viewing activities. We are in our third year of operation; we focus exclusively on Canada. Most trips are 8 nights long only. We include the airfare out of Montréal; the airline is a sister company also owned by the Inuit. This summer, we are looking at doubling the number of bookings. Last year, 10% of our business originated from overseas. This year, almost 70% of our business will come from there, mainly from France and Germany.

“On the operational side, we are working assiduously to get more Inuit people involved in the business. We have 14 Inuit staff on the ship this year and we are doing a lot of training for hospitality, first aid, advanced first aid and Zodiak driver training. This is a big part of what we do and why people enjoy the trips so much; the authentic Inuit experience here is simply about spending time with Inuits as opposed to featuring Inuit people as living artifacts (like being in the presence of a famous carver). Our guests get to know the Inuit at a different level when they are being driven around by them in Zodiaks.”

Product Development: What makes a boutique hotel?

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Indeed, just exactly what is a boutique hotel? Christiane Germain, a trailblazer in the boutique sector, recognizes there are many definitions of the concept. Germain is CEO of Le Groupe Germain, which operates several hotels in Québec, Montréal and Toronto, and she has this to say:

“I would characterize a boutique hotel is an establishment which exhibits more of its personality, through a more conceptualized layout and a better‑defined style,” she says. “Boutique hotels come in all shapes and sizes, but perhaps those that best fulfil what the boutique concept evokes succeed by being reflective of the longings of the individuals who prefer this type of establishment.”

There are other aspects, sensitivities and research elements that must be taken into account in the operational development, Germain continues, but once the product exists, the service component must be harmonized with the property: “Guests will expect a certain polish there. This is something members of the staff can help achieve; staff members impart to the establishment the kind of well‑honed atmosphere that resonates with the feel of the place itself.”

Germain’s insight is the product of a relatively young family tradition with roots in the Québec City area, dating back to 1988: “We opened our first hotel, the Germain‑des‑Prés, at Sainte‑Foy, after we had visited Morgans Hotel in New York City.” Opened in 1984, Morgans Hotel claims to be the original boutique hotel. “We very much liked it,” admits Germain, “and we were inspired by its elegance. We realized there was potential for something similar to it in Québec that would render some of the local authenticity and would translate well to our context, without plagiarizing what we saw in New York.”

As the developmental journey within Germain’s team took shape, the true potential became apparent. “We kept on travelling to different places and found this kind of product was missing in many cases. We started to work on a second hotel, this time in the heart of Old‑Québec City: Le Dominion 1912. It would have a more luxurious touch to it than our first hotel, and it became an instant success.”

Instant success indeed: Le Dominion 1912 was named Canada’s Best Hotel (all categories) by Condé Nast Traveler magazine in 2005. Meanwhile, Le Groupe Germain embarked on an expansion initiative that would take it to new markets.

“We opened our Montréal hotel in 1999; another one in Toronto in 2003. Our objective is clear: to open a Germain Hotel in Canada’s major urban areas. We have a very unique concept with a residential component in the works in Calgary; we have plans for Vancouver; we are planning a second hotel in Toronto; and, we would love to go to Halifax. It is about bringing a certain Canada‑wide resonance to our brand.”

This is something which can ultimately be achieved only by enlisting the complicity of all Groupe Germain employees in their respective establishments, she believes: “First, we need to give our employees the right tools and resources. We need to convey to them how we value what they do. The challenge in service enterprises is to support the staff mandated to cater to other people’s needs; we address this by actively seeking employee input into the organizational decision‑making process. They are the stewards of much insight into customer relationship‑building, they often know the answers and solutions to some of the challenges we face, and they frequently identify the problems before we do. Because we engage them at this level, they feel that much more valued and appreciated.”

And this approach is not limited only to higher‑end hotels. Le Groupe Germain has another label in the works. “I don’t want to call it a chain yet because the first one is just being built and will open in Montréal in September. This new line is named: ALT Hotels.” The inaugural property will feature a series of energy‑efficient measures: heating and cooling with geothermal systems, recovery of heat from outdoor air and exhaust air leaving the building, recovery of heat from the water used in commercial washers, energy‑efficient lighting throughout, a main light switch to control all lights in the room when guests check out, geothermal hot water heaters, geothermally‑heated tiles on the ground floor, door contacts in stairwells to reduce lighting by half when not in use, among other things.

“We conceived the ALT line as an alternative to the more expensive hotel product, a segment where we find there is not a lot of differentiation between the hotels," explains Germain. "The ALT room itself might not be as large as a conventional room in that category, but there will be a much better use of the available space from a conceptual perspective. The decor will be more contemporary. There will be particular emphasis on the materials we use and on how they contribute to enrich the experience. What we have in mind is far more than an increased personalization; it involves an essential exploration of the design to impart to it a more contemporary flavour.”

Germain believes this kind of approach does not impede affordability from the consumer’s point of view. “We are just trying to give them something that has better craftsmanship to it, with comfortable beds and sheets. Even if you pay less, you don’t want the sheets to feel as though they were washed with sandpaper.”

Much of Germain’s perception was acquired through her own travels and analysis: “When we develop products, everything is related to the individual customer nowadays. When customers travel, they seek are distinctive moments; consequently, we communicate more with people, rather than with population segments. I would suggest that with us, age is not a valid frame of reference. It is more about curiosity and people’s interest in trying new things that matters. The desire to experience new decors – that is what will lure and satisfy them. We are laying the groundwork for that.

VoIP services popular in international trade

(Originally published in TOURISM)

We recently asked TOURISM Daily News readers what they thought of the increasing number of competitively priced VoIP (Voice over Internet protocol) or internet telephony services that abound right now. Responses came quickly and many shared with us their secrets about how they use Yahoo Messenger, Skype, Voipstunt and others.

Robin Banerjee is president of Call of the Wild and Algonquin Eco‑Lodge in Markham, Ontario, and he is a Skype user. Skype is a free program that uses cutting edge p2p (peer‑to‑peer) technology to bring affordable, high‑quality voice communications to people all over the world.

“We offer wilderness canoe trips in Algonquin Park and dog sledding trips in winter time. Forty to fifty percent of our clients originate from Europe; a service like Skype gives them a free way to phone us. The "Skype Me" button is always there on our web site for them to click on,” Banerjee notes.

The Skype Me mode allows everyone else on Skype to know that you are available. This includes people who you do not know you but who can find you by searching the Skype directory, or by coming across your Skype address in advertisements or through other means. Skype is very popular in Europe.

Banerjee says he has ambitious plans that will involve programs like Skype in the near future: “Our wilderness lodge is on the southern tip of Algonquin Park, where there is no electricity or cell phones. We have a waterfall and we are in the process of putting in a micro hydro‑generator where we will generate our own electricity from the waterfall. Once that is in place, I will be able to use satellite Internet, MSN and Skype, although I have been told the satellite delay will be an issue with Skype.”

Trent Schumann of Mountain Quest/Experienca in Calgary, a stager of corporate retreats, executive getaways and leadership training programs explains that this type of technology makes sense especially if your activities bring you into contact with persons in overseas locations. “We deliver programs in other countries and I have partners I work with there with whom I use Skype and MSN to talk all the time because it is cheaper," says Schumann. "I don’t use Skype to talk to clients overseas because it can be unreliable. But sometimes Skype is so clear; it is like talking to the person next door.”

Dirk Terpstra is director of marketing and sales at Canadian Travel Design, a receptive tour operator in Salmon Arm, BC. “We use Skype in order to enhance our services and to cut costs. We purely focus on the trade sector within the industry which means that our customers are travel agents and tour operators across the world. We have a directory with most of our customers and we use Skype with about 15% of them with whom we have daily contacts," he says. “What they usually do is they email their bookings to us us. If there are questions or if they would like to explain something, we use Skype a lot. Because of my sales and marketing function, I use Skype to discuss new features, brochures, new developments and to maintain relationships. Where my clients are not Skype users, I use Skype Out to call them.” (Skype Out allows the user to place calls to regular telephones (landlines or mobiles) all over the world for a much smaller fee than you would find in more conventional phone services.)

“Recently," says Terpstra, "we had an issue with an operator in the Netherlands and we wanted to discuss a couple of subjects. We spoke with two people in the Netherlands at two different locations, setting up a conference call with four people. I used Skype Out for the two in the Netherlands and one regular free Skype call for my colleague.

“We have our reservation office in Salmon Arm where we work with four people and I do most of my marketing/sales stuff from home. I visit the office once a week and when I am working from home, my Skype is on with the office at least two hours a day, giving me very regular contact with the office; I simply leave the line open, and it is like I’m always there.”

Judy Karwacki of Small Planet Consulting Inc. in North Vancouver says she uses a whole range of programs depending on the country she works with or from. “Skype also works well as a chat program, but I use Voipstunt, a system similar to Skype that allows you free calls to over 30 countries, says Karwacki. "If I am calling the UK, Australia or one of those countries, I use it because it absolutely free – you can actually call phones with Voipstunt for free.

“I have also started to use Yahoo over the internet for calling. Right now, if I look at my desktop I have Skype, MSN, Yahoo and Voipstunt open, and I am working with people in Australia, Fiji, the UK, Guyana.”

Director of sales Alain Carbonneau is in the convention management business at JPdL in Montréal. He believes these systems are a great way to save on costs. “We are sometimes on Skype conference calls involving up to 6 people located elsewhere in the world. A nice feature is that you can make transfers of large files – documents as large as 20 or 30 Megabytes – without difficulties. All the person at the other end has to do is to accept the transfer. It is works flawlessly. Meanwhile you can still be on the phone with the person.”

With Skype, when the phone rings, you have to take the call, unless you subscribe to Skype Voicemail. “Or you just write a short email to the caller to say you are tied up on another line,” adds Carbonneau, who has heard that European companies are working on a concept inspired by Skype for cell phones. “This would totally open up the current fee schedule. If this happens, it will totally change the world of phones.”

On the downside, use of Skype and all those programs, of course, can have an impact on your company’s network performance, if many are on Skype simultaneously. How much Internet telephony do you want in your business? The decision is yours to make, and there is certainly no shortage of product out there.

Americans interested in going green

(Originally published in TOURISM)

A TripAdvisor survey of more than 1,000 travellers worldwide has found that 40% take environmentally-friendly tourism into consideration when making travel plans, according to an article by Bev Fearis in TravelMole. The survey also found that 66% believe that environmentally-friendly measures in travel are making a difference.

The survey also reveals nearly 25% believe that air travel should be avoided, whenever possible, to help preserve the environment, while 38% said would pay more to take an eco‑friendly flight and 26% would pay a 5‑10% premium. However, only 3% have ever purchased carbon credits.

The accommodation sector is also on the green radar: 34% of those surveyed said they would pay more to stay at an environmentally‑friendly hotel, while 38% said they had already stayed at an environmentally‑friendly property, and 9% would specifically seek out environmentally‑friendly establishments.

A second TravelMole article – by David Wilkening – reports on an Orbitz profile of environmentally‑friendly destinations that claims 65% of Americans say it would somewhat impact their decision to stay at a hotel if they knew the hotel was using solar or wind energy to supplement the powering of the building, and 63% say they would pay a little more to rent a hybrid vehicle or stay at a "green" hotel.

Refresh, develop, and invest, say tourism experts

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Canadian tourism operators need to invest in higher-end, more unique experiences if they want to compete successfully against emerging competition elsewhere in world, according to comments included in an article by Geoffrey Scotton of the Calgary Herald (April 18, 2007).

"We need to make sure that we improve the quality of our tourism product," Rocky Mountaineer Vacations president and chief executive Peter Armstrong is quoted as saying in an address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. "The No. 1 thing that we've learned is that you can reinvent yourself and create a new product – and gain huge dividends."

Armstrong also suggests Canada's tourism industry needs to invest in order to build exciting and inviting new experiences or risk continuing to lose market share and dollars to other countries and locales. Derek Coke‑Kerr, executive director of Travel Alberta, is quoted as saying the industry does need to invest in a broader offering. "You can only market the mountains so much," said Coke‑Kerr. "The private sector needs to get significantly more involved from an investment point of view in developing additional products (and) additional attractions."

American travellers: what do they want, anyway?

(Originally published in TOURISM)

According to a recent article in Hotel News Resource, the Travel Industry Association (TIA) and American Express have released results of a landmark report profiling what Americans actually do on vacation trips, versus what they "want" to do. The Ideal American Vacation Trip report is based on a representative sample of 2,500 vacation travellers conducted online in 2006, and highlights unique travel behaviors by market segments.

’While the American love affair with the vacation trip is still strong, this research reveals that the travel industry has the opportunity to do much more to enhance the vacation experience for travellers of all ages, family types, and motivations,’ said Lisa Gregg, vice president of marketplace development – North America – for American Express. Dr. Suzanne Cook, Senior Vice President of Research for the Travel Industry Association, agreed, ’In a day and age of relatively modest growth in travel, targeting specific groups of vacation travellers is more important than ever.’

The complete article is available at: www.hotelnewsresource.com/article27027.html

CTC US campaign targets high yield consumers

(Originally published in TOURISM)

With US overnight visits to Canada declining 11% since 2002 (when Canada peaked even though US outbound was in steep decline post 9/11), these are challenging times for the US market, but the CTC is unrelenting in its efforts to feature Canada south of the border. Says US leisure marketing manager Ernst Flach: “The exchange rate, perceived border crossing hassles, WHTI and oil prices are all significant factors, but our biggest challenge from a marketing perspective is with the US traveller: Americans just don’t have Canada on the radar as a vacation destination; they like Canada as a whole, but don’t feel an urgent desire to visit.”

The CTC’s US leisure team wants to change that: “Our US program aims to make Canada a compelling place Americans will want to visit in the short term. Our program is driven by the objective of generating return on investment by targeting and converting highest yield travellers. This implies defining and targeting our best prospects, the ones who are most likely to overcome any barriers between them and Canada.”

These are the people who will spend more, stay longer and who will influence others to come as well, explains Flach. “We want them to think of Canada as a leisure destination of choice, lead them down the path to purchase with partners to close the deal. For this to happen we need to create brand relevancy," he explains. "The new Canada brand gives us an opportunity to leverage and integrate that platform not only within the CTC channels, but also by getting partners to come on board and collectively build a louder Canada voice in the marketplace as a result.”

As it stands, Flach goes on, Canada and all its partners, together, have an advertising share of voice of about 4% in the US. “So there is a lot of competition out there. Plus, consumers actively screen out advertising they deem irrelevant.”

“And looking ahead, we need to plant seeds that will generate marketing and business intelligence. This translates into pilot programs, innovative partnerships, e‑marketing leadership, and on‑going consumer research that will help us in the years to come – the desired outcome of all initiatives being increased tourism export revenues.”

The key word in the US strategy is “segmentation,” Flach points out, something which is rooted in a very research‑based approach inspired by the 2006 US Travel Study that was commissioned by the CTC: “Among other things, the study suggested we should target the US outbound traveller, a sector that is growing by about 5% a year. Outbound folks have passports; they are less sensitive to currency issues. They tend to fly, and the average people who fly spend $851, whereas people who drive spend about $379 per trip.”

Flach notes that previous visitors to Canada represent a 27% share of outbound travellers. Research indicates we should be targeting them, as “people who have been here before are easier to convert, and they have influence on people who haven’t been to Canada.”

The US Travel Study highlighted that the mid‑ to southern US states are the ones with the highest potential yield, because they are home to people who tend to fly, and there is a slight increase in passport ownership as one moves south. Add to this the fact New York, California and Massachusetts are states that are particularly rich in high yield travellers, apply the CTC’s Explorer Quotient (EQ) research, and you have quite the audience filtering tool, explains Flach: “The EQ stems from an in‑depth analysis which groups people in nine different segments based on their travel values and lifestyle motivations. In the US we will focus on three of these segments: the Authentic Experiencer, the Free Spirit, and the Cultural Explorer.”

Members of these three segments have higher passport ownership, tend to be travellers rather than tourists, and spend more: “The Authentic Experiencer is someone who wants to see or observe an authentic vacation moment. The Cultural Explorer is similar to the Authentic Experiencer, but he or she seeks more of a learning experience. The Free Spirit is just somebody who wants to have a great story when they get home, so they can brag about it and share it with their friends.”

This strategic platform will be integrated across all three marketing channels of Direct‑to‑Consumer, Media/PR, and Travel Trade/MCIT. It starts with a constant brand message that will be consistently leveraged in order to position Canada as the destination of choice.

With the direct‑to‑consumer tactics, the first step was determining where they can best be reached. “This means we will put emphasis on New York, LA and Boston. We looked at a number of counties, ranked them in terms of household income, and identified those where the foreign travel index is highest. We narrowed it down to six counties in New York, three in LA, and four in Boston. In a many instances, we drilled down to Zip Code level.

“Now that we know where the target is, the right consumer channels to reach them needed to be identified,” says Flach. “Outdoor advertising indexed high against all three of our segments. This means that in New York and Boston, commuter trains will play a role in our campaigns. In LA, where the target doesn’t really use public transit, it became clear to us that outdoor is a good brand building channel there. It generates a high number of impressions at a relatively low cost per thousand.”

Daily newspaper showed strong reach against adventurers and travellers in all three target markets, Flach comments:

“Newspapers rated high against our older and more affluent targets. For that reason, major dailies will play a role. In addition, Free Standing Inserts (FSIs) will be used again, as they are an important tactical tool for partners. This year, we will be a little more precise about where the inserts are being dropped, using Zip Codes where our targets live. Furthermore, our program is integrated from a media relations point of view, as we have a list of the writers and editors at each of those community papers where we are dropping inserts. We will be contacting them to generate content in the newspapers that will contain the Canada inserts.”

Magazines and e‑marketing will also be used. “We are spending significant amounts on national and targeted regional online buys," says Flach, "and we are in select national and city magazines, too. Of course, the much celebrated Pure Canada magazine is playing an important role in all this, as are niche‑oriented programs in gay and ski markets, while the high‑end fishing lodges campaign from last year has evolved into a luxury campaign.

“In all programs, we have made sure to create opportunities for partners to join the CTC. And the response has been terrific. “In terms of messaging, a new ad campaign we call “Intrigue” has been created. It portrays specific experiences within Canada in unusual, surprising ways which will provide inspiration for the curious traveller to learn more – and visit!” concludes Flach.

Canada’s success at ITB bodes well for the German market

(Originally published in TOURISM)

With 10,000 exhibitors from 180 countries and regions, ITB (originally known as Internationale Tourismus-Börse and held annually in Berlin) represents the full spectrum of global tourism at all levels of the value-added chain. It is therefore encouraging from Canada’s perspective to find out that the March 2007 edition of ITB – the largest marketplace in the world – yielded auspicious signs for Canada in the German market for this year.

CTC managing director in Dusseldorf, Karl‑Heinz Limberg, put it this way: “There is a definite improvement in the air. We have seen a great winter season with an increase of 14% in December and 8% in January, which bodes well. This renewed interest for our destination was reflected at ITB also, where Canada was featured in a newly‑branded pavilion that received many positive comments from both partners and visitors. We had 50 exhibitors from all over Canada, including representatives from every Canadian province and territory and some new exhibitors.”

In Limberg’s assessment, the Canadian industry can expect a slight increase from Germany after a what was a rather bad year in 2006, largely because of the World Cup of Soccer and the high Canadian dollar.

To add a “Wow” element to Canada’s participation, the Canadian Embassy hosted (for the third time) a dramatic reception in Berlin under the theme Keep Exploring. Explains Limberg: “The Canadian Embassy building in Berlin is a very eye‑catching piece of architecture, located right downtown. All the materials used to build it are Canadian. It is a rather fitting venue for an evening celebration that must compete with an array of other events around the city. Needless to say, we were proud to have 225 guests at our event, which is more or less the maximum number of people we can host at the embassy.”

Guest speakers included Canadian ambassador Paul Dubois, The Honourable Stan Hagen, BC Minister of Tourism, Sport and the Arts, and CTC president and CEO Michele McKenzie. Among attendees were some 70 Canadian exhibitors, along with German and Swiss members of the media and trade representatives from the industry as a whole – including tour operators, travel agents and incentives companies.

Limberg notes a celebrity athlete and media personality as well: “Gunda Niemann‑Stirnemann, Germany’s most celebrated speed skater, who won eight Olympic gold medals and several world championship titles between 1989 and 2001, attended the event," he notes. "Today she is a popular sports commentator on TV.” The entertainment component for the event was looked after by Chamaeleon Theatre Berlin (a German‑Canadian variety theatre company best described as a hybrid between comical chaos and Le Cirque du Soleil).

Cool gift for a cool cub: promoting Canada in Germany

Photo: Canadian Tourism Commission

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Talk about content-based marketing! A cover story, TV series and video podcast don't come along every day, let alone a tourism promotion that centres around a polar bear cub. The photogenic little fellow has received wide coverage, playing with his very own beach ball that very clearly says "Canada: Keep Exploring".

The red beach ball is a gift from the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), presented to the orphan cub at his home at a zoo in Berlin, Germany. Knut the bear hams it up for his adoring fans from around the world as one of Canada's youngest ambassadors for tourism. Raising his profile even more, Knut is the poster "cub" to raise awareness for the International Polar Year, climate change and everything green.

The CTC office in Berlin presented the ball "to thank Knut for all his good work, shining a light on Canada's amazing wildlife-viewing experiences such as polar bear watching in the northern Manitoba and the Arctic". As part of this campaign, German consumers will get a chance to win a six-night all-inclusive polar bear watching trip to Churchill, Manitoba compliments of the Canadian Tourism Commission, Travel Manitoba and Frontiers North Adventures.

Grappling with a red-hot economy: an HR perspective

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Graeme Barrit is Business Co-Chair of the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) and president of Coast Hotels & Resorts. He spoke with TOURISM magazine during the CTHRC Tourism HR Forum in Vancouver on May 1, 2007:

TOURISM: Employee shortages are endemic in Canada, across all sectors. Strong economic growth coupled with an aging workforce are having their impact in all industries, to be sure, but are there any factors that make tourism unique in this overall climate?

Barrit: Immigration policy in this country over the last number of years has not favoured the type of immigrant who has traditionally populated the tourism workforce, so we believe our situation is perhaps exacerbated by this problem. We do indeed face an aging workforce, as well as a growth in our industry that we see as unprecedented, over the next ten years. All projections for tourism industry growth across the country are exponentially larger than they have been historically, so we don't only face a decrease in the available workforce - we also face increased activity in our sector.

TOURISM: Are there overall strategies at play to address this?

Barrit: Immigration is a short-term fix for us that may or may not translate into a longer-term fix. The CTHRC and its member organizations across the country are focused on developing tourism as a real career choice for younger folk. I would like grade ten high school students to be waking up in the morning saying, "I want to be a hotel general manager when I grow up." So, we need to educate at that level, and we need to improve the distribution of the professional credentials that we offer through the CTHRC's emerit program. Tourism needs to be seen as not only a bona fide career choice, but one where you can receive industry recognition that is transportable.

The goal must be to educate, retain and attract more people into the industry, and immigration is only one of the tools and is seen as a near-term strategy. We are very interested in developing employment opportunities in the Aboriginal sector of our population; we see that as a great untapped resource for the industry, folks we'd love to have involved in tourism and hospitality across Canada.

TOURISM: Where are the biggest challenges right now? Is it at the front-end positions (like room attendants, restaurant service) or is it at the management level?

Barrit: It is not felt as strongly at the leadership levels within the organizations. That, too, is an issue, but - for example - a hotel can get by without a manager for a period of time but you cannot get by without a room attendant for any period of time; someone has to clean that room today! So you feel it more at the line level; nonetheless, shortages are present for positions right up through the organizations. When it comes to shortages at the line level, the pain is immediate because you can't serve customers.

TOURISM: How much have wages got to do with the challenge of bringing employees into tourism?

Barrit: We have an unfortunate reputation for being a low-paying sector, but I am not sure the reality supports that reputation. There is a legacy of that, definitely, but over the last five-plus years, as an industry our rate of pay has escalated to the point where we don't believe pay is the issue. People are looking for a more complete work environment, and in a lot of cases, if you can provide that, it will outweigh a dollar difference. Important things include the respect of your peers, professional accreditation, recognition - all those things that present us as a palatable industry.

TOURISM: Talking to people who have gone through tourism management programs, at both the diploma and degree levels, I hear comments that seem to point to industry's lack of recognition for training and certification received - a sense that industry isn't willing to hire people into management positions until they have "done their time in the trenches", in a manner of speaking. Do you hear this too?

Barrit: This is similar, in some ways, to the pay issue. I think there has been a legacy of that attitude, but I think it is fading. I think people are starting to recognize the difference between the acquisition of skills and the development of leaders. Employees need to confirm they have acquired the necessary skills, but then the transition from being skills-based to becoming a leader is a very different process. Education - at some level - is one method of improving leadership skills, so it has a role, and I think you can see an evolution in that thought within the industry.

TOURISM: How is it working at the transition point where employees move from the line level to take on supervisory roles?

Barrit: The transition level from line worker to leadership is a very difficult area for all industries because that first step up is the most difficult one for many people. It is important that organizations recognize this, and provide a support network to help people with that transition. Certainly, it is the most difficult transition in the development of a career.

TOURISM: So, is there room for people to progress from the line to supervisory positions?

Barrit: Of course. There are wonderful opportunities in this industry at all levels, in all sizes of organizations. I don't believe we are a closed shop at all - no forward-thinking organization could allow that to happen within itself.

TOURISM: The CTHRC has put a lot of emphasis on emerit, the organization's training program for the tourism and hospitality sector. How is it working?

Barrit: Well, last year there were over 600 graduates at various levels of certification in the province of Alberta alone. Speaking from the perspective of Coast Hotels & Resorts, all of our employees, as part of their probationary period, complete their emerit certification in their area of expertise. I think the program is very well used by people who recognize its value. It helps with retention, and shows a commitment on the part of employer and employee alike that they have taken the time to do the training. I'll give you one example: we recently employed a restaurant manager in one of our hotels, and when I met the young woman, she was most proud of the fact she had - of her own volition - completed all of the necessary emerit certification online while she was on maternity leave and was looking forward to coming back into the workforce. How can you say "no" to someone like that? And it's great example of people's faith in the emerit program, and having it online is a great advantage.

TOURISM: Senior governments recognize that human resources are a huge issue - in all sectors - these days. Are they investing enough in tourism training?

Barrit: Well, of course, the simple answer is that there is never enough money from government, but the reality is that as an industry we get our share. We are not at all disadvantaged compared with other sectors.

TOURISM: Thank you!

Americans concerned about their image abroad

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, contends that travellers are more afraid of US government officials than they are of the threat of terrorism or crime. A Discover America survey has found that – by a margin of more than two to one – the US ranked first among 10 destinations that included Africa and the Middle East as the most unfriendly to international travellers. Foreign tourists were worried they will be detained for hours because of a simple mistake or a mis-statement at a US airport; even accessing a visitor's visa appears to be becoming time-consuming and problematic.

The Discover America Partnership is an effort led by some of America’s foremost business leaders to strengthen America’s image around the globe, recognizing that public diplomacy is not the sole responsibility of government, but also of business and the American people. The partnership aims "to empower the American people as our greatest ambassadors – by increasing their opportunities to interact with international visitors. With each new visitor, we have an opportunity to share what is best about America – our diversity, our energy and our optimism."

In a presentation to the Pacific Asia Travel Association Board (PATA), meeting recently in Vancouver, Freeman noted that these perceptions stem from the US government's security responses to 9/11, and called for travel‑friendly improvements such as enabling entry visas to be processed in 30 days or less and a world‑class entry system in which visitors are processed in 30 minutes or less.

Freeman says one factor that consistently stands out is the perception foreign travellers are no longer even welcome to come to his country; he is calling for a targetted promotional campaign to reverse these negative perceptions. Freeman's comments were received with considerable interest from PATA delegates in attendance; some delegates saw the possibility many potential overseas visitors may even be postponing visits to Canada which might otherwise have been part of a larger North American holiday.