Monday, May 26

D-Day for Michel Fournier's Super Jump?

By now people on site at North Battleford should be able to see helium-filled probes in the sky on the tarmac that are tethered to the ground. These will give a good indication of the wind speed. Look for a vertical line between the probe and the point at which it is tethered. That is a sure sign that a launch attempt will be made.

Michel is being weighed on an industrial scale to help establish the right amount of ballast required on the balloon.

Much of this is a wait and see game. Michel is seen here resting outside in 2003 before undergoing the denitrogenization process.

Sunday, May 25

Some information details about the balloon used in 2002 and 2003 for Michel Fournier's Super Jump attempts

The balloon used for Michel's 2002 and 2003 attempts was actually a prototype built by Cameron Balloons in Bristol, UK.

Cameron hadn't built helium balloons until then. Michel's launch team have commented that it was built more like a hot air balloon than a helium balloon and that it had an open bottom.

A remote controlled valve was installed at the top of the balloon. This was so that once Michel had reached the desired altitude and jumped -- and once the capsuled had been detached from the gondola set off by a timed explosive device triggered by Michel before he jumps -- the valve would open, releasing all the helium and allowing the balloon to gently fall down to the ground.

Inflating the balloon proved tricky in 2002. The sleeve that you see extending left from the balloon was poorly attached to the balloon. The compressed helium contained in the truck to the right is propelled into the balloon by means of high pressure hoses which are connected to the fragile sleeves.

In 2002 the pressure proved too much for the sleeve which detached from the balloon early during the inflation process. Fortunately the quantity of helium lost was minimal. The sleeve was reattached by the launch team in a more solid manner. But the unforeseen delay eventually forced the cancellation of the attempt because of subsequent inappropriate weather conditions.

As you see the sleeve is actually held tightly around the business end the hose.

You can in the picture above that the two sleeves are fully extended away from the balloon as a result of the helium having been injected. Inflation is almost complete at this stage. Look at the spool which prevents the balloon from being released. You will notice that only the top portion of the balloon is inflated. Most of the length of the balloon lies safely on tarps on the North Battleford Airport tarmac. You can see a portion of it extending to the right of the spool above.

The 2003 attempts proved the right one in terms of weather conditions, but it also proved the inappropriateness of the balloon. In this picture, the sleeves are hanging loosely after the inflation is completed.

Launch conditions are optimal. The spool flips open and the balloon starts rising...

As the balloon starts ascending, the helium rises inside the balloon and starts pushing through the top as the sutures rip open. It is a devastating blow.

The balloon falls softly back to the ground. Michel is in tears in his capsule as he realizes that his balloon has now been rendered useless. It will later go to the dump.

Launch director Ricardo Valera comes to take a closer look at this mess.

It becomes obvious to him that the balloon sutures were a weak point.

We all count our blessings that Michel is safe and sound. If the balloon had ripped open after the gondola had started to rise in the sky, things could have gone dreadfully wrong for Michel Fournier.

Saturday, May 24

Michel Fournier's team members are early risers

It seems that for all potential launches in the past, morning proved the most promising time. I am not an expert at this, but there is always this moment when the winds die down at the end of the night, a time which lends itself to launching these giant balloons. Pictured above is the original launch crane. You see how it is holding Michel's pressurized gondola. We will talk about the actual launch process later on.

Meanwhile, in the original hangar, team members prepare for the launch.

In order for Michel's world records to be officialized, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) had sent Michel Jara and Therese Tercier (right) to act as judges in 2002. They are seen here inspecting the measurement instruments. Therese is back in Saskatchewan again this year. She told me two days ago that she hopes this is the right attempt for Michel.

As the launch appears imminent, the huge wooden crate containing the balloon is pulled out of the hangar.

André Turcat has an early morning conversation with Michel.

The mood remains jovial even as it appears the wind is rising to levels which might prevent the anticipated launch attempt.

At Michel's request I had made arrangements for area emergency personnel to be on standby.

Finding a helicopter to get to Michel quickly after the jump proved a little more challenging. Fortunately, the ever resourceful Thierry Reverchon managed to track one down at the last minute.

Michel and I posing for the occasion.

It looks like this morning will not be the one. If you look closely in the background above the truck pulling the balloon, you will see that the small tethered balloons are pulling away because of the wind.

Here we see Dr. Paul Vanuxen (left) looking on alonside Michel. he played an important part in developing the scientific contributions of Michel's project.

It looks like the gondola is heading back to the hangar this time.

Le Grand Saut team members enjoy themselves at Saskatoon's Calories restaurant in 2002

These photos were taken the night I met Michel in the spring of 2002 at Calories. I heard a group of boisterous French folks behind us at a nother table. Michel charmed us with his enthusiasm. Pretty soon, I had been recruited as a Grand Saut volunteer team member.

Pictured here beside Michel is Christian Crye (left), head of Capucine Films, the company which owns the broadcast rights to Michel Fournier's Le grand Saut and has supported Michel's efforts since he undertook to bring the Super Jump to Canada.

Some background on Michel Fournier's 2002 balloon launch attempt

The capsule discretely awaits launch bearing its human payload in a hangar a the original launch site near Saskatoon.

Michel is seen here with with French photographer Rémi Benali (left) who was mandated by Gamma agency to document Michel's Super Jump.

Everyone knows by now that this has been a difficult and costly long journey for Michel Fournier. Michel's 2002 launch attempt was his first Saskatchewan-based venture. Having found a qualified stratospheric balloon launch team in the Saskatoon area, and a launch location that could be used, the Super Jump team was filled with optimism as the project sponsors arrive from France.

Project godfather Jean-François Clervoy (right) is a French astronaut who has flown three times on the Space Shuttle.

André Turcat (left) was the first/test pilot of the famous Concorde

Time for photo ops!

A smoke making machine makes for some pretty pictures. does the legendary Saskatchewan sunset with a round bale in the background to the left.

Why is it so difficult to give a precise helium balloon launch date for Michel Fournier?

Ricardo Valera Correa is the former chief of launches for the Brasillian space agency. He is Michel's launch director. It is his job to determine when the best opportunity for a safe launch is. Ricardo uses smaller helium balloons like this one to gauge wind speed of at ground level. The balloon is then let go and is tethered to the ground and rises to a few hundred feet. How much deviation from the vertical there is, gives a good indication of the wind speed over a range of altitudes, therefore providing valuable information to the team.

People often ask why it is so difficult to give a exact time for the launch? Some say that it is easy for Michel to communicate to the public that the launch is delayed because of the weather, but in reality the weather is a huge factor. The launch windows in spring and fall are very real. The challenge is very often simply that winds on the ground prevent safe deployment of the balloon. Launch team members always monitor weather conditions. They will determine when the best time to launch is through a variety of means.

Friday, May 23

A Guide to Watching Michel Fournier's Big Leap/Jump

Michel Fournier's team stays at the Gold Eagle Lodge while in North Battleford. The team will eat all its meals (except breakfasts which are self-served at the lodge) at the Gold Eagle Eagle Casino restaurant. These are two great spots to meet Michel and fellow team members over the next few days.

You have been hearing a lot lately about Michel Fournier's Big Jump, Great Leap, Super Jump, otherwise know in French as Le Grand Saut. I have had the privilege of being involved with the project since 2002, when I met Michel and his original team at Saskatoon's Calories restaurant and became a partner on the spot.

I have acted a the Canadian Manager of the project for a number of years until recently, because I believe Michel can do this. I have been instrumental in looking after some of the key logistical challenges faced by Le Grand Saut at Michel's request and that of other project insiders. Information about the project is closely guarded, as many have already commented on Michel Fournier's blog, although Michel promises to be more open about developments over the next few days.

A press conference was held earlier today in North Battleford, which has already yielded some interesting articles in The New York Times, The Edmonton Journal, The Daily Telegraph, and Le Figaro.

I endeavour to present to you in the next little while through this publication a few tips on how to follow the evolution of Michel Fournier's 2008 attempt, as in unfolds in the next few days. This will be an insider's perspective, with a view to recognizing the value of the project as a way to feature Saskatchewan on the world stage, as a place that is somewhat richer than the deserted Canadian plains that it is often being portrayed as being in the international press covering the event at the moment.

Mayor of North Battleford Julian Sadlowski is pictured here just outside the airport compound where the Super Jump will take place. Through the window (over his right arm), you can see the truck which came all the way from the US containing the helium that will be used to inflated the giant balloon. To the right of the truck is the new hangar which houses the balloon, gondola and mission control centre.
I ran into Mayor Sadlowski shortly before the press conference this morning. We had a good chat about the project and our respective University of Saskatchewan years (where coincidently we both majored in anthropology and took classes from the legendary Zenon Pohorecky). He makes no bones about supporting Michel's Big Jump because of the visibility it will bring North Battleford. This is an hospitable town with welcoming people who all want Michel to succeed. Many residents will be volunteers on the project. The city is lending Michel all kinds of resources. This is already a win/win situation for all the parties involved.

Wednesday, May 14

French parachutist Michel Fournier is back in Saskatchewan to carry out his Big Jump

It is with great emotion that we welcomed back Michel Fournier and his wife Kim on Monday at Saskatoon Airport on a beautiful sunny evening. Michel's Big Jump (Le Grand Saut) is scheduled to take place during the weather window starting on May 25th in the North Battleford area.

Upon his arrival, Michel expressed to the local press which came out to greet him how pleased he was to return to Saskatchewan, a Canadian province which has become in many ways his adoptive land.

Already local, national, and international media outlets are preparing to cover this event which will surely bring much attention to Saskatchewan in the coming days.

You will find here in English an article about our association as a partner with Michel Fournier's stratospheric ballon jump project.

You will also find here an article published in the Wall Street Journal some time ago, along with a few photographs I took over the years.

Read about Emilio's Journey to Saskatchewan to realize his life-long dream of seeing live wolves which we organized at Michel's request.

North Americans just have to travel

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Despite the many flight cancellations in April, the slowing economy, rising gas prices and the weak dollar, Americans appear to be sticking to their summer vacation plans and business travellers are still being sent around the globe, write Susan Stellin in The New York Times. The only change from last summer is the new emphasis on finding ways to cut costs.

"Leisure travel is kind of like food and rent -- it's considered an essential cost within a relevant range," said Bjorn Hanson, who follows the hospitality industry for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

By many measures, the number of people traveling set records in 2007, and those figures are holding steady so far this year. Travel agents and industry analysts report robust bookings for US domestic, international and business travel, but Hanson says companies have cut back so much since 2000 that there is not much fat left to trim.

"If you decide two days before a travel date and can't find a reservation, travel just doesn't happen," Hanson said.

It turns out that demand for travel is less influenced by the overall economy and airport struggles than all kinds of factors not easily measured -- like how much snow is on the ground, where grandpa and grandma live, and even whether a favorite football team is doing well.

Although the airlines are struggling with skyrocketing fuel prices, aging planes and calls for tighter regulation, one bright spot for the industry is that passengers are still filling up seats and booking flights.

"We're concerned about a recession, but probably more in the second half of the year," said John Heimlich, chief economist for the Air Transport Association, pointing out that airlines have not announced widespread fare sales.

"That to me is always a sign of an effort to stimulate traffic -- and we haven't seen a lot of that," he said. Nor have hotels been doing much discounting.

These efforts include encouraging employees to book tickets earlier for lower fares, requiring them to choose flights based on price rather than departure time or reining in spending on meals.

But most corporate travel managers pointed out that in a global economy, companies cannot afford to keep employees at home, even when air travel is frustrating.

It is also possible that certain inconveniences are overstated, like the effect of gas prices on summer driving trips. Despite not knowing where the price of oil is going to go or the roller coaster stock market, I think people are very committed to family time, vacation time and multigenerational travel," said Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, an agency based in New York City. "They're still going to go."

Experts say demand for green business travel is growing

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Demand for green services in business travel is growing, an expert panel told 225 travel managers and suppliers at a recent National Business Travel Association (NBTA) Canada conference.

As part of their travel agreement selection process, organizations ask hotel chains what they are doing to mitigate their carbon footprint, according to Michelle White, Director of Environmental Affairs for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Meeting planners are also going "green", she added. "They are all looking at how to minimize the impacts of those meetings, and the expectation is that you will have these strategies in place because it is a key component of any venue selection."

Helen Brough, Director of Advisory Services for American Express, said the majority of American Express business travel clients ask similar questions. The problem, she said, is that the answers are vague. "They say 'we are very committed to this. We are putting procedures in place," she said, "But, there's no hard-core detail."

Not good enough, says White. Clients want concrete, measurable programs. Fairmont recently signed a contract to have the World Wildlife Fund assess the company's carbon footprint and recommend a strategy for change.

The new program will add to what Fairmount already does to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the line. "We largely focus on minimizing the environmental impacts of our hotels, looking at, for example, waste management strategies, energy and water conservation." White explained.

These fact-based assessements are vital, says panelist Charles Johnson, Director of Sales for Agresso Travel Industry Solutions. Once, he said, CEOs might have announced their intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% with little or no idea of what that meant. The new trend is to be more rigorous, creating carbon statements that would be similar to financial statements.

Although green demand is growing, the higher costs for environmentally friendly products or services can still be a barrier for travel buyers, says Brough. "If a hybrid-car rental is more expensive, that is still an issue." On a more positive note, she also said some companies are turning green action into new business. She cited a survey in which 20% of American Express business travel clients said they had won business because of their environmental programs.

White, Brough, and Johnson were part of NBTA Canada's 4th Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase, held in Toronto.

Canada plans a bit of 'ambush marketing' of its own in May

(Originally published in TOURISM)

China Daily reports that Canada, a future Olympic host, will showcase its top assets with an exhibition from May 1 to September 18 at the British Columbia-Canada Pavilion in Beijing.

With Vancouver set to host the Winter Games in 2010, the country will display its culture, business, tourism and industry in the Chinese capital in an attempt to lure Olympic visitors this summer.

"Through an industry-driven business program, over 400 Canadian companies will be given the chance to promote themselves and build relationships in the growing Asian economies during this exhibition," said Annette Antoniak, president and CEO of the British Colombia Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat, according to China Daily.

The Pavilion was designed and planned in Canada and has been shipped to Beijing to cover 21,000 square feet in the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall.

On the first floor, the Pavilion will build on the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth to create an immersive experience where visitors will feel as though they have crossed the ocean and landed in Canada. The second floor will be a meeting place for businesses keen to learn more about the trade and investment opportunities in BC, Canada and China. "In Beijing, we will be highlighting our natural advantages and showcasing the enterprise and imagination at work in every corner of the province," said BC's Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen.

"In addition to our trade and investment program based in Shanghai, the BC-Canada Pavilion will further demonstrate our commitment to establishing a long-term presence in the Chinese market."

The plan to build the Pavilion was unveiled in 2006 by BC Premier Gordon Campbell.

Sustainable Tourism Toolkit to help operators make a difference

(Originally published in TOURISM)

The "Sustainable Tourism Toolkit project came out of recognition that the SMEs and operators needed a kind of "one size fits all one-stop shop" for practical, sensible advice on how to deal with issues like climate change, and aspects like water and energy uses, notes TIAC VP of public affairs Chris Jones.

He believes the soon to be unveiled Toolkit, which is currently being developed for TIAC by Marr Consulting (with the help of Parks Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission) will provide loads of practical solutions for operators.

TIAC had produced a sustainable tourism Code of Ethics in 1992 with Parks Canada and the CTC, which provided general guidance on environmental stewardship. But Jones explains "we felt that in order to get action on the ground, we needed something that targeted more the operators, which would mean something to them in their day-to-day operations. This toolkit has been written with that in mind."

The Toolkit is designed to be an adaptive, interactive resource in electronic format which facilitates business decisions. The initial intent is to distribute the toolkit in a CD version. "In Phase II, we will look to create a Wiki-style website for on-line viewing and use where there will be an accent on information sharing and posted updates. We don't want it to be a thick document that sits on people's shelves and gathers dust. Yes, we will have paper version of it, but our intention is to send it out in a more interactive format."

The Toolkit will be easy to use by tourism operators and their staff. It will have different functionalities, while expressing Canadian perspectives around the challenges and opportunities unique to tourism in Canada. A business case will be made for sustainable tourism practices. It will highlight the monetary value of these practices for tourism business owners and employees. The toolkit will focus on policy, budgetary and overall strategic vision aspects, and it will have a general applicability to DMO/PMOs as well.

"It won't be a serial piece, where you have to start at the top and work through it all. Operators will be able to approach sustainable tourism from different perspectives. For instance, you may find advice on the 10 things most visible to the customer that you could undertake; or the 10 quickest-to-implement practices: what would give you the most significant reductions? The toolkit will provide a whole series of solutions to adopt."

Jones says the Toolkit is a collective effort. "We're going to translate it at TIAC and the CTC will lay it out and put it in some kind of print format. Our hope is that something like this will be picked up -- and almost syndicated -- across the country, so other jurisdictions won't feel the need to reinvent the wheel. We tried to write it with the diversity of Canada in mind, and with the understanding there are different geographic and climatic aspects and realities to Canada. Everybody has a role to play around climate change; this is our contribution at the moment."

The Toolkit is due to be released in May.

Latest CTC-Germany non-traditional partnership focuses on water

(Originally published in TOURISM)

After the success of its whale-themed non-traditional partnership, which ended in November 2007, CTC-Germany was looking for a novel way to tap into Canada's evocative power as a destination. According to the CTC's Jens Rosenthal, "sustainability is important for German consumers. It soon became apparent that one of the most suitable connections to sustainability was the whole issue of water."

This was a natural fit for Canada. "Almost everything we offer as travel product involves water-based activities; and the provinces and territories have many connections to water experiences. We decided to develop this concept."

"Kanadaria" is the Iroquois word for "shining water", Rosenthal explains, and is the name chosen for this new non-traditional partnership which started on March 3 with the launch web portal

"This is the communication centre for this project. It aims to attract a maximum of reporters specializing on the theme of water from Germany, Canada and the world, who actively write about their experiences with water. The objective is to create the largest water portal on the web; every tourism product related to water could be promoted -- everything that one can do with, under, above and with water could be advertised."

Until March 3, institutional water reporters could register on the site to write about their water projects. On March 3, the portal was opened to consumers who can write about their special experiences with water. A special section for kids and teens teaches the younger target audiences about water.

The promotion kicked off with the launch of a water photo competition sponsored by Ontario Tourism, German tour operator Canusa Touristik, Fotocommunity (a photo portal with more than 600,000 registered members), Globetrotter Ausrüstung (Europe's largest outfitter for outdoor clothing and equipment), British Airways and the CTC.

Three water packages offered by Canusa Touristik are promoted (FlyDrive, RV and lodge packages with focus on water destinations in Ontario). An association that cares for water will be honoured with donations collected throughout the co-operation.

The competition just launched is multifaceted: "Water photo runs from April to June; Water video, from July to September; Water stories and poems, from October to December; and Water music, from January to March. The competitions will result in other promotional products being sold, like Water calendars, Water DVDs, Water stories/poems books and Water CDs."

In August, a media and celebrity FAM to Ontario will take place, and in October the first two trips to Ontario for contest winners will follow. Rosenthal hopes the promotion will reach 2.5 million consumers per year and an average of 15,000 unique website users per month in 2008 and 2009, resulting in 5,000 new email addresses for database use with a growth rate of 10% every year, with sales to Canada growing accordingly.

"We also have ambassadors as we call them - people and celebrities who are well known for their work. Some might be explorers; swimmers; some might have written books about water. They will travel together with German media to Ontario and experience water destinations in Canada."

Stay tuned to find out how this latest non-traditional partnership from Germany unfolds.

Travel companies zero in on 'zoomers'

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Zoomers - boomers with zip -- are hanging up their Bermuda shorts and opting for more colourful adventures, says the Calgary Herald.

No longer content to bask their golden years away on the beach, they want to explore exotic getaways, immerse themselves in foreign cultures and discover something new about their destinations and themselves.

"They're really after interesting experiences," says David Cravit, executive vice-president of the 50plus group, a multi-faceted media company that owns CARP magazine and "And I think we're just beginning to see the travel industry see those kinds of experiences for this market."

Cravit says that 50-plus group account for 54 per cent of all trips by Canadians and 55 per cent of foreign trips. Individual companies in the travel industry stand to make a lot of money if they can appeal to this growing sector.

To attract this demographic, the travel industry has refocused its packaged trips and altered its travel loyalty programs.

Moses Znaimer, the boomer-centric media mogul (who coined the term "zoomer" to describe the new-style 50-plus traveler), recently purchased the 50plus group.

Wendake Hotel‑Museum: responding to market segmentation trends

(Originally published in TOURISM)

He may not be of Aboriginal ancestry, but tourism planner Jacques Drapeau’s well-weighed comments make him the perfect ambassador for the soon-to-be-open Huron Wendat Nation Hotel-Museum, at Wendake, on the outskirts of Québec City. With its 55 rooms, this new 4-star facility on the Saint-Charles River draws both from the Huron Wendat culture, and from the relationship the Huron Wendat are keeping with the rest of the world through nature, spirituality and mythology.

“When we arrive here, we get a sense that the facility is composed of two parts: a tepee‑shaped structure houses the museum, and another connected structure – inspired by a traditional longhouse – where the accommodations, restaurant, and reception area are located. The restaurant can welcome 120 guests and will serve many dishes influenced by Aboriginal culinary traditions. There are also meeting rooms, various foyer areas for special functions and even massage facilities.”

Wood was used extensively as a building material, both inside and outside the establishment. All the facades of the museum and hotel are wood‑clad; the organic material is used decoratively and – as a clearly visible structural feature of the building – tree trunks act as pillars in many instances. There is much stonework as well, integrated with the exterior foundation and used strategically in public areas inside, as well as in floor systems in the bedrooms.

“The natural environment in which we are located permeates all aspects of the hotel experience,” notes Drapeau, whose consultancy was hired to help guide the project. “Instead of being confined to a hotel room, there is a living environment all around for guests to enjoy. Plus, the hotel is adjacent to the “Corridor des Cheminots”, a former railway bed converted into the longest bike route in the Québec City region. On the grounds, there will be medicine‑themed and other types of gardens, hiking trails throughout the woods, and a pond filled with fish for guests to discover.”

The Huron Wendat Nation Hotel‑Museum proudly displays symbols unique to the First Nation, such as the turtle and the snake which are visible in various forms. Even the longhouse‑shaped accommodations complex meanders slightly, to mimic the snake’s movement.

Exactly who is the target market for this evocative new establishment? A clever mix of market segments, explains Jacques Drapeau: “Being a capital city, Québec is home to a good number of head offices, beside federal and provincial government institutions. We believe they will be interested by what is offered here, because we are a little off the beaten path. The advantage of holding meetings and events at Wendake is substantial when one realizes that once they are here, meeting participants are somewhat captive. Yes, people will be able to walk around Wendake, but we are some distance away from the recreational opportunities available in Québec city. Nowadays, organizations aim to rein in meeting participants, because it gets more and more expensive to hold meetings. Instead of hitting downtown at lunch, our guests will be able to go for a short walk in the forest or along the river. This is a competitive advantage that we will highlight when we approach clients in the MC&IT sector,” quips Drapeau.

Because the hotel is on the outskirts of Québec City, the market study demonstrated that in order to succeed, it had to be a higher‑end hotel. Current trends indicated that additional lure was needed, in the form of a minimum four‑star rating.

“We have already started to approach multipliers like wholesalers who are active on the European market, because there are clearly affinities there with the experiences we will offer. Latin America is an emerging market which we believe will yield positive outcomes. In the US, we believe our clients will be interested in a hotel like this for their Québec capital region events. And of particular interest will be the First Nations market. Up until now, First Nations meetings occurred mostly downtown Québec.” Because the Huron‑Wendat Nation is the local host nation, he explains, it would make sense for First Nations to gather at a hotel located on their territory.

“Yet, for our local clients, not only in the corporate sector but also for schools and seniors’ markets, the Hotel‑Museum will be an ideal excursion destination, given that the community‑owned establishment has joint museum‑hotel functions, something which is unique in Canada, and which imparts an innovative character to the operation.”

Because of its mid‑sized capacity, the weddings and family reunions sector is also an attractive one for the property, Drapeau points out. He notes that the hotel‑museum project raised a few eyebrows among its owners at various stages of development: “It is a major undertaking. That was to be expected from the Huron Nation, as it would be of Québec City citizens in general if put in a similar situation. Many questions were asked, but now that the project is completed, and the population is much more aware of the reasons why the hotel is valid project, the focus turns more to the additional visitors it will generate for local businesses, retailers, restaurants, and other services.”

Drapeau predicts there will be unparalleled growth in the community as a result, because up until now, visitors only came to Wendake on a round‑trip from Québec city. From now on, visitors will be able to stay in Wendake.

MC&IT offers opportunities for destinations of all sizes

(Originally published in TOURISM)

The Canadian Tourism Commission’s Dan Melesurgo is the executive director of meetings, conventions and incentive travel sales in the US. TOURISM reached him in Washington to find out how Canadian destinations might take advantage of the in‑market opportunities which are generated through his program, and he notes that the most fundamental task Canada faces in the MC&IT sector is the need to create greater awareness of the country as a meetings destination.

“That always comes up as one of our biggest challenges," he says. "It is something the new brand is certainly addressing, but there is still a perception that Canada is cold and boring, that we are so similar to the US, and that Canada lacks the exotic appeal to make a destination attractive. There is no shortage of positive impressions about us, but these are not at the forefront of our planners’ minds. We are addressing this through all of our national partnerships, effectively bringing out who we are and what we can offer from a meetings perspective.”

Melesurgo notes that one of our strengths is the quality of facilities and services found in Canada. “I know a lot of people and destinations will say that, but I think this is really where we have a competitive advantage. Our research confirms this, and it is something we can definitely pride ourselves on.”

He goes on to set the record straight on Canada’s value for the money in the US: “Even if the dollar is pretty much on par, hotel rates have not increased as they have in the US, so there is still a value attached to meeting in Canada, and this doesn’t even take into account the tax rebate program for foreign meetings and conventions, which is still in place. Another important consideration is the need to drive home the message that attendance tends to be very high (and record‑breaking in many cases) when an organization does choose to hold a meeting in Canada.”

Melesurgo paints an attractive portrait of Canada as a country where there is “a proximity of our large cosmopolitan urban centres to nature and the great outdoors. Vancouver is just one example. If they meet in Vancouver, Stanley Park is at their doorsteps and they are only an hour and a half away from one of the world’s best winter destinations”.

“In the US market, it’s all about awareness, unless you are dealing with an incentive group wanting to be cutting edge and going to a destination no‑one has heard of, thereby earning bragging rights (a small board meeting at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort for example, or around polar bears in Churchill, which are a small but lucrative part of our business.”

But there being only one Vancouver, one Montréal and one Toronto in Canada, Melesurgo believes other lesser‑known destinations have much to gain by understanding where their competitive advantages lie. “If we are talking about Winnipeg, Regina or some of the smaller destinations, you are not going to get the large city‑wide events because you don’t have the required infrastructure in many cases. However, regional or association meetings, or sporting events if you have the sporting facilities, may represent a market you should focus on. It is really important for any destination to take stock of what it can offer; and really match that with segments of the market which make sense for them. You can’t be all things to all people.”

There are the big three or four cities that get a lot of attention in Canada, he goes on, “and we are very mindful of that. Our main goal is getting people to think of the entire country of Canada as a quality alternative to US and other international destinations. We strongly believe that getting somebody to book a meeting in Vancouver or Montreal, initially, is a very positive development because if they enjoy a positive experience, then perhaps we can steer them toward one of our second‑ and third‑tier cities.”

"These smaller cities may not be suited for a 10,000 delegate event, but a place like Halifax could certainly host a smaller committee, board or corporate meeting," he continues. "For this to happen there has to be an investment on the destination’s part.

"Halifax would indeed be a good example," Melesurgo points out. "The city has committed to supporting an organization called the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) which held its annual meeting in Halifax this past summer. It was a record‑breaking meeting in terms of attendance and participating Canadian partners, and there was a logical tie‑in. It was identified that a good number of their member societies might be interested in meeting in Halifax, partly because of the local connection with education, engineering and the scientific communities. So, if there is a strong industry in certain destinations, trying to align yourself with organizations which complement that makes sense.”

Interestingly enough, Saskatoon was a partner with Melesurgo’s group to attend the annual meeting in Halifax. “They saw an opportunity, which they seized. Hopefully, they have done their follow up to see if they can attract business to their destination. It is a definitely a two‑way street in terms of the educational process a destination can undertake to help educate the in‑market sellers on their product and what they have to offer."

“We have to have these conversations and the relationships have to be nurtured between the CTC and the destination, in much the same way these conversations would take place between the destination and the client. And there has to be a commitment to the market, which can be very hard to keep. Our national strategic partnerships with PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association), ASAE (American Society of Association Executives), the Center for Association Leadership, MPI (Meeting Professional International), FICP (Financial Insurance Conference Planners) and Experient are all long‑term relationships. We don’t go into a partnership unless we really see long‑term potential and it must be aligned with our strategy, because you have to be able to build it year after year. If you are in and out of a market, and in and out of a relationship, there will be very little equity, and you will be wasting your financial resources in the end.”

Melesurgo likes to use his own personal experience as an example. “When I first started in this position, I’d never been to Winnipeg. I knew where it was located, but I didn’t know much about the city. I was invited to spend three days in Winnipeg, and my hosts really tried to educate me about the personality of the city and the facilities it has to offer. We talked about our logical connections with our in‑market directors, so they have tried to build their relationship with our mid‑west office and the people based out of Chicago because that was one of the main markets they had identified."

“So the more knowledge we have about these destinations, the better we can influence our clients when we meet with them," he continues. "We can say: ‘hey… did you ever think about taking this out to Moncton, Halifax or Regina, because they have facilities that will meet your needs, and there are some logical tie‑ins with some local industries that fit with your interests.’”

The key is to be realistic, Melesurgo advises. “There are many factors at play; things like air lift and costs will affect whether Québec City or Banff is the right place for a client to hold its meeting. It also depends on the market: Québec City and Banff may be more attractive incentive destinations than Toronto, because of the nature of the destinations and the nature of what clients are looking for when they plan the incentives. On the other hand, Toronto is a large cosmopolitan city which is suited to handling city‑wides or larger type meetings because of the available infrastructure.”

With the Olympics coming up, Melesurgo’s team is planning renewed vigour on the sports tourism front: “We see a wealth of opportunities within the Canadian sports federations community. We are looking at strengthening those relationships so that we can form partnerships and go after some of these sports groups together. The 2010 Games will create great awareness for Canada, therefore we plan to identify the top 50 non‑Olympic organizers and really target them in hopes of bringing their events to Canada. Our eyes are wide open.”

A reader on the business of incentive travel

(Originally published in TOURISM)

“True incentive travel is reward travel,” according to the Canadian Tourism Commission’s Michele Saran. Incentive travel sales is the area Saran looks after out of the Chicago office. “A classic example would be a corporation wanting to entice their top salespeople to achieve sales benchmarks in a given year. So what we try to do at the CTC is make Canada one of the prizes they can win for achieving those benchmarks.”

These prizes can be merchandise and the like, but travel is usually one of the most motivating things to get people to achieve their goals, Saran explains. “So we compete against pretty much the entire world. Our biggest competition is probably places that are sun and sand and perceived as glamourous like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico. But Canada holds its own, and we do pretty well.”

When asked about trends in the incentive travel market, Saran identifies family programs as an emerging product. “People don’t get to spend a lot of time with their spouses and children; The reward then becomes being able to spend more time with the people you care about.”

Saran also notices increasing interest in winter incentives, so there are opportunities for Canada in terms of ski vacations. The hottest activities right now are fishing, by a landslide she says: “I get more calls for fishing than golf and everything else combined. CEOs love to go to the places where no one has gone before – unique lodges that are more difficult to access and are really high end. Spas are super‑hot because spouses are going to go along, and golf probably rounds up in third place.”

It is important to be seen as an attractive incentive locale; to be seen as “unique”, notes Saran: “Examples of this might be Vancouver Island resorts where you go grizzly bear watching and take float planes. This is an area where Canada has a lot to offer; it is about going off the beaten track, and because the Euro is so strong against the US dollar now, Canada – even though Canadian and US dollars are on par – still looks a lot better than Europe. And we are offering them new places they have never heard of before, like Newfoundland and Yukon. Even if it is not 5‑star, it is still exotic enough to make people want to achieve those benchmarks.”

Saran describes her business sector as a bit of a hybrid between leisure and meetings business. “Often, specifically for tax benefits, clients will have the meetings in conjunction with the incentive. Usually they will require a meeting room for half a day in conjunction with the trip. For the most part, it is the (smaller destinations) which benefit from what I do, places like Banff, Victoria, Whistler; those types of places I deal with probably more frequently than the big cities.”

What about places in Canada that are even more off the beaten track? “There has to be a little sex appeal on paper to be able to sell it. If there was a 5‑star fishing lodge in Saskatchewan, absolutely, we could market that way. The fishing places tend to be the 5‑star ones in BC — King Pacific Lodge or Clayoquot wilderness resorts, the Four Seasons of the fishing lodges. Usually, money is not as big an issue. I really don’t have people complaining about rates that much, unlike what some of my colleagues would experience in other markets. They are really looking for the experience.”

How does Saran go about building her end of the incentives business? “I have really great relationships. First and foremost, I deal with companies that are "incentive houses". They are third parties which deal with corporations to put these full incentive programs together. There are incentive houses working with IBM’s salespeople for example, and they will ask them ‘what do you want to achieve during the course of a year?’”

They will put together a whole campaign to inspire these people to achieve those benchmarks, she notes: "Potentially, for example, if they achieve the first benchmark, they will get a little plaque. If they achieve the next one they’ll get their picture in the company newsletter. They’ll put together charts on the wall, so people can monitor their progress; they’ll have computer systems to monitor; they’ll put together a whole package to monitor these people during the course of the year and hopefully Canada will be the Grand Prize. So it is my job to have those great relationships with the incentive houses to keep pushing Canada as that prize.”

Saran developed her knowledge about the incentive sector when she worked with Tourism Toronto “a million years ago,” she says. “I have been doing it for nine years now at the CTC. People don’t tend to move around that much in this business. Some of these incentive houses have been around during my entire career, so you get to know these people really well. Hopefully, when they think of Canada, they think of me! The idea is to always keep Canada top‑of‑mind, so we always get the chance to bid.”

Saran emphasizes that “seeing is believing; initially clients might think Canada is not that sexy, but 85% of the time, when I get them up on a site inspection to see what we are proposing, they tend to book the business.”