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In early June, keynote speakers and adventure travel industry attendees from 18 countries flew into Québec City and either took a scenic bus ride or a small plane to the historic paper mill town of Saguenay. The watery region of Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean is in the process of balancing its natural resource economy between extraction and tourism and the energy and dedication to that balancing act made a nice background for the educational component of AdventureELEVATE.
From customer service to destination branding, food tourism to SnapChat, plenary sessions at the second annual AdventureELEVATE conference took the audience all over the map and all over the theme “Adventure Means Business.”
Val Litwin from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce took the stage at the Theatre Banque Nationale on the first morning of the conference for his keynote presentation “Adventure Travel is Customer Funded.” In 2014, an innovative partnership between the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business overhauled Whistler’s community-wide service strategy. “Don’t just send us to smile school,” the service community told Litwin when he shared his vision for the overhaul. With the help of the business school, Litwin took the opposite approach, bringing science to service. He shared his customer service formula with the audience at ELEVATE, based off a robust study of 22,000 customers. “Epic service has a clear return on investment,” he promised with the data from Whistler to prove it.
Photographer Dan Westergren is National Geographic Travel’s Instagram expert and the second keynote presenter at ELEVATE. “Do we want to be Hallmark cards or do we want to start a conversation with a picture?” he asked the audience, leading to a thoughtful breakdown of his strategy for driving engagement using images in social media. While Instagram is familiar territory for many travel brands, Westergren also described how Nat Geo uses SnapChat, assuring the audience that “you’re not supposed to know how to use it” and encouraging them to find a friendly tutor — preferably a teenager.
The first day of the conference ended with a dinner sponsored by Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean that featured regional cuisine as well as regional music and dancing afterward. This left delegates with the right taste in their mouths for “The Business of Food Tourism” plenary session first thing the second morning. “Food porn is part of our common culture vocabulary,” said Culture Xplorers’ Jim Kane who moderated the panel discussion with Barbara Banks (Wilderness Travel) and food writer Carl-Eric Guertin (Economusee Network Society). These experts addressed the power of the local food movement as it relates to tourism — how communities are working to professionalize artisanal cuisine companies for tourism and how local economies benefit when tour operators incorporate local ingredients, regional recipes, food producers and artisans as a key element of their tours.
Emmanuelle Legault closed AdventureELEVATE with a final keynote that highlighted Destination Canada’s dramatic and smart shift from a traditional destination marketing organization to a storytelling media outlet. Legault led the transition, teaching the country how to tell its story to an international audience through digital media. In less than two years, the strategy has worked in converting new travelers to a Canada they never knew existed.
Though the topics of these sessions seem disparate, the theme of transformation ran through them all. Each presented an innovative way that destinations, operations and the industry as a whole is moving away from a sense of place and more toward the creation of experience. The second venue for AdventureELEVATE in Saguenay was “Le Pulperie” — a historic paper mill turned museum and meeting place. The powerful Chiticoumi River still runs right through the complex and instead of driving the machinery of the paper mill, today it seems to symbolize the transformation of the region’s economy and identity. There was something about that rush of limestone-tinted water that captured delegates’ imaginations and powered AdventureELEVATE itself.