Back-to-School (already overcommitted)

So in case your Facebook feed didn’t pile up with pictures of little back-to-schoolers on Tuesday, I’m here to remind you it’s that time of year again!

It’s the time of year I:

  1. Completely panic
  2. Realize that I am the teacher
  3. Promise not to take on too much
  4. Take on way too much

Here’s a list of commitments that I entered into over the summer, and am now realizing might be impossible to meet:

  • Elected member of the BCIT Education Council (EdCo)
  • Member of the programming committee
  • New volunteer at Kudoz
  • Volunteer member for the BC Hospitality Foundation scholarship committee
  • Member of a cool new committee to do with the Tourism Industry Conference (TIC is my jam, as you know)
  • Member of the selection committee for a new Associate Dean for our department
  • And assistant coach of the marketing team for JDC West

Of these, I have decided to drop the last item (coaching) because mercifully another (more qualified) volunteer stepped forward out of the woodwork. That’s great, because as an instructor I’m now having to go from public speaking hibernation to ‘on’ several hours a day. And plan. And prep. And parent. Also apparently I have a social life?

Don’t let the calm-and-poised instagram post fool you, folks, I’m low-key freaking out over here. Next post I hope to address some (relatively healthy) ways I’m trying to cope with the stress.

What are your ways of dealing with back-to-school stress? Hit me up in the comments.



Top Ten Memorable Tourism Campaigns (2018 edition)

It’s that time of year again! My Royal Roads University MA in Tourism Management students are sharing their most memorable tourism campaigns.

Here’s what’s top of mind for 2018:

  1. Imagine Your Korea. The MA student who shared this campaign had a personal connection to the destination, but said this captures the fun and vibrancy of the destination. Check out their YouTube channel at
  1. WestJet’s Christmas Miracle campaigns, which combine corporate giving with strong public and media relations. Too numerous to mention them all, a recent WestJet effort in the Dominican Republic offers a good example. Click here to watch it.
  1. “Red Sucks”, the video from a small mountain in the Kootenays. This campaign was a tongue-in-cheek look at 24-hours in a guest’s life at the local resort. Watch the video here.
The landing page for Red Sucks. It’s cheeky!
  1. The transcendent nature of the “Super, Natural British Columbia” brand that has persisted through several organizational structures to touch the hearts and minds of hundreds of visitors. Students this year referenced the Wild Within video (here) as being particularly memorable.
  1. Tourism Calgary, the Calgary Stampede and other stakeholders’ “Come Hell or High Water” statements, and “Calgary, We’re Open” a 2013 collective effort to invite visitors to the destination despite excessive flooding. See the official tourism video here.

5. UNILAD Adventures’ look at Zimbabwe, as posted on Facebook.

  1. “Pure Michigan” radio campaign, particularly in the Windsor-Quebec corridor. Apparently to those who live there, these spots are a near-constant presence.
This campaign has staying power.
  1. Tourism Australia’s “Best Job in the World” campaigns. Starting with a 2009 contest for the NSW region, this grew into a national youth-focused initiative drawing global attention.
  1. Canada shared by Canadians – Keep Exploring. This sweet video combines thousands of hours of submissions from across the country along with a chouette chanson in English et en francais. You can watch the video here.
1. And the “winner” is? Incredible India. I promoted this to the top spot because my BCIT undergrad students also voted this the top brand in our destination development course. Click here for a 2013 commercial from the campaign.
To view the list we created in 2017, click here. And let me know what campaign springs to your mind (from any era) in the comments below!

Bonus Question: How do you engage?

It’s almost the end of term and time for me to reflect back on my teaching practices. One of the things I’ve been focusing on this year is engagement: connecting with my students as people, and encouraging them to connect with me as well.

A practice I’ve implemented in all of my sales courses is to ask a bonus question that awards one mark for demonstrating that the students have gotten to know something about me:

“Share one thing you’ve learned about your instructor (her background, likes, dislikes, family or other fact) while taking this class.”

This year, I decided to compile some of these. I hope you find them as funny as I do. And please share your ‘engagement’ practices with me!

From my introductory sales class:

A passion for marketing and utilizing blogs and social media accounts (i.e. Instagram) to share professional knowledge and personal experiences respectively. Also dislikes getting stuck on a snowy mountain and missing class.

She’s into Star Trek and possible TOTR (editors note: had to Google this … I think they mean LOTR?). She likes poutine.

She likes visual aids, dislikes pushy salespeople, enjoys traveling and has at least one child … is that everything, gel?

Amiables (smile emoji) explains things clearly.

Does not like telemarketing. In the tourism industry.

BCIT grad. She recently went to Vietnam with her adorable daughter named Fraser. We can find her Instagram account @tourismnerd. She likes lemons?

You like pets! You have kids?

She likes travelling.

You have a very cute daughter. You are confident, and have beautiful voice.

You went to BCIT!

She likes getting up mountainsides, but no so much down!

She likes to climb mountains/hike instead of teaching her students. JOKES (smile emoji) . Morgan graduated from BCIT as well.

You were a sales manager before. You are teaching sales class at night as well.

Funny, enthusiastic, active and responsible.

Has a daughter.

I learned that Morgan has a 7-year-old daughter.

The love for Star Trek and dressing up as those characters for Halloween.

She has a daughter.

Morgan is hungry all the time. Thank you for teaching this class! I had a great time learning and you’re a great teacher! Good luck with everything.

Her daughter is really cute. Morgan has amazing traveling experience, I am so jealous!

You throw student evaluations in the garbage, LOL. (smile emoji) I knew it was true! I’m sure most teachers do.

How do you engage with your learners or peers? Post your ideas in the comments!

The future of work in tourism?

It’s that time of year again! The annual BC Tourism Educators Conference is being held at Okanagan College and as per usual much debate, discussion, and learning is happening around key themes in tourism education.

First up this morning was Tom Baum from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. For over 36 years Tom has been seeking to address the social and strategic contexts of low skills employment, with particular focus on hospitality and tourism.

Dr Baum challenged us, as a group, to look at the future of work in tourism, by first looking at the past. He suggested that for decades we have been engaged in the same conversation around tourism employment issues: lack of meaningful pay, low-skilled work, and high turnover – to name a few. He referenced a quote by George Orwell who was a pot-washer (plongeur) in the Paris of 1933: “a plongeur is a slave, and a wasted slave, doing stupid and largely unnecessary work.”

The fact is that in 2018, if we take a global view, there are still many “plongeurs” in our industry. Dr Baum cited reports including:

Global hotel chains – making London an unethical tourist destination through ‘standard industry practice’  by Unite the union Hotel Workers’ Branch: UnethicalLondon

Wage Theft in Australia – finding of the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey: WageTheft

The great training robbery – assessing the first year of the apprenticeship levy: TrainingRobbery

No Holidays for the Burmese: NoHolidaysBurmese

Dr Baum shared findings from one document in particular, “Working for the Mouse”, in which they found that despite challenges including homelessness and extreme commutes, and yet over 85% of the workforce interviewed at Disneyland in Anaheim reported that they loved their jobs. You can read that report here: WorkingfortheMouse

So where to from here? Dr Baum’s presentation set the stage for a day of “backcasting” (also the process used by The Natural Step), in which we looked at the outcomes we want to produce in our institutions, communities, and industry.

For more information about Dr Baum’s work in this area, see

What kind of tourism industry do you want to see in 25 years? How can you be a part of that vision? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

The future of tourism: social cultural enterprises

One of the best experiences of my trip to Vietnam was participating in a cooking class called Oodles of Noodles run by Streets International in Hoi An.
Doang was the first up from the Oodles of Noodles team. She taught us about the program and asked us to “please correct our English so we can learn”. Throughout the experience all the hosts were very good at interacting with the group. “We need your help to learn. You will do that, yes?” “Yes!” we all promised.
Next we watched a short documentary about Neal Bermas’ vision for Streets International. They conducted research to find the right city and chose Hoi An due to the high levels of visitation and its history as a multicultural port and culinary destination. Their goal is to launch careers in hospitality.
The program provides participants with full health care, lodging, and three meals a day. These are orphans, children from HIV backgrounds, or formerly trafficked and prostituted people. The facility has a working kitchen, a classroom for culinary lessons (both internal and external, like ours), and a 16-station computer lab for learning English.
The cooking class that followed the program description was immersive and entertaining.
Nho the noodle expert

A young woman named Nho taught us about noodles and I now consider myself a rice noodle expert. Dai from Hanoi did a demo which was also broadcast on a TV for the people at the back.
M Nhi is from close to Sapa. She taught us to count down in Vietnamese as well as guided us through the noodle making process at our table. Our noodles were combined with a charcoal broiled variety to make a smash cake which made a delicious appetizer.
The tables were then wiped down and we were served the local specialty prepared by the culinary students.The entire group agreed that the meal, the service, and the cleanliness of the facility far exceeded anything we had experienced so far.
Streets International also runs a restaurant, one that is designed to stand on its own. The servers, hosts, and culinary team are all program participants.
Recognizing that front-of-house trainees receive the lion’s share of immersive language and hosting experience, Streets International also partners with local tour operators to offer tours led by back of house staff. These tours allow budding chefs to take guests through Hoi An, where they practice English and share the culinary history of the destination.
Intake for this program is every nine months. So far 250+ youth have graduated and there are more job offers (high end restaurants, resorts, etc) than graduates. A second location recently opened in Hanoi.
My experience of Hoi An was one of a busy destination, one where popular sites were choked with tourists barely grasping the significance of what they were seeing. While at times I experienced the dreaded ‘overtourism’, the afternoon spent at Ooodles of Noodles was educational and entertaining – all while making a difference in the lives of young people.
This is the future of the industry as far as I’m concerned and a model for tourism done right. I’ve already challenged my soon-to-be tourism graduates back home to explore this model and see how they could bring it to BC.

It’s my last day at BCIT …

Three years ago I found out that LinkBC, the organization I helped build for 10 years, was closing. I was at a complete crossroads: on maternity leave, with a Vancouver-sized mortgage, and a sense I wanted to work in tourism and education but no idea of how to do it.

I took steps towards going back to university to become a high school teacher. I reached out for coffee with friends. I accepted a one-day-per-week contract at the University of the Fraser Valley, knowing there was no way I could get a post-secondary job closer to home.

Then on one of my coffee chats, an old friend from Royal Roads mentioned that BCIT wanted an instructor with a tourism background. She forwarded me the posting and I quickly hopped on the phone to the program head. A month later I was interviewing for the position. It was the most stressful interview of my life, but miraculously, I got the job.

That fall, I returned to the workforce with three jobs: teaching at UFV, wrapping up LinkBC, and teaching at BCIT.

I knew from day one that BCIT was my place. It’s my alma mater. It changed my life and gave me a career in an industry I’m passionate about. And to be walking the halls of SE6 felt right. I was home.

So why is it my last day at BCIT?

That’s an incomplete thought. It’s my last day at BCIT as a temporary instructor. I am thrilled to say that I competed for, and was awarded, a full-time permanent faculty position in the department.

Effective tomorrow, BCIT is officially my gig. I am over the moon grateful and very excited for what’s to come. Thank you to my students, my colleagues, my friends, family, and industry contacts. Your support has been, and will continue to be, greatly appreciated.

The baby bird nerds have flown again!

It’s almost been a year since I started this blog, and back in 2017 the impetus for this Tourism Nerd journey was the Tourism Industry Conference and Winning Pitch provincial finals.

If you’ll recall, I was inspired by my students’ resilience in the face of a loss – their optimism, professionalism, and courage blew me away (you can read that post here).

It hardly feels like a year has passed, but yet again BCIT has taken the stage at the Winning Pitch. Today we sent two teams to the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains regionals. This year’s challenge tasked the teams to come up with a business idea that would increase shoulder season visitation to, and within, the region.

One team pitched an idea for a collaboration with First Nations communities outside of Lilooet to create an immersive cultural tourism adventure, called “Land and Lakes Cultural Adventures”.

The second team pitched a hiking experience in Hope tailored to urban LGBTQ+ travellers and their allies, called “Rainbow Tours”.

What can I say about these students?

It amazes me that they are so willing to take on this extra work, on top of their onerous full-time courseloads  (students at BCIT don’t select their courses, it’s a set intensive program).

I’m stunned by their courage, especially those students who are still afraid of public speaking, because this competition takes place on a massive stage in front of hundreds of people.

I’m warmed by their approach to teamwork in the face of so much stress and adversity. They hold each other up. Each team was backed by students who helped with research, planning, and feedback. The students on stage were the tip of an amazingly talented iceberg.

It almost doesn’t matter what the results were, but of course this is a competition. At the end of the day, BCIT’s Land and Lakes team took first place, with Douglas College coming a close second, and Capilano U in third.

With our first place win in hand, I’ll be off with the Land and Lakes team to attend TIC in Kelowna in March. I can barely wait!

To all the students who competed, from Capilano University, Douglas College, Vancouver Community College, and Canadian Tourism College, we salute you. Thank you for your dedication to tourism and to sustainable industry growth in BC!

What makes a Super Host, part two …

Last week I wrote about the SuperHost program and how it taps into fundamental customer service tools to help businesses improve their NPS scores.

But there’s another fundamental component covered by SuperHost: appreciating the emotional experiences customers go through.

I was reminded of this “emotional component” a few days ago. Some students asked if they could have a meeting with me. It was a busy day, so I asked them to follow me into my next lecture. I was expecting them to ask me for an extension on a project or some advice on studying for the exam.

I was wrong. One of the girls pulled out some stuffed animals, while another produced a card and a small plant. “We read your blog and we heard you’re having a tough term,” they said. “We want you to know we appreciate you and we hope things are going better.”

With that they left. I was blown away. The card expressed the same sentiment with the added words “You are awesome!”

Of course it brought tears to my eyes. The stuffed animals are for my kids, the plant for my desk, and the card … for my heart.

Working in the service industry, it’s easy to get caught up in scores, and ROI, and the grind … don’t get me wrong, these things are important.

But the heart of the matter is that customers are people, with lives outside the scope of our interactions, who need some TLC from time to time.

I’m confident these young women will make great additions to any tourism team because they have the brains, but more importantly, the heart, to make a difference with our visitors.

What makes a Super Host?

This summer my family and I pulled into our motel after a long day on the road. There had been an accident on the highway. We were cranky, and tired. The kids were DONE.

We stumbled into the office to check in, and a friendly woman appeared behind the counter. She offered my kids a glass of water and checked us in immediately. Five minutes later we were hydrated, settled in our room, and had the name of the best place to order a pizza.

It’s times like these that make me glad we live in a province of exceptional service providers. Tourism is about experiences, and the more we can foster remarkable front-line interactions, the more our guests are likely to recommend us.

Why do recommendations matter? Beyond TripAdvisor and other review-based platforms, recommendations are the heart of metrics like the Net Promoter Score, a tool whereby your detractors are taken from the promoters to give your experience an overall score. This score can be negative! It’s especially hard to achieve a positive score when you have multiple neutral customers. They don’t count in this calculation.

NPS is being used by Destination BC, Tourism New Zealand, and many other major brands.

One of the keys to helping BC achieve high scores with our visitors is consistent, industry-driven customer service training. That’s why it’s so exciting that go2HR has re-launched SuperHost, a training program first launched in 1985 in preparation for Expo86.

I recently had the privilege of piloting SuperHost with my students in the BCIT tourism marketing program. It’s a hands-on way for new entrants to the industry to learn what it takes to deliver remarkable experiences. The activities are fun and memorable.

Want to learn how you, or your team, can get the SuperHost designation? Visit for more info. Or contact me to set up a workshop!



Where are they now? A tourism nerd chat with Maik Uhlmann (OC)

Maik Uhlmann is a recent graduate of the BBA from Okanagan College, where he specialized in hospitality and tourism management and was a two-time Case Competition participant. Born and raised in Germany, Maik is now working as an admin for Cactus Club at their West Broadway location in Vancouver. I was lucky enough to catch up with Maik over coffee where we reflected on his education, his career, and where he’s headed.

Maik met me for coffee so we could nerd out about tourism.

Tourism Nerd: How did you end up in Canada?

I travelled around the world for four years and when I was in South America I thought “North America is the only place I haven’t been, I need to go there!”

So I applied for a working holiday visa to the United States and also for Canada, and … if I’m honest … Canada was quicker. I got the Canadian visa and now, eight years later, I’m still here!

TN: Did you ever think about going back to Germany? 

After that first year in the Okanagan, having travelled the world, I hadn’t seen my family in four years. But going back to Germany I realized I’d changed, the people I grew up with changed. My hometown is old school: go to school, get married, have kids … I had other dreams I wanted to pursue.

I fell in love with Kelowna and wanted to stay, and the way that I could get back into the country was by being a student. If I’m honest, I never really wanted to study when I finished high school and getting a BBA was never my dream. But I did my research into UBCO and Okanagan College and when I looked at the reviews, considering the English programs are the same, why should I spend twice as much on the same course?

TN: So you became a full time OC student!

Okanagan College gave me a warm welcome. They have a good support network, and talking to advisors I learned more about the process (I had no idea how the school system even works here). After I finished my ESL courses, I applied for the diploma, which gave me two more years in my new community.

Two more years was all I could afford to do. But I was faced with the challenge of “this – the two year diploma – won’t be recognized back home.” So I talked to my parents and said “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry, I don’t want to come home” and after all those years of me being away, I think they realized that already. They said “ok, do a degree and then you will have an internationally-recognized credential.”

I was an ESL student, I had a good GPA, I was involved in the community and a number of different school aspects, and at the end of the third year my instructor was like “you should do honours!” and I think when I signed up I was the first international student graduating with an honours … at least I’d never heard of it happening before.

TN: What stands out from your days at school?

I went from being an ESL student to registering for the BBA, to committing to the honours program. This honours piece – in terms of doing a primary research component for an industry client – really sticks out in my mind. I did a project with Westside UBrew. Here we are in the wine region attracting tourists and a UBrew is competing for clients, wanting to know how to attract a younger demographic. It was a fascinating project, I felt like I was really contributing to the Kelowna business community.

Another course that stands out is Tourism Stewardship, doing a sustainability analysis for the Kelowna airport, and we were only three students and it was hands-on work, going out into the community and being involved in it, this was tremendous.

In every course (except for Intro to Tourism) I had the benefit of meeting key players in the local industry, which was great. And I loved Government Policy! Well, maybe not at the time … I never understood it until I studied for the test, and then it clicked. Now reading the paper, listening to current events, I understand why they are having this discussion.

TN: What courses were your least favourite? 

I would lie if I didn’t say statistics! I would say the one that I least enjoyed … all classes were challenging, but you can work through them … I struggled with law. And it’s funny because I may still want to go to law school, but it was in the beginning of my whole degree, I was still learning English. Considering the vocabulary and knowledge I have now I think I would have been able to approach it differently than I did at the time.

TN: What is your day-to-day like now?

I was very selective when I started my job search, and I interviewed for a few positions, some that were way beyond my capabilities and I surprisingly got interviews for positions that were beyond, I mean … the people who won the positions had many more years of experience.

My life was taking me to Vancouver and I knew I didn’t want to go back to hotels and a friend of mine who works at Cactus said “we need an office manager” and the more I looked at it, the more I could see the opportunity there.

I try to think strategically about my career. Every time I didn’t get a job, I would ask for feedback and they’d tell me it’s because I don’t have admin experience. And I do need to prove myself – especially in a new community – it’s something I haven’t done. I’ve worked in hotels, restaurants, wineries … but never this type of ‘office job’ and I’m very grateful for it.

Now I can see it from the back-of-house perspective, I don’t face guests, I don’t have to put in crazy hours, I’m filling those gaps on my resume – and everyone I talk to respects Cactus Club as an organization. With a regular job I have the time to get to know the community more and volunteer, I have time to give back.

I’m volunteering with the Hospitality Foundation and increasing my networks, and getting to know the city. I don’t have money to give back but I have time and some knowledge to give back and would like to be more engaged in the community.

TN: What are your career dreams?

There are different avenues, I have a bit of scatterbrain … I’m passionate about tourism and travel and want to work in the industry, preferably in destination development. I think one of my key strengths is developing relationships and providing knowledge on how everything is connected.

With my running buddy we say if nothing else works out, we can go to law school. I think it might make sense, international law, immigration law –  it still has to do with the movement of people and providing them the knowledge that I have. However, if opportunities come up at Cactus, I am definitely not saying no!

Ultimately the dream, what I want … I want to have my own business and I’m saving up to start it. I want to have multiple businesses. Riding my bike by the harbour everyday, seeing the boats and houseboats, I think to myself “a houseboat boutique B and B” would work, not an AirBnB, but a fully functioning part of the visitor economy that contributes back to the industry and community. A boutique B and B that happens to be right – right – on the water.

And I always dreamt of having a sports hotel. They don’t exist here, we have them in Europe. One of my favourite memories from when I was on the national team for nine pin bowling … we would visit these training camps in preparation for the world cup. The one I enjoy is at the top of a hill, called Sportpark Rabenberg, it’s a secluded area. All the guests who come there do sports – you are not there to relax, you’re there to train – it’s sports camp with accommodation together.

One of the great things about that experience is it brings together different athletes from different sports. We would be sitting in the dining hall and you could see into the professional dancers ballroom. Watching them train just as athletes do, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into their training left an impression on me.

So it would be my dream to open one of these here. I want to see people succeed, I want to have people come to my place, cry, sweat, and then see them on the TV years later winning a medal.

Those are the things that get me up in the morning, and keep me up during the day, and this is what I want to work for.

TN: Any advice for tourism and hospitality students?

There are a few things I wish I had known before I started my program. I’d say:

1. Volunteer and be active in the community. Jonathan Rouse (dean of the hospitality program) was one of the people who encouraged me do more, trying to get a tourism club up and running on campus … trying to raise the profile of tourism on campus, we had 16 people at our first meeting and it was hard to break through and get people involved but I’m glad I tried.

2. Work and take on extra activities in your workplace. When I was working for Delta Hotels and I wanted to know more I participated in workplace related programs such as the Green Team or the Bike Ride for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If you work, be involved in your work and get to know your colleagues.

3. Have a talk with your professors. I eventually realized, “hey my profs are connected and have the knowledge and different way of doing things”. They can give you extra perspective, they know what’s happening – Blair’s advice, Laura’s advice and Michael’s advice, it all contributed.

4. Get engaged in the industry. When I went to a restaurant, I would speak to the owner. Don’t be shy, get to know the tourism businesses around you.

5. Say yes to the extras. Participate in competitions like I did with the LinkBC Case Competition – my public speaking has improved drastically, I met people in industry. I don’t want to play the ESL card but it’s different and you stand in front of a room full of people, I don’t know the vocabulary and trying to wiggle your way around the language in front of a crowd and judges and industry … it’s tough. I competed in RRU and Queen’s competitions too.

6. Just fight for it. The first year at university was not easy, given my language skills weren’t there, my confidence level was low, I was dressing differently … I didn’t want to speak up because I was worried someone would make fun of me. At some point I said to my classmates: “we don’t need to get along, we just have one goal, and that’s to walk across the stage”. I’m glad I stood up for myself.

7. Be a contributor. Seeing brilliant minds coming out of post-secondary – we can innovate, innovation doesn’t always need to look like change or be threatening. Let’s focus on how can we help the industry make more money, collaborate more.

8. Learn the tourism language. Post-secondary helps you be confident with the language, remember those words, those terms your instructors are teaching you, you can go to a conference and understand what’s going on and connect with people working in the industry and make sense.

TN: That’s some great advice! Any parting words for our readers? 

My idol is Walt Disney who said “if you can dream it you can do it”, and that’s how I live my life.


For more information on the Okanagan College BBA visit 

And you can follow Maik Uhlmann by adding him on LinkedIn: