Domestic and international media exposure continues to grow for this Vancouver, BC, operator with a love of the Canadian outdoors.
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Few cities in the world offer urban and nature travel experiences so close together as Vancouver, BC—that priceless ability to go from a downtown lunch to a beach or mountain slope in less than an hour.
Rockwood Adventures taps into that desire for travellers to discover this British Columbian slice of urban paradise. It’s a business that has relished being part of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC) program. Being a member opens doors to international travellers that were once closed to small businesses.
CTC Newsskips along with its second series of SEC case studies by talking to Rockwood’s Manfred Scholermann, who runs the business with his wife Tamara de Grandmaison.
What inspired you to get into the tourism business? And when did you start?
I’ve been in the business for a relatively long time. My background is as a chef: I was on the 1972 Canadian Culinary Olympic team. I also love the outdoors: I ran a lodge in Yoho National Park, BC, for many years. So my passions were food and the outdoors and we put them together 18 years ago to form this business. It’s evolved slowly, but our timing has been good.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your enterprise today?
Being a seasonal operator: from not being able to handle the amount of business in the high season to not having enough to survive during the winter season. In Vancouver, we specialize in the ultimate day trip and we have top Mercedes-Benz Sprinter buses to get people around. In the winter, business get slow and is mostly limited to transfers and small groups.
Tell us more about the experience you have that is featured in the Collection…
Rockwood Adventures has pioneered urban and wilderness tours in the greater Vancouver area with an emphasis on eco-tourism, wine and food. The Coast Rainforest Adventure is our core business. Here we explain the unique features of our coastal temperate rainforest and why it’s considered one of the most primitive ecosystems on the planet. For example, on our bike trips through Stanley Park we stop and get off to talk, surrounded by trees. After being on a trip with us, people say they will never look at forests the same way again. We also take people by floatplane to Bowen Island and Killarney Lake where they enjoy a gourmet picnic complete with sparkling china. They know lunch is included, but they don’t really know my chef’s background.
We have other sides, too. We work with companies such as Crystal Cruises and Princess Cruises and conferences like the Canadian Credit Union Executive Conference, plus we do work for the FIT [fully independent traveller] sector and private clients. We even did a team-building event for Nike.
How are you promoting your membership?
We’re promoting SEC by using the logo in all our correspondence, which has helped the most. We also did a press release at the beginning announcing our membership. And we will have the logo on our new uniforms at work. Being a member is a great introduction for a small company when we visit new places to attract new business.
What’s changed for your business as a result of being a member?
Being a SEC member has made it easier for us to present our programs to prospective clients. It is a great introduction for us to convey that we have been selected as a member of a federal association. It establishes instant trust and we can immediately get down to business rather than trying to convince the client through testimonials of who we are.
Are you getting visitors from any new international markets or greater numbers from existing ones?
Both! We recently did an event for a NATO intelligence conference that we secured after forwarding our press release. It was a really prestigious contract.
Has your media exposure changed domestically or internationally?
We’ve been exceptionally fortunate, in that we do a lot of FAM [familiarization] trips for Tourism Vancouver, Tourism British Columbia and the CTC. We’ve also had great exposure on CNN and in National Geographic Traveler magazine. However, it’s extremely hard to gauge what have been the direct sources, and whether SEC is one of them.
Do you have any new tourism products in the pipeline?
We’re working on something with First Nature right now, but we won’t change our core business. We have such wonderful, passionate staff. We’ve just been swamped so far this year with visitors, and 85-90% of our business is pre-booked.
Have you considered exploring business relationships or cross-promotions with other SEC members?
I’ve been contacted, but just have not had the time to follow up yet. This is something I plan to do this fall. All of our private clients book way in advance. In an ideal world, I would like more FITs [fully independent travellers] via Vancouver hotels.
What’s been your biggest lesson this year as a tourism operator?
You have to be flexible and ready to innovate. People are looking for an experience—a signature experience if you like. We’ve had visitors via Crystal Cruises and these people have been everywhere. What they tell us is that if there’s nothing to take away within the first 15 minutes, they get bored. They’re looking for a mixture of education, fun and knowledge. They don’t need a long list of exact dates; they want to know what makes Vancouver tick. How can you go from eating dim sum with hundreds of people to watching eagles up a stream within 30 minutes? I took someone from National Geographic Traveler around for a few days. He said, “Give me any city and I’ll know it within a week.” He tried Vancouver…and had to come back. He just couldn’t crack it. Is it Chinese? Japanese? Who runs it? That’s what I’d like visitors to sense, and I’d do the same for any of my family when they come to visit.
What are some of the challenges facing Canada’s tourism industry?
Getting credit with banks is still a problem. A lot of small tourism operators desperately need money to get them started or funds for new inventory. Unfortunately, there’s a negative perception of the tourism sector. You need a long arm, as payments can be extremely slow. For anyone just starting out, I’d advise that you don’t spend too much in the first year. It’s very tough. I lost money for the first three years. After that, people start to warm to you.
If you were to point to a big opportunity for Canada’s tourism industry, what might that look like?
The Chinese market. When we started we had great success with Japan. But the Chinese love nature, they’re smitten with it, which means a big opportunity for Canada.