Friday, September 21, 2012

Linking with industry through our greatest resources - students

I love where I work.  Today I attended a Cooperative Education Symposium hosted by the Campus Career Center at Vancouver Island University.  The event brought together a range of employers from recreation, tourism and hospitality to recognize the role they play in education and also to profile fourth year students case studies.  There are rare occasions where we stop and pause for a moment and recognize each others role in this complex delivery system.

Educators are not always included as agents in the tourism delivery system - yet we are responsible for producing the industry's most valued asset - great people for the labour market and research to drive good decisions with. Today's event brought those threads closer together and made the reality of our interdependence extremely obvious.

The students case studies covered a range of topics from what to do about alcohol in public recreation facilities, to global labour market, to the suitability of paintball at camps, tipping behavior, Leaders in Training Programs and volunteerism (and many more...). Well done students and thanks for sharing.

Both our President - Dr. Ralph Nilson and our Vice-President Dr. David Witty attended and provided congratulatory remarks to employers and students. This show of support for experiential education doesn't cost a thing, and yet holds so much value to employers and students. Thanks for taking time out of your day to demonstrate your supportive leadership.  And to Micki McCartney and Lynda Robinson - well done!  Thanks for taking the initiative to pull something like this together. Your report is great and your work is greatly appreciated.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pondering product development

Yesterday I had the good fortune to spend the day in the room with a collective brain trust of people from BC to ponder tourism product development.  The day was organized by staff of Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training (Tourism British Columbia). It was a super opportunity to relay a number of insights that I have gained through fieldwork, research and comparison to other destinations over the years. I know that the perspectives shared by the wisdom in the room will be helpful for BC to continue its pursuit of excellence as a destination.

Many of my previous posts touch on the topic of product development. I find that the topic is often a misunderstood concept among people in tourism.  While product is one of the "p's" in the traditional marketing sense, in tourism, it is often neglected in terms of overall strategy.  At the provincial or national level in many destinations, one can see that the majority of funding and other supports are targeted toward "promotions" as they are assumed to bring the best return on investment.  But, for many rural communities - or destinations that are at early stages of development - the product is not at a state of readiness to be able to provide consistent, high quality experiences (the actual product in tourism). And thus, from an economic development standpoint - these areas are missing out on opportunities to benefit from tourism at the local level and this potential revenue is also lost for the regional/provincial economy.  For these areas, a focus on product is vital to allow them to enter into the market and for the redistribution and circulation of financial benefits within a province.

But, it is not just about rural communities - all innovation processes rely on a commitment to continuous quality improvement. Investing into product is a requirement for all long term success of tourism destinations. Tourism experiences are dynamic and must remain responsive to social trends.  What is popular today is not guaranteed to be popular tomorrow and as such, reflection on what experiences are offered, where and for who is critical for destinations. The business world does this take up at the local and firm level, but there is a role for regions and provinces to reflect on this as well and to provide appropriate supports to enable the market to function in a way that visitors can connect to emerging products.

I am always on the watch for innovative product development supports around the world - and this is an opportunity to share a few that are worth looking at. For those that want to know more (or share others with me)- take a peek at these...

Hawaii Tourism Authority - Product Enrichment program. The HTA's Product Enrichment Program funds a number of programs supporting efforts to ensure a quality tourism product and unique experiences. Included are the County Product Enrichment Program, Community-Based Natural Resources Program, and Kukulu Ola: Living Hawaiian Culture Program.

Canadian Badlands Corporation - Canadian Badlands Ltd. (CBL) is a not-for-profit Alberta Corporation providing a new and innovative approach to creating an integrated, destination-based tourism industry in South-Eastern Alberta. CBL is the largest co-operative regional partnership of municipal governments in Alberta. The shareholders are 62 municipal governments recognizing the power of co-operative efforts to develop and implement a strategic regional tourism development plan. Check out their array of product development supports!

The US Extension System - the Public University system in the US has an extension system to provide supports for communities and regions within the University territories. I have benefited tremendously from working through Michigan State years ago, and my favourite conferences remain to be the National Extension Tourism Conferences where all of the folks who do on the ground work in product development gather every couple of years.  The range of innovative supports provided through these Universities is a great asset for all levels of government to take note of. Take note of Texas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Market readiness programs - Helping operators go from good to great and keeping the idea of innovation alive is at the heart of market readiness programs which are popular in Eastern Canada. Check out Newfoundland , and NF Labrador.

Mentorship programs - to allow businesses to learn from who they really want to learn from - successful entrepreneurs!  Check out Nova Scotia's program

Share other ideas - what do you need, what do destinations need or what do you know about that really works?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tourism, arts, culture and economic development at Global Mural Conference

I had the good fortune this week to attend a great conference on arts, culture, economic development and tourism right in my own backyard.  The Global Mural Conference was held in Chemainus, BC and the organizers assembled a great combination of speakers for the gathering.  The day kicked off with a great video on Chemainus and its evolution.  Narrated by Karl Schutz, the video tells a story of vision, leadership, community spirit and success.  I was happy to be sharing the room with so many great people, including about 9 of our graduate students from the Masters in Sustainable Leisure Management here at VIU. Their program emphasizes what it takes to create positive collective change, so to witness a local case study where all the components come together was great.

They also had the great fortune to hear from one of the most respected voices in community change - Bill Baker.  We heard Bill speak twice during the day - once on secrets of successful destinations and again later on branding.  I know many communities have benefited from Bill's work and have witnessed the influence he has had while out on my fieldwork. The day closed with an interesting roundtable session with the Mayors of Qualicum Beach (Teunis Westbroek), Parksville (Chris Burger), Ladysmith (Rob Hutchins) and North Cowichan ( Jon Lefebure).  Together, they profiled what their communities have been doing to enhance quality of life and to use tourism, arts and culture as a core economic development strategy. I found their addresses playfully competitive but at the same time, you could tell that there was a respect for one another which is the prerequisite to regional collaboration.

The intimate nature of the conference was great - it allowed people to speak to one another, walk along the streets and hear from different perspectives. The conference had a wide range of delegates from all corners of the globe.

Pulling off these sorts of gatherings is no small feat - and I want to acknowledge the effort of everyone in Chemainus that pulled this together and of the efforts of the speakers to come and share their knowledge and innovation with others. It is the best way to learn - thank you.

Photos - the MA gang with community visionary Karl Schutz and the program of the conference showing sponsors.