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Tourism's a hot topic with Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway Association


Jerry W. Bird
On May 25th at the Best Western Inn, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Jerry W. Bird , Editor and Publisher of Air Highways and Africa Travel Magazine, presented the keynote address for the Yellowhead Trans Canada Highway Association's 56th Annual Convention. While the event covered a wide range of topics, its final day was devoted to tourism initiatives and opportunities. The audience included mayors of communities along the 2600 km route, tourism and transportation officials from four provincial governments. Details of our Editors' Tours on the Yelllowhead Trans Canada Highway from Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwa'ii) to Winnipeg, Manitoba will be provided later. The following is an excerpt from his presentation to the delegates:

Life is a Highway ... and just as the mighty Yellowhead, the Alaska Highway, or any great river system follows a given path, it has countess tributaries, back roads and trails worthy of exploration. One never knows what's around the bend, or beyond the next fork in the road, with each option presenting a different set of possibilities. Sometimes a detour or wrong turn ends up being a pleasant surprise or rewarding achievement. That's the magic of serendipity... the call of the wild or lure of the open road.

"There's a great, big broad land way up yonder

There are forests where silence has lease.

There's a beauty that thrills me with wonder.

There's a stillness that fills me with peace."

On life's highway there are many signs, and a few "special angels" to whose legacy we owe a powerful debt. One whose example and sage advice impacted my life was my uncle Frank Bird. Head of the British Columbia Automobile Association for two decades, he steered me down a career path that began at the Edmonton Journal, and took an exciting new turn in the 90s, thanks to desktop publishing and the Internet. It's as if everything one learns through four long decades is just boot camp; basic training for even greater challenges to come.

Another bright angel is Joe Whitehead, publisher of Western Canada's Journal of Commerce, who has been developing travel and trade missions with Korea and Japan since the 50s. Joe provided international distribution for our travel-business magazines at Apec 97, the Asia Pacific Economic Conference, opening new avenues to the Pacific Rim. Prior to his death in January 2002, he was our Editorial Board Chairman. Joe's legacy will continue in BC Scene, our group's latest travel business magazine.

Speaking of Joe Whitehead and the Asian market, last week's Vancouver Sun told how BC Tourism and the Canadian Tourism Commission scored a major coup, with 23 million Japanese television viewers waking up to views of the Canadian Rockies by Rail. That same article sang the praises of a new cruise ship terminal for Prince Rupert. Well deserved to say the least and of significant value to packaging and marketing travel, trade and tourism on the entire Yellowhead Route. Perhaps the legacy of Charles Melville Hays, lost in the Titanic sinking, is coming to pass with a cruise industry for Prince Rupert. A powerful idea whose time has finally come.

Packaging Fly-Drive Vacations
My legacy in travel and transportation started on the Yukon riverboats, government surveys and Royal Canadian Airforce, which provided me with an appreciation for the vastness of Canada and the need to secure our borders, network of highways and airports. How important that lesson has become today (post 9/11) a topic our magazines and web sites are covering in increasing detail.

Open Skies and the fly-drive concept led to our popular Air Highway Supermaps, designed and produced for Transport Canada, with other versions created for Avis, Best Western, MasterCard, Sheraton and Helijet Airways. Over 400,000 copies of our various maps are now in circulation thanks to these fine sponsors and a network of gateway airports that distribute our items.

Speaking of fly-drive opportunities, Canada's recreational vehicle industry, whose trade association my agency represented on the national scene, was a legacy of the 60s. It's an exhilarating life in the wide open spaces &endash; and as we learned as Europeans flocked to Canada in a new way, a powerful earner of tourism dollars. The Yellowhead Route is like a Mecca to nature lovers and prime RV country.

I can't talk about packaging tourism without mentioning the renaissance of rail travel, which is like an elegant land cruise as packaged by Rocky Mountain Railtours and others. Back in 1989 many colleagues thought my idea for a "Railways of the World" feature in our travel magazine was a joke. Har de har har!

Most railway items or articles at that time were consigned to the back pages, swimming in a sea of ads. Anyway, I pressed on, and for years my railway features generated more mail than any other topic on our editorial menu. A series that ran for three years in a Seattle newspaper used to fill my mailbox in Point Roberts, Wa within a few days of its appearance. Some joke!

Another legacy is Canada's hotel industry. I once handled promotion and advertising for the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company, who owned a chain of country inns. Our theme was Alberta's famous doors of hospitality. Canada's great hotels are part of the legacy in cities, towns and villages along the Yellowhead, and I have had the honour of working with both the Alberta and BC/ Yukon Hotel Associations. Hoteliers are true pillars of the community and some of my best friends are among them. I look forward to visiting some of the famous and lesser known doors of hospitality on the Yellowhead this summer and fall.

Packaging the Yellowhead Experience
At our Air and Marine Tourism Conference in 1998, Kevin Walker of Victoria gave a short course on tour packaging that was a standout. Drawing from years of hands-on experience as a family hotelier, Kevin was one of the first to spot the Ecotourism trend and the attraction of whale watching. His efforts paid off in spades and started an Ecotourism and Adventure tourism bonanza.

In "A Yellowhead Journey Into History" written for Latitudes Magazine of Montreal, I was also able to draw from experience, having travelled much of the route by car and train at various times. The marine highway on Canada's Pacific Coast is another dimension that makes marketing travel on the Yellowhead such a pleasure. The Yellowhead Highway conjures up feelings of romance. Looking at postcards of wilderness spots along its course, brings to mind the musical Rose Marie with her red coated mountie, lusty songs of the voyageurs and love call piercing the summer sky. That's the mood I was after in the opening lines...

"Imagine your auto or railway coach is a time-capsule. cruising down a broad ribbon of Canadiana in the wake of nomadic hunters, voyageurs, missionaries, traders, sodbusters, fortune-seekers and railroad builders. From Lake Manitoba to the Haida Gwa'ii, it's a 2600 km journey into history, with Indian encampments older than Egypt's great pyramids, national parks, ancient shrines and battle sites. Ethnic dances and pageants salute every facet of our heritage. Before we dim the lights and start the movie, you're curious to know how the name Yellowhead was derived -- right? In the 1870s, a roving guide, dubbed Tete Jaune for his golden locks, gave title to a mountain Pass near Jasper House and gained instant immortality. "

Since Parks Canada was our prime sponsor, what really dawned on me in developing this story, was not just the magnitude of this awesome journey through four provinces and 3 time zones, but the bonanza of travel opportunities the Yellowhead route offers in packaging side trips to parks and historic places. Each side trip, major city or area offers a tour within itself ... from the Forks at Winnipeg and Lower Fort Garry, to Riding Mountain National Park, Saskatchewan's Qu'Apelle Valley, Watrous Lake, Historic Batoche and the Battlefords, Alberta's Elk Island Park, Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River Valley, Rocky Mountain House, Jasper, Mount Robson, Hazelton, Skeena River Country, Prince Rupert and the misty islands of Haida Gwaii.

It's a great big, eco-friendly package that offers something for everyone, most especially our American friends to whom we can guarantee a relatively safe vacation or business trip .... at an exchange rate that's loaded in their favour. So, as George Lois, one of my mentor in advertising used to say " If you've got it ... flaunt it."

This summer's "photo safari" on the Yellowhead by road and rail, will help us map out some super fly-drive tours, circle tours and mini tours for the benefit of our readers and web site viewers around the world. Yes, we plan to start with a ferry cruise from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert on the Queen of the North.

Packaging Ecotourism: The Land, the Culture, the Wildlife
This being the International Year of Ecotourism, sanctioned by the United Nations and World Tourism Organization, that topic has been high on my agenda. Ecotourism is defined as "Traveling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations."

What a turn of events is this example. Thanks to the legacy of P. Lawson, I had the opportunity to launch a television show we called "Where in the World," reaching a Western Canadian audience. The content reflected the days before Ecotourism became part of our dictionary, when sun tans, beaches, trade winds and the great escape led the travel tourism agenda. Today, Ecotourism is all the rage, as a different type of consumer is emerging, seeking educational and cultural experiences, the joys of nature, camera safaris, whale watching, bird watching, wilderness adventure and much more.

My legacy of the 70s, was a series of projects for the Propane Gas Industry, whose efforts to introduce this alternative fuel source "Auto Propane" took me across Canada, and Western USA, interviewing fleet operators, airport limousine drivers and users of every description. The end result was a library of marketing, safety and training film strips and videos. This experience sparked a keen interest in the continuing development of alternatives fuels and transportation innovations.

The Power of Partnerships and our African Connection
The theme of our Air and Marine Tourism Conference was "Links and Partnerships" which reflects what is happening with organizations such as the Yellowhead Trans Canada Highway Association. While I had previously worked with and for associations in accounting, hotels, petroleum, housing, etc. the last 7 years brought something completely different into my life spurred by the power of strategic worldwide alliances.

In 1995, thanks to a quirk of fate, chance or destiny, I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity by the Bradford Group of New York, to launch and operate an official magazine for the Africa Travel Association. It's been a truly rewarding experience. Learning the cultures of various African countries and regions gives one an appreciation of our own country's rich heritage. Being amongst the herds of wildebeest and zebra is a lesson that relates to our own caribou herds and buffalo who were once as numerous on the Canadian plains and tundra. Feeling the warmth, friendliness, and appreciation of the local people, moderately well off or desperately poor, is a heartwarming experience and a lesson for all Canadians. What I've seen of Canadians working in Africa for great causes has made me extremely proud.

The Africa Travel Association is in its 28th year and its strength has been the ability to keep free of politics, while involving tourism ministers and forming strategic trade partnerships, some of whom I interact with on a constant basis, such as:

WTO - the World Tourism Organization

USTOA- the United States Tour Operators Association

ASTA - the American Society of Travel Agents

ARTA - the Association of Retail Travel Agents

TIES - the International Ecotourism Society

One of my pet projects, the Peace Through Tourism Movement was founded by my friend Lou d' Amore who currently lives in Stowe, Vermont. The IIPT held its first Global Summit in Vancouver 15 years ago, and we invite you to attend its 6th Global Summit next February in Geneva, Switzerland. Their lofty goal is the alleviation of poverty through tourism.

Follow Your Passion and Leave a Legacy.
This latest 'mantra' and theme of a popular best seller is one we take to heart. Passion energizes my 93-year-old friend Elyse White of Harlem, who has travelled to Africa to attend every congress for 27 years. Elyse is a powerful role model for anyone and an ideal candidate the Yellowhead experience.

Shortly after high school graduation, I worked for a while on what is now the Dempster Highway, near Dawson City, part of the Alaska Highway system that leads to the top of the world. A year before, it was a government survey crew travelling by pack horse from Mayo in the central Yukon to the Canol road built by the US Army to Norman Wells, NWT. Perhaps the next milestone, or dream to be realized will be a land bridge to Asia and Europe via Siberia. Nothing is beyond comprehension in our times if enough people follow their passion.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity.