Wednesday, May 23, 2012

National Rural Research Network in Ottawa

This week I am heading to the Nations Capital to participate in the second National Rural Research Workshop on Policy and Research in Community Investment.  I am looking forward to the program as it brings together folks that I have connected with in the past and it will summarize some very important progress on rural research across the country.  I often feel a bit isolated working on rural research, particularly because I specialize in tourism and amenity development - two topics that are not exactly mainstream in this group.

I will post from the road if I get a chance. My talk is on Thursday where I will present "Pondering Policy and programs to support Amenity Based Rural Development in Canada". This is a presentation that combines insights on ABRD from Thomas Bergbusch, Senior Policy Advisor for Canada's Rural and Cooperatives Secretariat and my thoughts from the past two projects conducted for them.  I will post it after the conference but suffice to say, we tell the story about how a new idea like ABRD has come to be in Canada and where we have yet to go to get policy in support of a new approach to place based development for rural Canada.

I found out last night that the Royal tour is happening - maybe I will get a chance to stand in a crowd of 80,000 to practice my royal "wave"! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BC's first Economuseum - Merridale Cidery

On Friday I attended the Inauguration of BC's first Economuseum at the Merridale Cidery in the Cowichan region.  Merridale, along with the Hazelwood Herb Farm, will be piloting this innovative model in the province.

For those who want to learn more about the Economuseum model - see the International Economuseum site here. A quote from this site might help describe it best "This word designates a small, artisanal business, whose operations are not subsidized, and which is recognized for the quality and authenticity of its know-how. Open to the public, the business has special areas for animating and interpreting its art trade by means of pedagogical tools similar to those used in museum interpretation. All of the businesses are self-financed through the sale on site of traditional-style products."

I have had the good fortune to work with Pascale Knoglinger, the catalyst behind this movement making it to the westcoast, on other projects.  She has asked me to assist in evaluating the economic impact of the transition for the first two businesses in BC, to which I have agreed.

This effort piggybacks nicely with my previous post on visitor experience. The Economuseum model is based on producing consistent, high quality visitor experiences at the business level plus collaboration and business clusters.  It has shown to work extremely well in other regions of Canada and internationally. I feel very optimistic about the entry of this model into BC with both Merridale and Hazelwood and hope to see the influence permeate other operators and those involved in regional economic development within the province. Congratulations Merridale!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Maximizing Collective Returns from Tourism

On Wednesday night, I was asked to do a keynote at the Parksville and Qualicum Beach Chambers of Commerce meeting in Qualicum Beach. The two chambers have been getting their members together for seven years now and this gathering had about 170 people in attendance.  I mentioned to them that it was not common for me to see two communities at the business level, come together in this way. This emphasis on collaboration within a somewhat unique region of Vancouver Island is commendable.

I decided to focus my talk on the nature of the visitor experience vs. destination development. While I often like to focus on supply side orientations, I have noted that many stakeholders involved in "product development" often do not understand that the product that is sold in tourism is a visitor experience. So, with that, I described, using others research - what the visitor experience is really all about.  I then used this to segue and deliver the message that many destinations should stop thinking about destination development and they should focus on visitor experience development. This is a growing trend in other countries - Australia links are in the presentation) and somewhat in Canada (Traveler types EQ) and more locally, the BC Tourism Strategy is now focusing on the five stages of visitor experience.

The group was great - they had lots of tough questions for me - but overall, I think the key ideas came across. Thanks Geoff for the invite and Peter for coordinating the event. Well done and continued success.

If you are interested in the presentation - you can find it HERE.
And, I made the news - here is a good summary of my quotes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting a new generation of Canadians interested in travel in our backyard

This morning I awoke to find an email from a young French couple in my home inbox. We have taken "Worldwide Workers Opportunities on Organic Farms" (Wwoofers) to help with farm work at our place. This program essentially offers a work exchange program for individuals traveling - we provide food and accommodation and they provide work in exchange.  We've met some incredible folks over the years and I always enjoy the strong bonds we form with the travellers.

This morning, I began to get some ideas as I read the email from the young french couple. They shared with me, their blog that they are keeping while they travel - its called "how we met Canadians".  They are traveling across Canada and using the blog to record their travels and communicate with their social networks back at home.  I enjoyed their images and experiences and of course, got to thinking a bit too.  This is a common practice for travelers now, to use blogs to record and share their ideas. We know that the majority of travel decisions are influenced stronger by word of mouth and "opinion leaders".  If we put these two together, it appears rather obvious that we could be encouraging destination development a bit more by combining these trends.

What if we ran a national campaign that paid all expenses for some young couples or friends to travel across the country. In exchange, they keep a blog and record their observations and experiences.  The campaign could start with a competition to capture interest in the idea and ask for submissions from different sorts of target markets.  Folks could be chosen based on a variety of criteria, including things like: a) personality, b) travel interests, c) talents (photography, writing, cooking, outdoors, etc), and d) experience with social media.  Those who have extensive social networks in place and are recognized opinion leaders could also be sought out to ensure that their experiences travel broadly back to the intended markets. This is not my area of expertise - but we have a whole generation of people who can advise on constucting something that works.

Investing in this sort of campaign would not only be creative, it could also spark an interest in Canadians traveling within their own country - a trend that could have long lasting benefits for tourism in rural areas. It appears to be started with young couples like the ones that contacted us - let's consider incenting it further.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Equestrian tourism in BC: France Symposium

Last night at 2 am, I delivered a presentation via skype to a group of delegates at a unique gathering in Saumur, France.  The group is gathering together with about 150 delegates from 15 different countries (30 sessions) to explore "Horses, Tourism and Leisure: Continuities, Transformation and Change".  Of all the conferences I want to be at in person, this is the one! It combines my interests in horses, tourism, rural development opportunities and international dialogue. I do wish the delegates the very best and look forward to further dialogue at the Equestrian session at the upcoming International Rural Sociology Conference in Portugal in August.

My presentation was called "Equestrian tourism in British Columbia: Its evolution, current state and potential" (download here). In the presentation, I cover material that has been formed over the last couple of years with some of my undergraduate students (thanks to Alyssa, Juan, Jacquie and Alessandra).  In short, equestrian tourism is a potential niche market for BC. Much travel activity is already occuring but it is not recognized as a unique niche and strategic efforts are not being made to capitalize on the potential of the industry in a meaningful way. With a growing number of equestrians located near urban areas who are looking for things to do (and money to do it usually), this group may be worth looking at - particularly for regions that have amenities already in place (i.e. trails, event facilities).

In order to move this niche forward in BC, we have much to do to establish a common language and understanding about what exactly equestrian tourism is. To this end, my students and I propose a definition and a typology to help that along. It seemed to get a great response from colleagues at the Symposium, and I look forward to hearing how the group developed further clarity in the week.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Developing good tourism policy

Last week I was invited to speak at the Tourism Industry Association of BC to provide an overview of the Federal and Provincial Tourism Strategies with John Willow.  When Dave Petryk first asked I thought, how thrilling could that be - but to be honest, taking time to review and analyse both strategies was good for me. It reminded me of the broader 30,000 foot level that government often takes to support tourism. And, I enjoyed the discussions in preparation for the Summit that I had with John Willow who has been heavily engaged in federal and provincial tourism policy discussions in his career.

I thought I would provide the presentation and a few of my critical comments for those that couldn't attend. If you haven't reviewed the strategies - here are the links for you as well - Canada's federal tourism strategy "Welcoming the World"  and BC's tourism strategy "Gaining the Edge".

There should always be a few take aways from a presentation and the three that I wanted to leave folks with were: 1) there has to be some form of commitment and structure in place to achieve results in a good strategy; 2) government has to play a key role in developing policy for tourism and influencing policy that impacts tourism, and 3) policy has to incorporate how the industry is going to give back or protect the resources it depends on (sustainability concepts).  I don't know if I was able, in my 10 minutes - to get all these across so the lovely thing about social media is that I can do that better here!

First - the Federal tourism strategy is unique in that it clearly indicates what structures it will erect to ensure that the strategy moves forward AND it will not only ask for accountability but it will monitor its own by developing an annual report on the results gained. It embeds industry and specific government departments within the strategy which may also enable clarity and movement on the items identified.  The BC strategy falls a bit short in this respect and while it talks about collaboration, there is little commitment or clear indication of the structures that will be used to achieve results.

Second, there are two types of tourism policy - policy for tourism and policy that impacts tourism. Most recognize that one of the real issues for tourism development is that it requires many layers and different jurisdictions within government to coordinate on their own initiatives.  This point is both recognized and addressed in the Federal strategy as well - they are planning to take a "whole of government" approach to tourism using a cross jurisdictional approach.  While it talks about collaboration, the BC plan does not indicate which entities it will work with within government.

Third, both strategies fall short in "giving back" to the resources that tourism depends upon. The strategies are growth centric vs. balancing the promotion of our amenities for economic development with the protection of resources for social and environmental well being.  The "strange silence" that has fallen across the country with respect to sustainability is quite evident in both of these strategies and one cannot miss questioning its strange absence. But... that is another blog post.

Enjoy the strategies and use them to keep us all moving ahead and to fill in the gaps that exist.