Monday, December 11, 2017

Rural Tourism and How to Draw More Visitors to your Destination

Photo Credit: Linus Strandholm

A common challenge with developing tourism in small rural communities is connectivity. How do you draw in visitors when you are located 2 hours or more away from main highways and cities? As tourism professionals that support responsible travel and community-based experiences, we're always seeking realistic and sustainable solutions to these types of challenges. Sometimes you can find the answers while talking to the tourists and witnessing the changing demands this industry has had from a visitor perspective.

One of the major growing demands with tourism experiences, especially in Canada, is the classic road trip. The road trips today are being spearheaded by the younger generation, the Millennials, that seek new unique off the beaten track adventures. So this new demand is different than the classic road trip out west to see the Canadian Rocky Mountains - this new generation is searching for nature-based and cultural experiences that are different than the typical "touristy" destinations. That said, this opens up a whole new opportunity for small scale rural tourism development.

How to Create a Destination

A question came up in one of our recent webinars from an individual that resides in a rural community. He asked "ok that's great if we start to develop local tourism opportunities, but who is going to come all the way up to our community when there are other more accessible destinations?" The answer to this, is that you just have to create an experience to get to your community... meaning taking that good old classic road trip and creating a route that connects your community to a variety of other places and the journey to get there, becomes a large part of the adventure.

An example of a destination that has planned this well, is Iceland. It is a remote, northern, secluded island nation with a low population, but because of accessibility it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations today. They created easily navigable routes throughout the country that allow opportunities for visitors to explore remote small communities. They have a wide range of small, locally owned guesthouses, farm-stays, cabins, hostels, attractions, tour operators/guides, and restaurants, scattered throughout the country making it a road trip friendly destination. This has attracted a wide variety of visitors of various ages and budgets to explore this country which now has over 2 million visitors per year and the entire population is only 350,000.

Photo Credit: Amanda Huculak

So instead of using the "if you build it they will come" approach - partner with your surrounding neighbours and create an experience. Work together and create an epic road trip and your community will be featured as one of the highlights. This approach will only grow and become more popular in the years to come. Partner with other tourism businesses, your regional Destination Management Organizations (DMOs), regional / provincial organizations, Car Rental companies, and Tour Operators to work together to create unique packaged experiences and sample itineraries for road trips. Start to make it easy for visitors to find you and the journey to get there is a major part of the destination.

For more ideas on how to create a sustainable tourism destination in your rural community book a free 30 minutes coaching session with a CES team member. Contact us at or call 1-877-444-5550.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Power of Images and Videos to Share your Story

Local Guide in Chesterfield Inlet Nunavut
In today’s fast paced world of technology and visual overload, it’s hard for a tourism destination to stand out among all the noise.  Amanda recently attended the EyeEm Photo Awards in Berlin that showcases some of the world’s most talented photographers/visual storytellers and she was inspired by what images grabbed the most attention.

Surely images with beautiful landscapes, sunsets, and waterfalls draw you in, but it’s the images that trigger an emotion or tell a story that make the viewer want to learn more. One of the photographers was a street photographer from New York that become famous from showing “real” unscripted photos of locals that focused on a more authentic, strange, and interesting side of New York.  His photos made you laugh, or become confused, or question what was going on… they were memorable in a very unique way that triggered the urge to start conversations and want to learn more.  That summarizes the power a single image can have.

When it comes to promoting your tourism product, your brand, and/or your community it’s important to showcase the real story behind your community and its people but leave room for interpretation for a potential client to insert their own take or be able to visualize themselves in that experience. For example, one of CES’s photographers recently travelled up to Chesterfield Inlet Nunavut to capture images and video footage that shared the community’s story. A simple activity of making a cup of tea out on the land turned into the main story behind the video because of the willingness of the local guide to invite people in to experience a moment with him through photos and videos.  As a viewer you feel as though you are right there in that experience and you instantly want to learn more.  Nothing was particularly special about this experience, but it was authentic and unscripted, therefore it provided you with a real human experience.  Check out Chesterfield Inlet’s new website and video at  

Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut

It’s very easy nowadays to notice when images are scripted and staged – it feels too perfect and beautiful. Similar to the New York photographer’s images, the newest trends in imagery is to want things that look different, perhaps weird or strange, and at the same time intriguing.  Images of a beautiful model posing in front of a waterfall or at a scenic viewpoint don’t really tell a story… so you may end up attracting clientele that doesn’t really want to interact with locals or have a real experience. So this brings up the question – what type of visitors (tourists) do you want to attract?  How do you want your tourism business and/or community’s brand portrayed? What and who do you want to highlight?

Those are all great starting points to ask yourself before hiring a photographer or taking the photos and videos yourself.  Images have the potential to drastically set the stage for your brand image and assist in determining who you will attract to your destination. Another strong tip or word of advice for the images that you use to promote your tourism experiences, is to not be afraid to get your visitors to show their own perspectives and takes.  For example, in Sooke BC, they promote photography contests on Istagram that showcase what they love about the region. They offer prizes for the winner, which support local businesses, and at the same time they get a wide range of different people, perspectives, and images that share stories about the region. So there are a bunch of creative ways that you can have a large database of authentic images that assist in sharing your destination’s story.

Amanda sharing a "moment" with a Mistissini local

To summarize the power of images and videos to help share your destination’s story, here are some useful tips:
  • Be authentic and don’t be afraid to be real
  • Promotional photos/videos don’t have to be scripted and beautiful
  • Develop your brand strategy and define who your clients are and who you want to attract
  • Empower your visitors (tourists) to share their perspectives and images to help tell your story

Where to get started…

If you are new to tourism or want to have some guidance in sharing your tourism business/community’s story using images, CES offers a free one-on-one coaching session with you on where to start.  For more details contact or call us at 1-877-444-5550. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wya Point – A Best Practice in Indigenous Tourism Development

Tucked away in the lush rainforest on Vancouver Island’s west coast near Ucluelet lies Wya Point, an Indigenous owned and operated tourism venture. Amanda recently had the opportunity to visit Wya Point Resort owned and operated by Ucluelet First Nation. The Resort offers a broad range of accommodation options and amenities including a campground, ocean front yurts, an ocean front eco lodge, a surf shop and the Wya Welcome Centre. They originally started with just the campgrounds, then after a few years moved on to building the yurts, and after that just recently built the eco lodge. Their service offerings cater to all types of travellers from more basic accommodations to luxury services making it a place that has something for everyone.

It’s operated so effectively by having a central administration building that is accessible off the main highway. This is where the Welcome Centre is and it acts as the hub where you check in, can purchase snacks and souvenirs, and ask questions about what to do in the area. There is also an onsite Maintenance Manager that is there at the campgrounds, yurts and eco lodge, to provide assistance if needed on the ground.

Amanda stayed in the ocean front yurts and they were so cozy! She came during off season so it was a bit cooler outside, but the propane stove kept the yurt nice and warm. They were self-contained units equipped with cooking supplies and a BBQ. Each yurt has their own private access to the beach making it feel like you are having a private experience on the wild west coast. And for it being off season it was entirely booked with families, couples, and young travellers.

For those looking for a more amenities and a luxurious experience, the Eco Lodges at Wya Point offer deluxe accommodation in self-contained, uniquely designed post and beam lodges complete with fireplaces, modern kitchens, spectacular ocean views and walk-on beach access at Ucluth Beach. These were fully booked when Amanda visited, but she overheard some guests checking out stating that they loved their experience and they would definitely come back!

The Wya Point Surf Shop and Café has also opened up and partnered with the resort to provide another service to visitors. It is privately owned by community member, Tyson Touchie and Amanda had the chance to meet the owner at the recent Sustainable Indigenous Tourism conference this past April and heard his story and challenges of starting his own business. He had strong community support to do this venture and he offers something unique in the area. Many people come to the west coast of Vancouver Island for surfing, but he brings an Indigenous perspective to the table by sharing stories about the land, his ancestors, the wildlife and their relationship to the land. Visitors still get their amazing surf experience, but they gain so much knowledge and understanding of the land and the indigenous peoples that inhabited it for so long.

Amanda highly recommends this experience and is happy to deem Wya Point as a best practice in Indigenous Tourism Development. More info on Wya Point can be found at  and the Surf Shop has their website at

If you’re wanting to create your own tourism venture or enhance your current tourism projects/business CES is offering a free consultation on how to get started. Email us at or visit us at for more details.

Monday, February 13, 2017

FAM Tours: Creating International Awareness

Written by Amanda Huculak, Project Manager with CES

I just recently returned from a FAM Trip to Eastern India to learn more about the local tourism industry and get a feel for what the destination has to offer. FAM Trips or “familiarization” tours are experiences designed for Travel Agents and Tour Operators to have an opportunity to experience a variety of tour products, accommodations and to have a chance to personally meet with the owners and staff at each place they visit. It is also a great opportunity for local tourism businesses to showcase their products in order to attract new business on the international scale.

The event I attended was called Destination East and the program included a 2 day Symposium in Kolkata where we had one-on-one meetings between ‘Buyers’ and ‘Sellers’ and presentations on what Eastern India has to offer as a region. After the Symposium, the international delegates split into smaller groups to experience tourism products offered throughout the region. This included visiting a variety of accommodations, participating in tour activities, and having a chance to meet the owners and local operators at networking dinners and receptions.

As a Tour Operator/Agent you learn so much about the region and are able to sell the experiences better to your clients since you have personally been there and experienced it yourself.

As an individual business, these opportunities create great exposure and are essential for growing your business and creating more awareness for your tourism products and services. 

Where to start?
  1. Contact your regional Destination Marketing Organization to find out if they are planning any FAM Tours.
  2. Offer individual FAM Tours to Travel Agents and International Tour Operators that you already have established relationships with.
  3. Contact funders to find out if they offer incentive programs and support for FAM Tours.
  4. Work with your community, local businesses, and regional DMO’s to find out if you can work together to create a regional FAM Tour or Symposium to bring more international awareness.

If you are interested in learning more about FAM Tours and their benefits to you, contact CES for a free consultation at or at 1-877-444-5550.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Clinton Belcher Celebrating 20 Years with Canadian Ecotourism Services

Canadian Ecotourism Services, also known as CES, is celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year! We thought that this would be a great opportunity to hear from Clinton Belcher, the owner and CEO of the company, to learn more about the evolution and growth of CES throughout the years.

January 2017 Interview with Clinton Belcher, owner/CEO of CES

Question 1: A 20 Year Anniversary for CES can’t have you not reflect on the evolution and growth throughout the years… let’s travel back a bit and touch upon what inspired you to create CES?

Answer 1: Jerry Maguire – haha – Well, I would have to say that it’s the deepest desire to honestly make a difference and change people’s lives and make a positive impact. The projects are done in a very personal and human way that was extremely meaningful for our clients and helpful for myself.

Question 2: How was it like in the beginning years? Do you recall your first client?

Answer 2: In the beginning there was a lot of learning and a lot of challenges in understanding the culture and learning how to try to take mainstream ideas and methodologies and employ them in the communities. I spent a massive amount of energy creating community based and grassroots solutions and coming up with ways of making it work – instead of using off the shelf solutions.

A lot of thought and time was put into using solutions that would benefit communities and be useful at the community level…which ultimately as a business owner, made it not profitable.  For me it was passion over profit, to do the right thing first, then the money would come.

My first client was Vernon Tuesday from Big Grassy First Nation.  Vernon taught me a lot of cultural values that impacted the way I did business and we ended up having a personal relationship for a good 15 years before he passed away.

Vernon ended up coming to our Christmas parties, he became part of our family. He always kept me in check of doing what’s right for the communities first. He taught me the real meaning of integrity and trust. He really taught me those two things. He also was the one that got me down the path of coaching and advising.

He also exposed the challenges that communities have with bureaucracy and trying to meld into mainstream businesses and how to develop businesses that work with the mainstream business world.

Question 3: Being involved in the business of travel, I’m sure you had some great opportunities and have visited some incredible places through CES. What is a unique travel experience that really stands out for you?

Answer 3: It was Easter Island and working with the Rapa Nui because that was my first international exposure and recognizing the similarities and values of Indigenous people. And second to that was going back to South Africa and working from where I came with indigenous people.

Question 4: I’m sure that things have evolved a lot throughout the years. Describe how the company has changed throughout the years, and if there was a particular change that really stands out.

Answer 4: I would say the biggest change we had was doing things our way with the best interests and learning about the people we work with.  When we first started, we had to fit in the mould of funding and what was traditionally done, both as trainers and consultants. What I found now is that we really developed these systems that are indigenous and we continue to build them and we continue to learn from them and it’s all because we worked for the communities and with the communities and not for the bureaucracy. 

Question 5: Now back to you – how have you changed throughout the past 20 years?

Answer 5: I think that I’ve become a better listener and I’ve learned how to adapt, and I welcome change. I think I see more opportunities when there are challenges. I thrive on solving and providing and coming up with solutions that will work and ultimately make a difference. I thrive on challenges and the stress that comes with these projects as crazy as it sounds.

My best moments are when things are challenging and stressful. I don’t know why but that is who I am, which never allows me to be complacent, which leads to always adapting and challenging ourselves. We then become better for solving problems.

Question 6: I’m sure you have many… What was one of your most memorable experiences with a client?

Answer 6: I would say one of my most memorable experiences has been working with Titus Shecapio in the Cree Nation of Mistissini. It was over a 12 year relationship of coaching and training him and watching him develop and turn into a community champion and now a leader in the community.  He started from a frontline position and working with him and watching him grow and seeing the results… it’s been amazing to be part of.

Working with the community of Mistissini in general has been amazing.  From their Chief, to working with Conrad now – it’s been my most memorable client and experience working with them. We have a unique relationship – they believe in letting us do what we do, and they believe in what they were hoping to achieve. As a result we got great things accomplished.

One of the unique things about some of the clients we have, is that we develop this trust and friendship and we don’t forget the balance of life. But when it comes to the tasks and the work we’re held accountable. When you can have both of those things, that makes life good. There is a natural balance of work and play.

Question 7: Your Staff – in 20 years, I’m sure you’ve worked with a variety of different and interesting people. Can you share one of your favourite memories working with your team or is there anything you would like to reflect on?

Answer 7: My favourite experience was and is the way our team worked and how we took every project like it was our own. It made me proud to see how everyone took it on as their own business. And further to that, I’ve admired the way that each team member has grown and built their capacity and has added value to their own personal lives while accomplishing great projects.

I never had employees, I’ve had team members and we are all on equal playing fields. I always respect what my team brings to the table. And I’ll always stand up for my team.

Question 8: Is there any particular moment that made you proud of what you created over the past 20 years?

Answer 8: I would say, that it’s our use of technology and cultural tradition. I think that this is something that I’m proud of – such as our AIM (Authentic Indigenous Moments) project, it’s revolutionary.  We’re always trying to up the game.

Question 9: 20 Years in Business is a huge accomplishment – what was the key to CES’s success?

Answer 9: I would say it’s the human element and humanity – that’s the key to our success. If you do everything with a little humility and humanity, I believe that is what has kept us going and is truly my drive. It’s humanity always remembering it’s not just a project, there’s always people behind everything we do – remember we are all just people, we need to be treated with respect the same way, and we all deserve to have a good life. With humanity and humility – profit has never been my driver, it’s the human element. If you do those things right, the profit will come.

Question 10: What does the future have in store for CES?

Answer 10: I think that we are going to have an impact on a wider reach and I think that it will be National and or International, and that’s by using our methodologies and our system and certainly the word of mouth. I believe we will set a bar for other consultants and firms to work towards for helping indigenous communities prosper.

I think now after 20 years, I really recognize how important our work is. I love coaching and I love advising and being in a mentorship role – I’m really enjoying giving back that way. I feel like it’s philanthropy in a sense, we help communities with incentives to get started, but it’s developing a relationship to help reach goals – I don’t even see it as work.  It’s just what I should be doing.

Every person that comes into my life provides me with a value. I feel that I want to do more and return something to them because of what they have provided me with.

Stay tuned for some more announcements, stories, and new programs for 2017! For more on CES visit us at