After winning double gold in Sochi, Canada has once again cemented the fact that we are the best curlers in the world! Curling, like golf or darts, is one of those sports that looks easy until you actually try it. If you have the opportunity to attempt to throw a curling stone, I highly recommend giving it a go! Two things will strike you immediately, first is that the rocks are really heavy! Picking them up is nearly impossible. The second realization is that keeping your balance while trying to slide along ice to propel the stone is ridiculously difficult. Looking foolish during your first few shot attempts is a given. This is likely why alcohol is usually encouraged, which truth be told likely makes the process worse, but it aids in getting people to at least try!
I love the Olympics. In fact, I really should consider taking two weeks vacation every four years when the winter Olympics roll around. Don't get me wrong, the summer Olympics are great too, but being Canadian, the winter means hockey, skating, curling and other sports we, as a country, are good at.
There really seems to be a huge shift that has happened for Canada and our athletes that are competing at the Olympics. We have a swagger, a confidence and after Day 5 in Sochi, we are tied for first place with no fewer than 10 medals! Our country is really getting swept up again and it now seems like only yesterday we were doing the same thing on home soil in Vancouver.
But it's not just the recent success for Canadians that is the drying force for my love of the games. Here are four reasons why I get so caught up:
I know I have a major bias and I want to get that out and declared early but this is a fantastic year to travel in Canada. Whether you are Canadian and looking for a domestic adventure, American and have always wondered about the great white north or an International traveller looking for a different vacation this year there is no time like the present.
Here are my five reasons to choose Canada this year:
One absolute truth about Canadians is that we love to talk about the weather. In the winter, we commiserate about the cold and then a mere six months later can be found huddled around the air conditioning unit disturbed by the latest heat wave.
In my four plus decades of this patriotic ritual I have never heard about a "polar vortex". In fact when I first heard the term, my initial thought was "Sounds cool, is it available on Netflix?" Apparently not yet!
Usually checking the mailbox in January is nowhere near as rewarding as it is in December. Bill after bill start arriving but this year I received to my delight a late Christmas present. I had almost forgotten that I had applied for my ten-year passport; new option Canada has just launched and I received mine this week! I don't have to renew until 2024! I'll be..... Oh never mind!
My new passport will be used for the first time next week when the girls hockey team I coach head into the United States around Lake Erie to a hockey tournament in Erie, Pennsylvania!
The Canadian dollar (or loonie) has been steadily losing ground against the US dollar. A year ago we were basically at par but now it's dropped down under ninety-five cents. As the rates drop it becomes more attractive (financially) to do business and travel in Canada and Hollywood has started to film up here again. It appears that Canada is officially on sale!
Toronto is a hot bed for movie production and is in fact the third largest behind Hollywood and New York. But, it's not just Toronto, here are some movies that you may not have known were filmed in Canada:
I came home from work a few weeks ago and before I had my shoes off my daughter asked to come quickly to help with her homework. I really wanted to put my feet up and have a glass of wine but duty called and plus she said it was "travel related" and thought I could really help. As opposed to math homework, which ends with me having to read the entire grade six textbook. Have you had this experience?
As it turns out her assignment was to log on to "Geo Guesser" - the link is actually http://geoguessr.com (without the third "e") and try to determine where an image from Google maps was in the world. It is awesome! I NEVER had home work like this.
I recently came across a great article from CNN that ranked the twelve best Christmas trees around the world. I have to admit there were some really outstanding trees including one made entirely from Lego in Malaysia, another made from recycled bottles in London and last but not least a tree made with more than 8,000 macaroons in North Carolina! All were definitely worthy of the list, but I was shocked and if I'm honest, a little disappointed not to see any from The Great White North. Baffling since the top five real Christmas trees according to the National Christmas Tree Association (yes there is one) are all found in abundance in Canada. For the record they are the Balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and Scotch pine.
Just like Best Western, Christmas spirit is everywhere in Canada and I love seeing both, so here's my list of the top five Christmas displays you can find in Canada:
Saturday it happened. Actually to be precise it may have started Friday evening, but never the less we all woke up Saturday morning to a cold and beautiful snowstorm. In this case, cold was a good thing, the fact it was so cold made for a much easier shovel-a-thon. The milder the weather, the more moist and in turn heavy the snow is! I have to admit before I get all "pro-snow" on you, that I am really thankful that it hit when it did and missed us last week on our Best Western hockey weekend away!
For Canadians the weather is always a "hot" topic and I think every conversation I have had in the last forty-eight hours started with a reference to the recent storm. It struck me that most people complain about it and commiserate about all the negative things that come along with snow, tough driving conditions, shoveling, cold weather, the list goes on. Very few people on the other hand embrace it and make the most of it. Let's change that! Here are a few things to celebrate about snow!
There really is nothing that brings a sports team together like hitting the road for an away tournament. It might sound cliché but this past weekend, our eleven and twelve year old girls hockey team, The Bengals, came together over the weekend and it culminated with the gold medal victory 1-0 on Sunday evening. The weekend was a huge success on and off the ice!
Here are my tips for a successful sports team weekend away:
It's Sunday night and you have just finished dinner. The kids are getting ready for bed and you finally start to think about "next week". You are up at the crack of dawn Monday and on the road all week. You know the routine all too well; you are, after all, a road warrior and have done this countless times.
I can certainly relate! Here are the five things that drive me bananas if I leave home without them (and trust me I have forgotten each one more than once)! To qualify for the "bananas" list, it has to be something significant that I can't easily pick up for less than ten bucks, like contact lens solution, deodorant or a toothbrush.
Is it just me or is time just flying by? It hit me like a truck this week, my neighbour put up his Christmas lights, Sunday was the Santa Claus parade, and I heard my first of many holiday songs on the radio. I guess I better comes to grips with the fact it's almost December, and I better start shopping. Although if you read my recent blog about cashing in points for gifts, then you know what my first step needs to be!
It also struck me that this is the time of the year that I like to write a blog highlighting some of the travel trends that I am both reading about and observing. So, without further ado, here are my top five trends to watch in 2014:
I recently scratched another city off my must see list and this time it was San Antonio, Texas. In fact, if we are keeping score it was my first time in Texas. Although my visit was brief and was officially classified as a business trip I did get some time to explore the city.
Here are five things I never knew about San Antonio, maybe you were not aware either:
I have been hearing a lot of buzz over the last few years about Canadians moving away from acquiring "things" and a trend towards collecting experiences. This week I came across a report that confirms this theory.
According to the Bank of Montreal's 2013 Holiday Spending Outlook, gift purchases in Canada will be relatively flat this season, with a slim 0.6 per cent increase over last year. Families on average will spend $678 on gifts.
However, Canadians are shifting a big portion of their holiday spend towards family getaways, which are forecasted to rise a whopping twenty-two percent over 2012, and nearly double what was spent in 2011: $689 versus $360. Woo-hoo, let's get packing!
Just back home y'all from my first trip to Texas. I had a great time at Best Western's Annual Convention in San Antonio with almost 3,000 of my newest friends. Remarkable how well attended the convention is which brings hotel owners, managers, suppliers and head office staff together for an opportunity to connect, share, learn and grow.
I have attended many conferences over my career and this was by far the most impressive! Don't worry, I will update you in subsequent blogs about a few great places to eat and drink and some touristy must see things in San Antonio, but today I want to focus on the theme of the convention "People Who Care".
Thanksgiving in Canada is just about the right time to start thinking about what you need to do to get your car ready for winter weather. It's hard to predict exactly when the "fun" weather will start but I guarantee the worst day to go get yourself prepared is the first day it snows. So beat the rush and here are five things you can do to stay safe on the roads:
One of the things I truly appreciate about being Canadian and living where I do is the diversity of our four seasons. There I things I like about each but my favourite time of year is with out a doubt the fall. Here are eight reasons why:
I started researching the best travel movies of all time; I thought it might be an interesting topic to blog about. Google (as always) spit back list after list from around the world. After reading a handful of the posts I started to see one movie that seemed to be in the top five on everyone's list, The Bucket List.
I am sure you are familiar with this 2007 blockbuster hit starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. In case you aren't it's the story of two terminally ill men who escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-do's before they die. It has inspired a myriad of lists and here's yet another, my top five Canadian things to do and see before I kick the bucket:
I just found my favourite new travel innovation while surfing on Twitter. One of the frequent business travellers that I follow was in Munich and couldn't say enough about her experience in a Napcab. My first thought was, maybe similar to yours right now, what in the world is a Napcab? Sounds cool already.
Napcabs are operating sleeping and relaxation cabins inside airport terminals and for short-term use. They offer passengers all the comfort they need for a quick time‐out: Privacy, sufficient space for baggage, a comfortable bed, a table, a comprehensive, intuitive range of multi-media, as well as internet access and various light settings.
Often when people learn about what I do the first question they ask is if I can "hook them up with free travel". Once I explain that it doesn't quite work that way, the questions change slightly to how to get the best deal, the best room, extra amenities, so to paraphrase; "How do I get the most out of a hotel stay?"
My first piece of advice to everyone is to start with the overall experience in mind. Anytime you are booking any trip or vacation or hotel stay start with what you want then focus on budget. Now, it has to be realistic you can't expect to stay in a castle and pay camping rates. But I urge you to think of the big picture. My best example is a trip I made to Calgary a few years ago and my colleague and I arranged our travel separately. He got a better "rate" but it was not inclusive of Wi-Fi and didn't include parking. It was also twenty kilometers further from where our meetings were being held. Once we got back and submitted our expenses, mine, although initially thought to be higher because of the room rate, was in fact significantly lower because my Best Western experience included parking, high speed internet and was closer to my destination which saved me money, time and fuel.
For most Canadians when they hear the word Hamilton they immediately think of "Steel Town" and associate the city as a blue collar, hard working, industrial place. It should be a badge of honour and celebrated but if we are honest it's often used to convey a rough and tumble place.
I has guilty of forming an opinion without having spent much time there myself but over the last two years, that has all changed. I have had the pleasure of spending more time in this fantastic area and I thought I would share ten facts that may help change any pre conceived notions you may have about Hamilton.
Earlier this summer while at a charity golf tournament we came to a hole sponsored by The Toronto Zoo. After speaking with a Director from the Zoo who was set up at the tee box he gave me a pass for a behind the scenes tour for me and my family. I vowed that this would not be a coupon that I would find years later at the bottom of my golf bag and regretted never taking advantage of a great opportunity to see a different side of the zoo.
I am happy to report that last Thursday we went behind the scenes and what an experience it turned out to be. We were able to get up close and personal with the orangutans, gorillas and giant pandas but the highlight was meeting with three of the veterinarians and lab technicians in an area of the zoo that many never get the chance to see. My kids were actually able to hear the heartbeat through a stethoscope of a ferret who was in for a check up. It was amazing and we got a real sense for how committed to the conservation of wildlife these people are and what a positive impact they are having on the survival of threatened species in the wild. In addition to leading research, enabling breeding programs and ensuring the highest standards of animal care, the team at the zoo are focused on educating the public and promoting an appreciation of the importance of wildlife. A goal that they certainly accomplished with us!
Visiting the zoo is a fabulous family activity. It's exciting, it's educational and can be very inspiring! Here is my list of the top five zoos in North America, I have had the pleasure of visiting three of the five so far!
I just spent the last hour making all the final arrangements for a quick trip my wife, her business partner and I are making Monday into Toronto. We are attending the Incentive Works conference and Monday night there is a networking event called Canada Rocks!
We have combined the trip into the "Tee-Dot" with a series of meetings in the afternoon. Sunday the kids are going to my Mother-in-laws place and Monday afternoon we are checking into Best Western Primrose. It's one of my favourite downtown spots and only a few blocks from the event. It just makes sense as opposed to making the hour drive back home after our bed times and a few cocktails while mingling.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of making my third appearance as a guest on the Chris Robinson Travel Show. It was the Saturday of the long weekend in August and for those in Toronto, his radio show is live on CFRB News Talk 1010 at 10:00AM every Saturday morning or for those close to Montreal it's an hour later on CJAD 800. I have known Chris well for more than ten years and it's always fun to catch up albeit with thousands of people listening.
If you are looking for me this summer the best place to check is at a baseball diamond in South Western Ontario! My nine year-old son, Ethan has become a baseball fanatic. It's a long story but in a nutshell he is playing for three different teams and the result has been an awful lot of time for Ruth and I spent in a lawn chair down the first base line this summer cheering them on!
The most competitive team of the three (The Oakville Whitecaps) are a tremendous organization, have great coaches and facilities. The team has made it quite clear that the goal is to build a great team over the next few years and try to qualify for the Little World Series in 2016. It is the tournament for eleven and twelve year olds and is held each year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The 67th edition is set to take place between August 15th and 25th, 2013.
The last two weeks in Canada have been down right hot! In Toronto, we have experienced six straight days where the temperature surpassed thirty-five degrees Celsius. That's ninety-five Fahrenheit! For us that's scortching.
As usual we Canucks love to talk about the weather and this topic generated a discussion for me this week with a disgruntled friend living this week without air conditioning! He started going through his list of tricks to stay cool, some I knew but others were novel. It got me thinking and has inspired my list of quirky tips to keep the sweating masses cool during a heat wave.
Here's a eye brow raising stat for you to "chew" on: More than half of workers, 51% to be exact, would prefer a root canal than to work during vacation, but they cave in to bosses' demands by using mobile technology on their down time, a new Harris poll showed.
Like many things in life, it's really difficult to understand something until you actually experience it for yourself. One of those things happened for me last week when for the first time in my life I had a chance to spend the day behind the wheel, on the track with Budds' BMW at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for their annual Driver Development Day.
It was only a year ago, that we took the entire family for a ten day tour of Alberta and attended the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede. You may recall a series of blogs as we attended opening ceremonies, visited the fair grounds and stopped by Banff, Jasper and Canmore along the way. It's amazing and truly hard to believe that a year has already passed and Calgary is back in the news but this year under much different circumstances.
Over the years I have heard so many horror stories about Canadians travelling abroad without adequate travel insurance. The one that sticks out in my mind as the most difficult involved a couple who were honeymooning in South Florida. With so many things to organize for the wedding the couple forgot to get travel insurance, but they were young and healthy and didn't think too much about it. Day two of the honeymoon, the groom broke his ankle jogging on the beach and it was a pretty good (or bad) break as far as ankles go, it required surgery and a pin to keep the ankle set. The bill for the two day hospital visit with surgery was just over $25,000. Not a great start to married life.
Hot off the heels of Best Western's Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto, American Express weighed in with some pretty optimistic numbers of their own. Their online survey shows that summer travel plans are up 17 percent from last year, with more than two-thirds (69 percent versus 59 percent in 2012) of consumers planning to take a trip in the next three months. Amazing increase!
For the 8th consecutive year Best Western held their Canadian Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto. This year the event was held at the Best Western Primrose
in the heart of downtown Toronto, just down the street from the historic Maple Leaf Gardens. By the way, If you are planning to stay in Toronto, make sure you look into this property, the location is terrific, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable and you can never go wrong with underground parking, free high speed Wi-Fi and restaurant on site!
I had the pleasure of moderating Best Western's annual leisure travel summit that is held each year in New York City. This year the event was held at The Modern, a restaurant, I highly recommend by the way, that is connected to the Museum of Modern Art.
I was delighted to learn that the latest addition to the Best Western family in Canada can be found in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia.
The area is arguably the most beautiful part of Canada and this in a country that is known for it's natural beauty. Despite being surrounded by the Canadian Rocky Mountains and at the edge of the breathtaking Kootenay National Park, the area, known as "Radium", is famous for the therapeutic Radium hot spring pools.
Have you ever had one of those light bulb, Eureka type moments? Perhaps Oprah might call it an "a-ha" moment. Well one hit me last night. I was at an event in Hamilton speaking to a University student who hadn't slept in a day and a half as she crams in the studying to prepare to write her final exams. During the discussion she told me that she just needs to get through the next week and then she and a friend are heading on vacation. I joked back "yeah, you'll need a sleep vacation!"
For the first time in twenty years there is genuine interest and excitement for major league baseball in Canada. It's hard to believe that it was exactly two decades since Joe Carter's historic homerun to give The Toronto Blue Jays their second world series title. I was a sophomore at Brock University and suddenly I am feeling old!
Since 1993, the Blue Jays have been just an average team with no appearances in the post season. The attendance has suffered and only the hard-core baseball fans have stayed connected and involved with the team. This year however it has all changed. A deal to bring in a plethora of talented players with a new manager and suddenly the Jays are the favourite to win the American League East.
Under normal circumstances getting issued a citation is nothing to smile about but not anymore. Best Western has launched a clever new campaign on Facebook that allows you to issue a vacation citation.
I am sure you know someone who needs sometime away, perhaps your boss, your best friend or even yourself. The program, which is connected to Best Western Rewards, allows you to select from a list of your Facebook friends and you can customize the reason you are issuing them the citation, an official declaration that you are encouraging them to getaway!
Monday, March 11th marked the 7th annual Business Travel Summit in Toronto, held once again at the Board of Trade. The annual event that is coordinated by Best Western has become a barometer for corporate in travel in Canada. I was honoured to once again be the moderator for another engaging discussion from a very impressive panel.
This year's panel included Summit veteran's Dorothy Dowling, Best Western's Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing as well as Tanya Racz, President of the GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) for Canada. The panel also included two rookie's Brian Robertson, COO of Vision 2000 Travel and Michael Koetting, Executive Vice President of Supplier Management for Concur and Trip It.
Sometimes referred to as the Echo Boomers, there is a group of travellers who are starting to really influence the travel and tourism industry. Millennials are a demographic cohort that follows Generation X and although many disagree about their exact age, in Canada the label is used for those born between 1983 and 1999.
From a travel perspective we are talking about those in their twenties and they have some very distinct characteristics:
A friend of mine asked me this week about arranging a trip to Montreal this summer and whether it made sense to take the train. My initial reaction was no, but it really got me thinking and I have to admit I have really changed my tune.
Admittedly my default answer is to fly and if that isn't option than I guess we are driving. The train hasn't traditionally been on my radar screen.
Every once in a while you hear a travel story that leaves you shaking your head and this week was one of those times. A family on board a Sunwing airlines flight that left Halifax headed for Dominican Republic was forced to make an unexpected landing in Bermuda. The reason for the diversion was that a couple and their twenty-two year old son were smoking in their seats. When they were asked to stop the family were allegedly very aggressive and unruly.
The incident led to the arrest of the three Canadians who appeared in a Bermuda court a few days later. The court charged them to either a $500 fine or 10 days in prison. No word yet on their decision, which to me seems like a pretty easy one, but let's just say they don't have a recent track record of wise decisions.
Trip Advisor has recently announced the results of their Traveler's Choice Awards
for 2013. The poll was conducted world wide and is broken into a number of categories including best destinations, best hotels, best restaurants and a number of sub categories like best family destinations.
It's a fun read but the Canadian content is fairly predictable with the big urban centres taking home the top three spots as best destination in Canada. With millions of travellers providing the reviews it makes sense as the big cities that get the visitors in turn get the most reviews.
January marked the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and in conjunction my blog about the best travel gadgets for 2013. To be honest, "best" may be the wrong word, let's label it as the top five that got my attention.
The first is perhaps a future gift for my father, Metal Detecting Sandals. These gems cost roughly $60 USD and will help even the most amateur archaeologist uncover what truly lies beneath the sand. The upside is how much more portable this unit is than the "old-school" hand held wand, this straps to your calf with a battery pack, with the sensors literally in the sole of the sandals. The downside is at present it is only accurate to about two feet and the weird tan line on your calf is going to be hard to explain.
I have been writing for the Best Western travel blog for four years now and we have covered an array of topics, destinations and trends. I have reported on the business and leisure categories in Canada and quoted some industry experts along the way. Today, however, I thought I 'd change it up, it may be the fact I am at home on the couch suffering through day two of a flu bug that the minus twenty five degree weather has so graciously brought us this week, but here it goes! I thought we could learn and share our quick travel recommendations and stories and then pass them on. Can this go viral! Help us out!
I know we are already into 2013 and I have declared my resolutions to get into great shape again and from a travel perspective to get the family signed up for Nexus cards, but I need to add one more, travel photobooks.
A few years ago I was really disciplined about taking the time after a trip to create a photobook online. I actually created four books over a two span from a trip to Arizona to another one at Disneyworld and even a family camp trip. Over the holidays my wife and I pulled out the books and reminisced about the memories, remembering key parts of the trip. It reminded us why we travel in the first place, and the photobooks were convenient and designed in such that way that they really tell the story of that particular trip.
I recently spoke with Tony Pollard who is the President of the Hotel Association of Canada and regular panel expert at our Canadian Best Western Travel Summits about the look ahead at 2013 for the hospitality industry. Tony reiterated what he said to me earlier in 2012, he is extremely concerned about a big drop of inbound International travelers to Canada in 2013.
Canada has always enjoyed and benefited from a stellar international reputation as a very safe and welcoming country. Those who have traveled across this majestic country also know how diverse and beautiful each region can be. Our economy has been, for the most part, very stable during a challenging economic time for many countries, especially for parts of Europe and the US, yet our rank as an international destination has steadily declined from a high of 7th in 2002 all the way to 16th. In fact we have dropped behind countries like Mexico, Turkey, Singapore and Malaysia.
Before I sit down to make my bold travel predictions for 2013 I thought it would be a good idea to see how I did a year ago with prognostications for the year that has just passed! Here was my blog from last year for your reference.
My first prediction was that gas prices were going to decline by 5% in Canada. According to gasbuddy.com on December 19th, 2011 the average price in Canada was the equivalent of $4.43 USD/gallon and exactly one year later the price has dropped to $4.36 USD/gallon. A decrease of a mere 1.5%, so I can't to credit for nailing that one, in fact for most of the year the price was above $4.43 and it only recently dipped below. So far batting 0 for 1. It's okay I made four more.
As the labour dispute rages on between the NHL and their players, Canadian hockey fans finally can look forward to some great hockey on TV with the start of the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Junior Hockey Championships. The tournament starts every year on Boxing Day and has been become a tradition for many hockey fans over the holiday season. This year it is taking place in Ufa, Russia. The tournament gathers the best under twenty year olds from the top ten hockey countries around the world. Under normal circumstances many players who would be eligible to play would be busy playing in the NHL, but with the lockout the tournament will truly attract the best of the best. Players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, both Edmonton Oilers will be on the ice.
Last Friday in the Greater Toronto Area was one of those dreaded days that every big city commuter faces at least once a year. Seemingly out of nowhere, the city was hit with a snowstorm. It arrived without warning at about 2:30PM and in many ways was truly the perfect storm to cause one of the worst commutes out of Toronto of all time.
The first ingredient in the perfect storm was the fact it was the first snowfall. That insured that snow removal and salting trucks were not ready for action. Cars losing control became the bigger problem than the actual amount of snow or weather that arrived.
Tis the season to be jolly but it's also the busiest time of the year to travel. In fact this year maybe particularly busy for Canadians simply because of when Christmas falls this year, it's on a Tuesday. What that means for a great number of people is that they end work on Friday, Dec 21st and can essentially only burn two (maybe three depending on your employer) vacation days and stay off until Wednesday, January 2nd. For the "vacation maximers" this is pure bliss, a full eleven days for the price of two.
Last Sunday, we packed up the car and headed into Toronto for the 109th annual Toronto Santa Claus parade. We have celebrated some big events this year including the centennial celebrations of the Calgary Stampede, and the Grey Cup (which is taking place this Sunday) and now the country's largest Santa Claus parade. In fact, it is one of the biggest productions in North America and the oldest annual parade in the world. I am told people tune in to watch on TV from all around the world but especially people from Russia, Norway and Ireland!
It's official. I made my appointment for Monday to slap the winter tires on the car, so in mind it is now officially winter. A reminder by the way, it's the temperature not the amount of snow that dictates winter tire use. When the temperature is consistently below seven degrees Celsius, you road warriors need to get winter boots on your vehicle! If I were living in Calgary or Edmonton I would have been at least two weeks late but never the less it's getting cold. There are two options, start complaining or find some strategies to make the best of it. Here's my list of seven things I will be doing over the next four months to make the most of the cold.
It's amazing how engaged Canadians become during US presidential elections. It is the lead story on every newscast, newspaper and Canadian magazine, not to mention occupying much of the talk on Facebook and Twitter.
Despite how close the race actually was, Canada was clearly with Obama. According to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted exclusively for Global News an unbelievable 86 per cent of Canadians say that if they were to vote, they'd put the country's fate in Obama's hands. Only one in ten Canadians say they'd vote for Romney.
After bracing for the effects of Hurricane Sandy, Canadians are feeling pretty lucky this week. Despite some really high winds and a few days of rain, it appears that Sandy had lost a lot of her steam after wreaking havoc on the Eastern Seaboard to the south of us. Having said that many residents in Quebec and Ontario dealt with power outages, school closures and some minor damage mostly from blowing debris and fallen trees. There was sadly one fatality in Toronto from a women hit in the head from a sign that had been broken during the high winds.
There are certain places across this great country that are truly iconic and have come to represent and symbolize Canada. It is difficult to narrow the list down to just the top five, but here is my take on the most iconic places in Canada.
It was 103 years ago, back in 1909, on Rosedale Field in Toronto that the battle for the first Grey Cup was contested. Before you start criticizing my math, it should be noted that there was no Grey Cup game played in 1916, 1917 and 1918 due to World War 1, in turn pushing back the centennial celebration to 2012.
If I were forced to guess prior to doing a little research for this blog why the trophy was called the Grey Cup I would have assumed it was the silver colour, but sadly I would have been wrong again. Not the first time, certainly not the last. The real answer was Earl Grey (I thought he was just a tea), then the Governor-General of Canada, donated a trophy in 1909 for the Rugby Football Championship of Canada. The trophy was indeed a rugby trophy until 1954 when the CFL (Canadian Football League) took it over and there it has remained and become a true Canadian icon, rivaling another famous trophy, The Stanley Cup.
Did you hear the story about the man who was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport wearing a bulletproof vest and flame-resistant pants while carrying a suitcase full of weapons?
Yongda Huang Harris, a twenty eight year old man from Japan, was taken into custody recently during a stopover on a trip from Japan when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers noticed he was wearing the protective gear under his trench coat. A search of Harris' luggage uncovered numerous suspicious items, including a smoke grenade, knives, body bags, a hatchet, a collapsible baton, a biohazard suit, a gas mask, billy clubs, handcuffs, leg irons and a device to repel dogs.
As each passing day goes by and the news about the NHL Labour dispute, officially labeled a "lockout", doesn't change it seems more and more likely that there will not be any NHL hockey this fall and potentially all winter. In Canada, this is a major story, to put it in perspective especially for people in Southern States, this is our equivalent of the NFL or MLB. This is big news north of the 49th parallel.
As TSN (Canada's version of ESPN) scrambles to fill hours and hours of weekly content it is becoming more and more evident to Canadians that another season with no professional hockey is looking more and more likely. We endured a lost season in 2004-05 and now that we are less than two weeks away from what would have been the start of the regular season, it's starting to feel like a real possibility that another season will be lost.
Anyone who has followed my blog over the last four years already knows that I profess my adoration and respect for www.BestWestern.com almost every week but this week I am kicking it up a notch.
I recently received a press release that was issued announcing how Best Western has made improvements to their already impressive website. One very notable enhancement is the addition of Trip Advisor reviews embedded directly within the site corresponding to each of Best Western's properties. To me it was another example of Best Western addressing an issue head on and putting the customer experience first.
Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain emailing. This maybe a little premature but Canadian air travellers will soon have access to email and the internet onboard flights after federal regulators recently signed off on a plan to begin offering the service north of the 49th parallel.
The service is currently available with some carriers in the U.S. and has been launched as a fee-based option with rates around $2.00 for 15 minutes or a $20 flat fee for access for the entire flight.
Anyone from Canada born before 1990 knows exactly where they were and what they were doing eleven years ago. To me it is one of the days that I can easily call to the forefront of my mind and I remember vividly almost every aspect of that day. In fact, this year the weather reminded me of September 11, 2001, it usually happens in early to mid September, we get one of those bright and beautiful days but it's a little brisk. Given it's the end of summer it's a day that reminds you that jackets and mitts aren't too far away and you better get out and enjoy it, after what happened that's especially true, because you just never know.
By all accounts it appears that corporate travel in Canada looks as healthy as ever!
In fact, a recent study co-authored by Deloitte and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) has some pretty encouraging stats. Here are just a few:
84% of Canadian Business travelers are planning to travel as much or more this year, up 5% from last year, AND
International travel outside North America is expected to jump dramatically with 62% of corporate jet setters planning to be overseas in the next twelve months - that's up from 47% only a year ago.
I was laughing to myself this morning. I drove by a fairly busy corner and there were five people waiting for the light to change all of them fully distracted by their smartphone or mobile device. The thing that really struck me was the diversity of this sample. The range was from a blue haired punk rocker teen to an elderly woman with her poodle. The scene got me thinking about how much our devices have changed our lives and I decided to research the impact it's had on travel.
There is a litany of information out there about all the things you should consider packing for your next trip or vacation. In fact, I've even written a few blogs on the topic myself. Today however I wanted to talk about all those things you can stop packing. There are many benefits to packing more efficiently including saving money with reduced weight on checked baggage fees, more flexibility and mobility and ultimately a more enjoyable trip.
Let's look at some things you can take out of your next pack.
We recently moved and yes I am still living out of boxes! As you can imagine, I have gone through the grueling task of changing my address seemingly a thousand times. While doing this I had to change my mobile phone plan and update my five favourite (or most popular) numbers I call, which got the creative juices flowing. Inspired by my mobile phone plan, I have created a travel version of "MY 5" which is a mini version of my travel favourite places. The five places I can count on and enjoy going back to again and again. Without further adieu, I give you MY Travel 5:
Too soon, it was time to bid Calgary, the Stampede and the glorious Rocky Mountains farewell. This trip was definitely one of our best as a family and it was really special to have thirteen of us together for most of trip. Travelling is all about experiencing new things, growing, learning and most importantly making memories. I can safely say mission accomplished on all fronts.
For my mother-in-law it was the first time in her sixty-six years (we were able to celebrate her birthday during the trip) that she had ever been west of Ontario. It's always amazing to see the reaction of people who witness the beauty of the Rockies for the first time. They really are inspiring. Mary also loved the warm buffet breakfasts we enjoyed from BEST WESTERN to BEST WESTERN across Alberta!
Another beautiful day in Alberta, literally our eighth consecutive day of high twenties, sunshine and no rain at all in the forecast. We started our day, with a similar pattern that I have really adapted well too, a buffet breakfast at Best Western. I can't emphasize enough what a tremendous benefit this has been for us on our family vacation. For me, breakfast is the best meal of the day and to have a warm buffet, prepared for me with no clean up is becoming a staple of any vacation I take moving forward. If you are planning a trip in the near future, remember to include things like breakfast, parking and internet access in the budget. Breakfast alone on this trip saved the five of us approximately four to five hundred dollars!
Our great weather experience continued as we woke up to sunny skies. We headed over to The Inn restaurant at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Jasper Inn & Suites and Suites for an excellent buffet breakfast. What a great start - scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes, French toast, hash browns, assorted yogurts, fresh fruits and juices, oatmeal and cereals and coffee and teas.
The highlight of our day was heading over to Maligne Lake, which is about 50 km's from Jasper but well worth the drive. In fact, this was the highlight of this leg of the trip. The drive from Jasper followed a rushing river that was spectacular and provided great opportunities to wildlife sightings. With 7 of us in the car there were lots of eyes peeled for bears, caribou, moose and deer. Despite all the eyes, we only saw one deer on the drive up.
The plan for today was to get from Banff to Jasper which is about three hundred kilometres northwest through the Columbia Icefield and Jasper National Park. We really got lucky because the weather was ideal to do one of the world's most scenic driving experiences. Highway 93 weaves through the most majestic mountain views, emerald coloured glacier-fed lakes and abundant forest landscapes. Everywhere we looked we were surrounded by breath-taking beauty. Everyone in the car was pretty quiet just taking in all in.
We made a quick stop at the Columbia Icefield which as the name suggests is the home of a huge glacial icedrift. Unfortunaely all the glaciers in Western Canada are receding glaciers which means more snow and ice is melting that is being replaced each year. Experts claim that within 75 years there will be no glacial ice left in this part of Canada which is unsettling after having the privilege of just seeing them in all their magnificence.
After another wonderful pancake breakfast at the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Freeport Inn and Suites we packed up, checked out and hit the road north-west for "The Rockies" and a couple days in Banff.
Banff is about an hour from Calgary and consistently voted Canada's number one travel destination. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains you definitely cannot beat the breathtaking views and mountain air. We arrived just before lunch and checked into the BEST WESTERN PLUS Siding 29 Lodge. Just to answer your first question right away, the name Siding 29 dates back to the early days of Banff in 1883 when the Canadian Pacific Railway made it's way west and the work camp, which later become the town of Banff was known as "Siding 29".
We woke up Sunday morning to Toronto-like conditions. A rare heat-wave in Alberta has temperatures climbing up to thirties celcius (nineties fehrenheit) so we felt right at home here.
One of the great traditions of stampede are pancake breakfasts where businesses, clubs and associations host a full western breakfast featuring pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs, juices, coffees and teas. Of interest, the BEST WESTERN PREMIER offers a pancake breakfast every day with but they also feature waffles, fresh fruits, cereals, custom made omelettes, oatmeal, muffins, pastries, yogurts, juices, coffees and teas. Sixteen of us showed up at the Calgary Winter Club to stompin' country tunes, face-painting, cowboys & cowgirls as far as the eye could see.
We touched down in Calgary last night in the early evening and were met with fanfare and cowboy hats. After picking up our rental chariot for the week we checked into the BEST WESTERN PREMIER Freeport Inn and Suites and were immediately impressed. This was my first experience with a BEST WESTERN PREMIER and it did not disappoint (more details in tomorrows blog).
One of the great benefits that we experienced immediately was the onsite restaurant and lounge and they were extremely accommodating. There were 11 of us and they provided us with a private area, superb service, food and a great selection of wines.
I just came off a grueling weekend helping launch Oakville's inaugural ribfest! I was asked months ago to help our local rotary club and sat on the marketing committee to promote the festival to officially start summer! I am still suffering from Smokey Hickory withdraw from the sweet aroma that seven "Ribbers" from across north America emitted overt the last seventy two hours. The event was held at Sheridan College and it attracted almost 24,000 people crushing the initial goal of 15,000.
The countdown has been on for months in my house as we get set for a fantastic summer vacation in 2012. We are heading to Calgary this afternoon to start a nine-day getaway with lots of action.
The first cool point is the "we". Leaving from Toronto are my wife, Ruth and I with our two kids, daughter Caira who is nine and my son, Ethan who is 8 along with my mother-in-law, Mary. We are meeting up with my Mom and Dad in Calgary and my sister and her family. She has two girls, Alicia who is 4 and Julia who is almost 2. My Aunt and Uncle are also in Calgary, so for some of the events there will be thirteen of us!
I am only days away from my annual golf retreat. This year we have twenty-eight guys and are heading up to the Muskoka region of Ontario for 3 days and 3 nights of great friends, good food and mediocre golf! I should clarify the golf courses are among the most beautiful in Canada, it's the golfers that don't do the game justice. Nevertheless it's an event I look forward to for months!
The second biggest challenge behind keeping your golf ball in play is sharing accommodations with three other friends for 72 hours. If you find yourself in this position here are my five tips to survive:
Every once in a while, a company finds an innovative way to dramatically enhance the customer experience. The result can be so impressive that within a short time frame the competition will have no choice but to follow suit and mimic the product or service.
In my opinion, Best Western has implemented just such a service enhancement. As part of its continued dedication to lead the hospitality industry in customer care, Best Western International is rolling out its "I Care Clean" program throughout 2012 that will bring advanced cleaning technologies used in hospitals, such as UV wands and black lights, to the more than 2,100 Best Western hotels in North America.
For the 7th year in a row Best Western brought together a panel of industry executives to discuss the state of leisure of travel in Canada. Once again I had the pleasure of moderating the discussion that was held at the Board of Trade in downtown Toronto. My task was made much easier with the strength of the panel. Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Best Western participated in her seventh summit along with Tony Pollard, the President of the Hotel Association of Canada who was here for his fifth. Joining Dorothy and Tony as a panel rookie was Brenda Kyllo, Vice President of Travel at CAA.
After a very difficult three years, the Canadian Tourism Commission is full of optimism. The reason to smile is that for the first time ever in a single month (February 2012), the eleven markets that they have identified as the key markets for Canada were all up in visitor numbers to Canada. This is great news for all of us as travel and tourism has such a positive impact on our overall economy!
Leading the charge were Brazil and Australia and interestingly February is an attractive month for them to come to Canada to ski! Both Brazil and Australia are very active cultures and they came in droves this year to hit our slopes.
Have any of you been watching Frozen Planet on the Discovery Channel lately? What a great show. In some weird and unexplainable way it makes me feel even more proud to be Canadian. But I wonder if that's because this year in my neck of the woods it's been so mild?
Having been somewhat de-sensitized to the cold at least for this year, what will it do for travel and tourism in Canada?
It seems that experts agree that there is no end in sight for rising gas prices in Canada. Even during the Hurricane Katrina, crisis prices for regular unleaded gasoline in Toronto never surpassed $1.40 per litre. According the National Post, analysts predict we could hit $1.47 before the end of this month.
It certainly sounds bad, but what does it actually mean to the average Canadian at the pump? I have had some trouble finding a reliable number for how much gas people buy in a typical month but it seems like it's between $250 and $500 depending of course on your vehicle and driving habits. So let's slice it down the middle and use $375. Gas prices have jumped about 20 percent in the last year and therefore it means an extra $75 a month right in the tank.
One of the age old debates for people choosing a hotel has been whether service or price was more important and to what degree. The "luxury" hotels polarized those who were willing to shell out lots of money to get a premium service experience, while budget conscious travellers chose to forego extra amenities to save money.
Although there is still that divide, the Hotel Association of Canada's recent Travel Intentions Study confirms that most travellers now want the best of both worlds.
Travellers expect or at least place significant importance on a number of amenities and services but at the same time are not prepared to break the bank to get them.
Here are a few of the results that illustrate this:
It's true, with such a mild start to 2012 in many parts of Canada, golf courses are opening up about a month earlier than normal. As an avid golfer in Ontario, Masters weekend (also referred to as Easter weekend) is when I start to look forward to the new season. In fact, I have never played in Ontario before mid-April in my life. This year, although I still haven't played, I have had offers to play in early March. What's even more bizarre is many of my friends who have played already, played comfortably in shorts!!
The other benefit of the mild weather is the fact the courses are not only opening early but they are in great shape. With the extended golf season, great weather and courses in fantastic shape this is a great time to start planning a spring golf getaway. Off season rates will still be in effect so thinking about an April or early May golf trip will combine the best of both worlds and you can enjoy mid season conditions at pre season prices!
I have just finished reading, "Advancing the Issues," the annual report that is produced by The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). My good friend, Tony Pollard, who happens to be the President of the HAC sent me my advanced copy. This report has become THE barometer for travel intentions from Canadians from both a leisure and business travel perspective.
Each year in January the HAC get survey responses from approximately 1,500 Canadians and compare their intentions going all the way back to 2006.
Here are a few of the key highlights from this years report:
It really does seem like a long time ago since Sidney Crosby's golden goal, which became the unofficial closing ceremony on Vancouver and Canada's Winter Olympics. It has been more than two full years and in the coming weeks and months memories will be rekindled as we turn our attention to London for the summer games. The games start on July 27th.
As we look back, Canada now views the Vancouver games as a cultural turning point and without fail, Canadians take great pride in what happened on the West Coast in winter of 2010. But, it didn't start that way.
One of the fastest growing segments that we are seeing in travel and tourism today is "Girls Getaways". In fact, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission female bonding vacations in North America have spiked by 230% over the last 6 years! No longer considered a niche, travel providers are starting to take notice and cater to this powerful group's wants and needs.
Here are just a few examples of neat ideas as spring draws near that you can hopefully use as inspiration to begin to plan a well-deserved escape.
If you are not so keen on skiing during March break,, how about a good old-fashioned road trip?
Some of my fondest memories as a child are from family road trips. My parents always stressed the importance of getting to know your local area, and now that I have my own family, I truly appreciate that advice and like to hit the road when possible.
For years now we have been talking about a family trip to go to the Calgary Stampede. The only reason we haven't done the trip already is a self-inflicted scheduling conflict with our annual family camp getaway. The Stampede and our week at Red Pine Camp unfortunately are always at the exact same time. This year however, we could no longer resist the allure and will be heading west for 10 days, leaving on July 4th.
If you have never heard of the The Calgary Stampede it is an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta. The ten-day event, which bills itself as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth", attracts over one million visitors per year. Literally the city shuts down and turns into a massive 10-day cowboy and cowgirl party! And yes, you are expected to be in some variation of a cowboy hat, boots and chaps the whole time! To add even more excitement this year it is the centennial celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the first event held back in 1912!
Earlier this month the Conference Board of Canada and The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) released their annual co-branded Canadian Business Travel Outlook Report, which takes a look at corporate travel expectations.
The study, now in its 5th year takes a cross section of companies within Canada who have an annual travel budget that exceeds one million dollars.
Three key findings jumped out at me and I wanted to try elaborate and share my opinion about what the impact will be on you if they are indeed accurate.
This coming Monday, February 20, I'll be celebrating my fourth Family Day. It's a holiday that is not necessarily widely celebrated but still a day I like to enjoy with my family. This year, I plan to make Family Day more of a priority just like we do for Good Friday, May 2-4 weekend (Victoria Day), Canada Day and Labour Day.
Family Day was first celebrated in Alberta in 1990 to highlight the values of family and home that were important to Alberta's founding pioneers and give workers the opportunity to spend more time with their families. Family Day was introduced in Saskatchewan in 2007 and Ontario in 2008.
Best Western has launched a fantastic new program called "Business Advantage" which is aimed at small and medium (or SME) companies in Canada. I will get into the details shortly, but before I do, I wanted to share a few staggering numbers that jumped out at me as I started to dig into this SME group.
Industry Canada defines SME's as those companies that employ less than 500 people. To my astonishment that includes a whopping 80 to 90% of all companies in Canada. Stats Canada goes on to tell us that this group makes up 64% of the total private sector workforce, which is 6.8 million employees in Canada.
March break is fast approaching and last week I highlighted a few great ski vacation options for your consideration. Thanks to everyone who shared other great ski destinations and tips to help inspire a well-planned and enjoyable March break vacation.
This week I am considering a Disney vacation and here are my top 10 tips and tricks to get the most out of a March break at Disney.
Happy New Year! We were lucky enough to ring in the New Year in style in beautiful Scottsdale, Ariz. We had two weeks of the most consistently amazing weather you can imagine. It also was the longest period of time I have avoided some form of precipitation! I found it uncanny to check the long range weather forecast on my iPhone and see a beaming sun icon with zero percent chance of rain---day after day! What do weather forecasters actually do in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area?
On day one of our two week winter vacation, we joined the growing group of Canadians who call Buffalo-Niagara International their home airport.
My anecdotal research, which relies on a visual scan of license plates in the long-term parking lot, confirms the more sophisticated research the Hotel Association of Canada has conducted. According to its studies, upwards of 20 percent of passengers who depart from Buffalo are Canadians.
'Tis the season for resolutions and predictions. As many of you know, I love to keep up-to-date with the latest statistics and travel trend data from the experts. Well this year, I thought I'd develop my own predictions. Looking ahead to 2012, here are my five travel predictions for the year ahead:
I was recently doing some research for a corporate client regarding a project in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI) and discovered an amazing statistic. According to the Canadian Centre for Standard of Living, the happiest province in Canada is, in fact, PEI.
As we often travel to pursue happiness, this statistic would lead me to believe that PEI would make an excellent destination for travellers. Happiness is difficult to quantify, which of course makes this more of a perception index than reality, but I started to do some thinking as to what PEI offers that could make its residents happier than anywhere else in Canada.
If you are like me, the (holiday) dread is just starting to sink in. The clock is ticking and with every passing minute, the pressure to find that perfect Christmas gift mounts. My routine is both predictable and dysfunctional. Every year as time winds down until Christmas, the amount of time I spend worrying increases day by day.
This year will be particularly challenging because my family, including my mother-in-law, brother-in-law and his girlfriend, my sisters' family and my parents are all spending our first Christmas away in Scottsdale, Ariz. There will be no white Christmas for us this year...at least there better not be!
I had a great conversation last night with a hockey teammate who is definitely what one would consider a "road warrior." He works in sales for a manufacturing company and spends more time in his car than anyone I know covering his territory of Ontario. In fact, he racks up nearly 40,000 kilometers every year working!
Last night I got the chance to probe him for some tips and tricks he deploys along his business travels. Here are some of his recommendations for anyone who is on the road often:
I am officially an "Apple" guy after two recent purchases. The first purchase was my new MacBook Pro (which I am using to write this blog) and the latest was my new iPhone 4S, my third generation. I was one of the 4 million consumers who rushed out on the first weekend and bought the new device.
Apple and iPhone have a done a masterful job lately demonstrating that their products are not just fun toys but well suited for the business crowd. I remember having a debate a while back with a friend who happens to be a lawyer. At the time, she felt that the white-collar crowd would never embrace the iPhone. I actually took a picture about a week later as our doctor used his iPhone to create a prescription, which he then sent wirelessly to a printer - and voila a literate prescription!
I was asked last week by PROFIT magazine to provide tips for small business owners to save money on their corporate travel budgets. As the owner of a corporate travel management company who deals with small and medium-sized businesses every day, my list of tips came pretty easily. Here are some of the money-saving highlights I shared with PROFIT:
I was a very lucky child growing up with easy access to a number of national historic sites just outside of Ottawa, Canada's capital. I also spent most of my summers at my grandparents' cottage on the St. Lawrence River in the 1,000 Islands region, near one of Canada's oldest national parks: St. Lawrence National Park.
Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. was the first designated national park in the world, established in 1872. Almost 30 years later in 1911, Canada was the first country to create an agency specifically devoted to its national parks. This agency, Parks Canada, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and is responsible for assigning, managing and preserving these glorious landscapes. Its scope now includes 42 national parks as well as 167 of the nation's 950 national historic sites, and four national marine conservation areas.
As we head deeper into fall and temperatures start to require a heavy jacket, many Canadians are planning their winter escape. For many of us, a week away on a tropical beach in the dead of winter makes the harsh weather somehow bearable.
I get asked all the time for tips to make this escape an even better experience, and for those who live more than an hour from the airport, I often suggest staying at a "stop-over" hotel. There are a number of reasons why you should consider this but the main reason is that either the outbound or return flight, or sometimes both, can have you at the airport very early in the morning. A "stop-over" hotel can help reduce stress, save you in tricky driving winter conditions and ultimately make your overall experience much better. Here are some things to consider when looking for a good play to stay:
As you very well may know, Winnipeg is the capital and largest city in the province of Manitoba. In fact, Winnipeg is the seventh largest city in Canada based on population. In relative terms, the seventh most populated city in the United States is San Antonio. The number seven is especially meaningful this year as the city welcomed back Canada's seventh NHL hockey team, The Jets, after a fifteen-year hiatus!
The city has been abuzz all summer and that excitement finally boiled over on Thanksgiving weekend as The Jets hosted their first home game. It was the hottest ticket in the country and many famous Canadians were on hand including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Canadians just finished celebrating Thanksgiving on October10, and for most of the country, we did so in unseasonably warm weather. In fact, I read many accounts on Twitter of families, for the first time ever, having their big turkey dinners outside! I also observed that the weather acted as a catalyst for people to express what they are thankful for.
It also helped inspire this blog - my top five travel-related things that I am most thankful for this year:
This week I am expecting the delivery of my new MacBook Pro and needless to say, I am very excited! The last two times I have upgraded my laptop I have been tempted to make the switch to Apple, but at the last minute I have chickened out. This time, however, I finally made the plunge.
The decision became much easier now as I have three years of experience with an iPhone and a full year under my belt with an iPad. In fact, the last year with the iPad has truly changed how I travel. Whenever possible, my iPad is my default travel device and I leave my laptop at home.
We were nervous - but we did it! On our recent trip to London (see my last blog - would like to create a link once it's posted) we decided that Ellie, our 8-month-old pup Bernedoodle was ready to make the trip with us. And if I'm being honest, we decided we were ready to bring Ellie.
The decision was actually very easy for a number of reasons:
First, Ellie is the best dog that ever lived. That may be a slightly biased exaggeration but we are very lucky. She is well trained and gentle and given that she now weighs 67 pounds, that's very important.
Second, we were staying at the BEST WESTERN PLUS Lamplighter Inn & Conference Centre and Best Western is the best hotel chain for catering to pets and pet owners! In fact, there are more than 1,600 hotels worldwide ready to welcome you and your pet. Lastly, this was the perfect time to test the traveling with your dog concept as we were relatively close to home and only away for one night.
I am really good at collecting points with reward programs, but, aside from my local coffee shop that rewards patrons with a free cup after ten purchases, I have not been as good about cashing in on my loyalty points. Last weekend, however, that all changed!
I have been a member of Best Western Rewards now for four years and until last week had not cashed in a single point. If you are not a member, you should enrol now, as it's quick and easy! My work with Best Western, its timely and valuable promotions and my travel schedule have allowed me to accumulate quite a few points over the past four years.
Labour Day feels like the start of a whole new year - especially for students and parents of students (like me!). Labour Day is also the unofficial end of summer and the start of fall and in my neck of the woods, Mother Nature agreed as we woke up to a chilly morning with a temperature of only 12 degrees.
For Canadian travellers, fall is when most of us start to think about a winter getaway. For people with kids in school, it's important to think about travel and act sooner than later before popular school breaks like Christmas and spring are all booked up. Just last week we booked our first Christmas vacation in the desert and are looking forward to a big family get together in Arizona. We are leaving in 105 days, but who's counting!
It's true, only 90 minutes north of Toronto lies a hidden gem of Canada - Georgian Bay. My wife, kids and I recently spent a weekend along with a couple of great friends on Georgian Bay in Midland, Ontario. After our weekend there, I can sure see why it was voted "Best Hidden Gem in Canada" by The Canadian Tourism Commission's Local's Know campaign from 2010. Okay, so you've got me - it may be closer to a 120 minute trip if you leave on a Friday after work, but it's worth the drive!
Summer break is coming to an end for students in Canada and the Tuesday after Labour Day, we'll see everyone back in school for another year. Weather wise, this year was the warmest and driest in recent history. Although it went quickly, as it always does, I think we all can agree that we had a true summer!
As it comes to an end, parents are scrambling to make sure their kids are ready to go back to school in style and the annual shopping ads are taking over. One of my favourite ads is from Staples. If you have seen the commercial, you know it has become cult-like in the suburbs and can make even the Tiger Moms and Dads chuckle .
In early August, Canadian Travel Press ran an exclusive story highlighting a recent survey from Distinctive Travel Planner Services (DTPC) in Vancouver. The survey,conducted in the spring of 2011, polled more than 400 travel counsellors and owners across Canada and dissected the state of retail travel in Canada.
As part owner of a retail agency myself, the article and survey were of particular interest to me and the data highlighted a number of key trends. As more and more travelers turn online to research and book, it is forcing agencies to fight harder to find ways to add value to retain existing client and attract new clients.
Last night I watched the animated movie "Aladdin" with my two kids. As my mind started to wander while watching the kids' classic with the big blue genie, I got to thinking about the notion of being granted three wishes. From a travel perspective it would be easy to pick my top three dream destinations, but I thought it would be more fun to think about the three things I would choose to improve about the travel experience in general.
Did you know that there are more bird watchers in North America than golfers? Some birders are passionate about traveling to remote places to get a glimpse of a rare species.
Canada alone has 630 different species of birds with 85 specialities or bird species only found in Canada. Our national bird, the common loon, is even found on our dollar coin. Check out this great list of provincial statistics on camacdonald.com
By now, we all know the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose Canada as their first official international travel destination since their April nuptials captured world attention. Canadians welcomed the couple with open arms as they made a jam-packed, nine-day, cross-Canada tour.
Let the fun begin! Summer is here and kids across the country are ready to enjoy Canada's long days and warm nights. As we recently learned at the Best Western Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto, vacationers - and the optimism they bring - are back in a big way this year. The result is an action-packed summer full of fun, adventure and new experiences.
Here are my top five things to do with the kids this summer:
We are seemingly minutes away from the official start of summer as kids everywhere are set to put another school year in the books. Overall, as we recently heard at the Leisure Travel Summit held in Toronto, leisure travel and optimism is back in a big way this year. The result is an action packed summer full of fun, adventure and new experiences.
Here are my top 5 things to do with the kids this summer:
Do you know which country in the world has the most coast line? You guessed it, it's Canada. Most people think of Canada's natural beauty to be our magnificent mountains, amazing national parks and glorious lakes, but there are some world-class beaches across this great land that can't be forgotten.
This is a fantastic time of the year! The weather is finally seasonal again and warm, but most of Canada is still focused on the ice. As I write this the Vancouver Canucks are only two games away from hockey's greatest prize; Lord Stanley's Cup. The Canucks are celebrating their fortieth anniversary in style, winning the President's Trophy and now on the verge of the franchise's first Stanley Cup Championship.
The average price of one litre of regular unleaded gasoline in Toronto on October 25, 2010 was $1.04. Fast forward six months and that same litre is now $1.35. That's a whopping thirty percent increase!
Though there are many theories about why the price has risen so dramatically, relief does not appear to be in sight. In fact, prices are likely to rise as demand in North America tends to surge as more drivers hit the road in late spring and summer. The result is that we Canadians will be spending a lot more money at the pump. Gas prices will not only affect those who are driving, but fliers will also see the increase reflected in the cost of airfare. Either way, high gas prices means it will cost more to get to your destination.
My brother-in-law is a successful young consultant with a big International firm. As you can likely guess he also travels a lot. His most recent project is a ten week stint in San Francisco, but here's the catch ---he works every Friday in Toronto.
Every Monday morning Chris catches a direct flight from Toronto to San Fran, leaving early Eastern Standard Time; the flight is 5 hours. Thursday afternoons he repeats the process and arrives back in Toronto late in the evening. Friday mornings are especially tough!
I picked his brain recently to understand how he deals with the time changes. After all, during his high pressure, long hour days, he needs to be sharp.
Here are five tips to help fight jet lag:
One of the most thought-provoking general sessions I attended last week at the Global Business Travel Association of Canada's (GBTA) annual conference was the Corporate Sustainability Challenge. The session was led by Steven Pacifico, manager of sustainability and stakeholder engagement for The Delphi Group.
In the last week of March, the newly branded Global Business Travel Association of Canada held their annual conference in Toronto. The event was sold out for months, and as one speaker noted in his address, they "did a good job dealing with all the scalpers trying to get in." Now THAT"s a hot ticket!
The mood was more optimistic than in recent history, and much of the discussion revolved around moving business forward, new and innovative approaches to business travel, environmental issues and price transparency. No one was predicting doom and gloom, which felt really good!
The Hotel Association of Canada recently released the results of their annual travel intentions survey. Overall it indicates a very positive year ahead for both business and leisure travelers indicating that they will be on the road more this year than they were in 2010, and well ahead of 2009.
Bryson Forbes, our Canada travel expert, was the moderator of the Business Travel Summit in Canada for 2011. Check out the video to learn about what the panel of experts discussed and predicted for this year in travel.
I have the distinct pleasure to be able to call Tony Pollard (President of the Hotel Association of Canada) a friend. If there is one thing I know for sure Tony, it's that Tony is passionate about travel and government policy. If something is out of whack, he's a man that will let you know.
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Alyson Stoner and her mother Luane. Alyson, if you don't already know, is a star from the Disney Channel and has appeared in a number of movies including "Cheaper by the Dozen" with Steve Martin and both "Camp Rock" movies that feature the Jonas Brothers.
Alyson was in Toronto showing off her hip-hop dance prowess during a private party at the Best Western Roehampton Hotel & Suites with more than two dozen tweens from the Toronto area. Best Western and the Family Channel literally rolled out the red carpet for a very lucky Toronto family.
It's starting to look and feel a lot like Christmas. As I write this blog, I'm without my car because it's off getting winterized. Between that and putting up our tree this past weekend, I think it's time to write my Travel Wish List for 2011.
My first wish is for travel statistics to continue their rebound. This can be labelled a selfish wish since I make my living through travel, but honestly that's only partly true. The overall economy and travel numbers are correlated, and since travel is usually one of the first things both people and corporations cut when times get tough, their rebound is a very good signal for economists.
About a year ago, my good friend Bruce announced that he and his wife had officially created their "bucket list". Ever since the movie by the same name came out, people everywhere seem to be taking note of the things they must do before they die. Lucky for me, I see Bruce once a week for our old-timers hockey and rarely a week goes by without some mention of the list. Last week, however, it led to a great discussion about the top five must-attend sporting events in Canada. Here is what we came up with:
If you had to pick the new "it" spot in Canada I think most this year would have to pick the province of British Columbia and more specifically the city of Vancouver. After a rocky start the city and the province are now being recognized for hosting a spectacular event last February with Winter Olympic Games. The Games put a very bright spotlight on the region and it definitely answered the call.
Call me a traditionalist but I still like the old Ontario slogan, "Yours to Discover." Recently, though --and quite successfully- the province has updated its tagline to "There's no place like this." Ontario Tourism has done a great job of showcasing the many things to see and do all across Ontario, and their catchy tune (I find myself humming it in the shower!) doesn't hurt either.
Ontario is home to more than a third of all Canadians. With more than thirteen million residents the province would rank as the fifth largest state in the U.S., just ahead of Illinois but well behind Florida. Density, however, is a different story: Ontario has fourteen people for every square kilometer. To put that in perspective, Illinois has eighty-five, and California has more than ninety.
"La belle province," as it is affectionately known, is Canada's only province with a predominantly French-speaking population. It is the largest province in land mass and second in population, behind only Ontario. In fact, Quebec is three times the size of France! Les Québécois are very passionate people and their province is rich with history. Many battles have been waged along the St. Lawrence River and some of Canada's defining political moments have occurred with Quebec and its people at the forefront.
Many people who visit Quebec remark on its "European" feel. The urban areas, especially Quebec City & Montreal, certainly have an old world vibe. The language, the food and wine and the people are connected with their historical roots, while crafting a Canadian identity that is unique and celebrated.
I love the east coast of Canada. The Forbes are from Halifax and as children we typically were on vacation down east for at least two weeks every summer.
The four smallest provinces--New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island--comprise the backbone of Canada's East Coast. This region, which is also referred to as Atlantic Canada, is home to just under 2.5 million people or approximately eight percent of our country's population. In this case, the adage that "good things come in small packages" is definitely appropriate.
The most populated of the three Canadian Prairie Provinces, Alberta has become a poster child success story with its per capita GDP at an astounding 61%, the highest in country and higher than the national average. (CDN $74,865 according to recent Stats Can data).
The majority of the wealth can be traced to oil and natural gas. These assets continue to attract people and the population has risen steadily to almost four million residents. Alberta is often compared to Texas; they are almost identical in land mass and share a can-do, wild-west culture, though Texas has six times more people.
This is the third in a three-part series on my recent trip to Niagara Falls. Click here to read parts one and two.
The plan for Sunday--the final day of our Niagara Falls adventure--was to wake up, have a big breakfast at the hotel, then head across the border to check out the back-to-school deals. (You may recall how much I love the vacation breakfast and fortunately, many Best Western locations offer it for free.)
Why is it when you are on vacation you absolutely have to have breakfast in the morning? When I'm at home I can go without, although there are some mornings when I need to be reminded to eat before darting out the door. I'm interested in hearing whether this happens to any of you.
We started our day--day two of our mini vacation in Niagara Falls (read about day one here)--with a great breakfast at the Best Western Fallsview's Boulevard Bistro. If you're looking for a great family activity, check out the water park in the falls. There are lots of different slides to choose from--for toddlers to thrill seekers--as well as hot tubs, a wave pool and an outdoor section if you want to catch some sun. Since the weather was overcast and rainy, this was a fantastic option for the day and our kids absolutely loved it.
I've travelled a lot in my life and have been fortunate to see some pretty amazing things, but one place that gets me every time is Niagara Falls. As I stand in awe of its sheer beauty and power, I have this recurring thought: Who was the first person was to stumble upon it? (My second thought is usually that I hope they weren't in a boat!)
This past weekend was a mini vacation for our family and we had three things on the agenda; see the Falls (my son Ethan's first time), take in all that is Niagara Falls (minus the gambling) and pop across the border to check out some of the back-to-school deals.
"From Sea to Sea" is our country's official motto and it fits. At nearly ten million square kilometres in size, Canada is the second largest country on the planet. Its land stretches from the Pacific Ocean in the west across to the Atlantic Ocean in the east and all the way up north to the Arctic Circle. In between, there's certainly no shortage of interesting things to do and see.
In previous blogs, I've highlighted many of those specifics. Today, I'd like to share several fun facts about our home that you may not have known:
Looking for a great last minute summer vacation? Just head east!
The four smallest provinces--New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island--comprise the backbone of Canada's East Coast. This region, which is also referred to as Atlantic Canada, is home to just under 2.5 million people or approximately eight percent of our country's population. In this case, however, the adage that "good things come in small packages" is definitely appropriate.
I live in Oakville, Ontario, a town 40 kilometres from Canada's biggest and busiest airport, Lester B. Pearson International (YYZ). A gateway to every corner of the globe, Pearson has three separate terminals and is centrally located in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).
Like any world-class airport though, its strengths end up being among its weaknesses. The time spent on parking, making your way through security and retrieving your bags upon arrival is unpredictable at best--and generally a frustrating and time-consuming exercise.
For the third consecutive year, Banff National Park in Alberta has been selected as the favourite domestic attraction by travel agents across Canada. The Travel Agents Choice Awards, which began in 1999 by the Baxter Media Group via Travel Press and Travel Courier, received feedback from more than 4,000 travel professionals to come up with this year's winner.
Banff, named for the Scottish birthplace (Banffshire) of two original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway, is a relatively small resort town population-wise with only 7,500 people who call it home. However, the park itself is massive, covering more than 6,600 square kilometres. More than four million people have visited Banff every year since 1996.
According to a recent PhoCusWright study that looks at Canadian online travel trends, the number of trips booked online continues to rise. In fact, the penetration level for online travel bookings jumped by more than one third in 2009 amid a global recession. Although the total travel spend for Canada was down by 7 percent, the actual number of online transactions rose.
Here are three things to expect as more Canadian travelers not only look--but book--trips online:
Well from April through November, he may just be at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. The festival is a great Canadian story--one that demonstrates the power of an idea and an example of how local ingenuity and pride can revive a city.
Tom Patterson, a local journalist, wanted to revitalize the town's economy and so he founded the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada. Tom's idea was to create a theatre festival dedicated to the works of William Shakespeare, as the town shares the name of Shakespeare's birthplace.
Let's face it; in general we Canadians are a pretty frugal bunch! We're always looking to get the best possible deal. People regularly ask me when the best time is to book travel in order to get the best deal; it's always a difficult question to answer with so many variables to consider--including those unpredictable things like volcanic ash!
Today, though, my crystal ball seems about as clear as it's ever going to be. I'm convinced that if you're planning a trip in the next six months, especially internationally, you'd be well served to book and pay for it now.
Have you ever stopped dead in your tracks because you realize you're becoming more like your parents? Well, it's happening to me and yes it's a bit scary. Don't get me wrong, I love my folks and they are wonderful people...but it still scares me.
Now that the May 2 - 4 weekend is behind us, my family is ready to plan our summer road trip. As you also think about your summer travel plans, consider the following 10 steps to ensure you get the most out of your family vacation this year.
10 - Plan now. Industry experts agree that last-minute deals are not going to be as abundant this year as they were last. If you want to save costs, start planning and book now.
Recently, Best Western orchestrated their annual Leisure Travel Summit at the University Club in Toronto. The event brought together leading executives from the travel industry to discuss the state of affairs regarding the Canadian leisure travel market.
Participating this year were Chris Jones from TIAC, Alison Hermansen from CAA and Dorothy Dowling from Best Western. Chris Robinson, the famous Canadian travel radio personality, moderated the discussion.
The panel covered many topics, but three key topics took centre stage:
A lot of people in and around Toronto will tell you that we have two seasons here: winter and construction! This is essentially the punch line anytime we complain about traffic getting in and out and especially moving within the city.
If you are someone who can't stand delays and congestion than you need to start planning your escape from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) now for the week of June 21-28, 2010.
It's certainly been yet another interesting period for the travel industry with the disruptions caused by Iceland's Eyjafjallajoumlkull volcano. (I can't pronounce it either.) Just when you think you've dealt with every type of scenario, a new issue seems always to be just around the corner. This isn't the first time, however, that volcanoes have wreaked havoc: in 1902, a much worse volcanic cloud hit Martinique, killing 29,000 people. Two more recent examples occurred in 1982 over Indonesia and in Alaska just seven years later, and both of these resulted in airline engine seizure.. Fortunately, the two jumbo jets affected by these volcanoes were able to restart their engines, but not before losing 25,000 feet of altitude at a frightening rate.
Saskatchewan is a province in the heart of Canada that's traditionally been known for being really flat and for producing two of our country's key resources: wheat and hockey players (most notably, Haley Wickenheiser, Wendel Clark and some guy named Gordie Howe!)
The name (try saying it ten times quickly) gets its origin from the Plains Indian word, "kisiskatchewan", which means "the river that flows swiftly". For most of its history, more people left Saskatchewan then stayed. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, between 2001 and 2006, more than 10,000 people left the province for their oil-rich neighbour every year. But that's all changed recently. The Saskatchewan business community is experiencing a significant boom, as their natural resources are being tapped like never before to meet international demands for gas, potash and nuclear energy. These days, everyone wants what Saskatchewan's got!
The Canadian Automobile Association (or CAA as many of us fondly refer to it) was founded in 1913 as a non-profit federation. Today it remains relevant and continues to thrive with more than five million members, nine clubs and 148 offices throughout Canada.
But how has it remained so strong?
The answer is simple. It achieves its mandate of providing exceptional value to members every day.
It's not easy to have the discipline to stay in shape if you're an on-the-go business traveller. For a lot of us, eating well and working out are part of our routine, and traveling challenges that routine at every turn.
Here are a few pitfalls to avoid so you can in shape while on the road.
Last Thursday, March 18th I was fortunate to have moderated an engaging and informative panel discussion on the state of the Canadian business travel. Best Western, the brain child of this event, pulled together marquee expert panellists with a full house of Canadian media including reporters from the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. The travel trade were well-represented with both Travel Press and Travelweek in attendance, as well. The stunning venue, on the 4th floor of the Toronto Board of Trade, allowed everyone to enjoy the day's bright sunshine which was more indicative of May than March.
This year's list of my top five travel must-haves is the best one yet. An overarching theme is tough to determine but hopefully there's something for everyone.
For the couch potato .who's away from his or her stead, I give you Slingbox This little gem allows you to basically bring your TV on the road with you. All you need is internet access and you can literally watch your TV and your local channels--including the ability to watch and record PVR! They've also recently launched Sling Player for your iPhone! I remember travelling through the U.S. during the NHL playoffs and it was easier to find coverage of the Horseshoe Championship of the World. Could have really used Slingbox!
I woke up this morning to an official Olympic hangover. Symptoms included a raspy voice from chanting "Crosby, Crosby..." for hours (his mother's maiden is Forbes, btw..) and, for us on the east side of country, fatigue from lack of sleep. I also can still hear Brian Williams' voice if I try hard enough. Anyway, the hangover will soon pass and only thing left will be the enormous surge of patriotism and pride. Well done, Canada!
Aside from the hangover, the most troubling part of my morning was the realization that it is March. February was a blur and we're now scrambling to coordinate schedules for March Break, which for us starts at 3 p.m. next Friday the 12th and concludes on Monday the 22nd when life will go back to "normal".
This is the second part of a two part series inspired by a great pop-up book called A is for Animals by David Pelham. This blog takes letters N through Z and matches words that can help families pick the right hotel to meet their needs. Check out Part 1 for A through M.
N is for nickel. As in nickel and dime...I hate being surprised at check out by a list of items you didn't expect to be paying extra for. I include parking, Internet and local calls on this list.
My son and I pulled out one of his favourite books last night that we haven't read in more than a year. It's a great pop-up book called A is for Animals by David Pelham and it goes through different creatures from A to Z. The amazing thing is how my son can remember the most obscure animals, see "Quetzel or Narwhal". It inspired this week's (and next week's) blog - the ABC's of choosing a great hotel for families with kids. (You'll have to imagine the pop ups!)
A is for activities. Hotels that cater to families often have activities for kids. This can be as simple as child menus and crayons in the restaurant to playrooms.
If you said Chinese New Year you're correct! However, if you're in a relationship and plan to stay in it, Sunday is also Valentine's Day. This holiday dates all the way back to 496 AD and was named after that famous Christian martyr Saint Valentine, although I believe back then it was simply "Valentine" (kind of like Patrick Roy, the Montreal Canadians' famous goalie before winning the Stanley Cup, now affectionately known as Saint Patrick).
More than one billion cards or "Valentines" are sent every year, making it the second busiest for the postal service only behind Christmas. Regardless, whether you're a hopeless romantic or a sceptical cynic it doesn't really matter, your loved one is expecting something.
Minutes after submitting my last blog about how mild the winter has been throughout Canada, Mother Nature smirked and changed her tune. Although we've still had very little snow, the temperature has dropped significantly and it feels much more like winter than it did last week.
As I initially pondered this week's topic about Winterlude in Ottawa, I assumed I'd be discussing what organizers were planning without "skateable" ice. Au contraire! In the last week, conditions have become perfect to build a rink! I mean perfectly imperfect--bitterly cold with very little snow.
Every February since 1979, Canada's Capital Region has gotten ready to host Winterlude, Canada's winter celebration. For three weeks, the region transforms to a winter playground. With these ideal conditions, it's expected that the current attendance record of 1.6 million visitors (set in 2007) may be exceeded.
Having grown up in the area, I can attest first-hand to just how much fun you can have outside when it's -10 degrees at Winterlude. Here are a few tips:
Earlier this week, the senior climatologist for Environment Canada, David Phillips, went on record to say that most of Canada can expect this season's mild winter weather to continue. Already in the dead of winter, most of us have been left scratching our heads and asking, "What winter?" Toronto, as an example, has only had 24 cm. of snow to date this season versus 110 cm. at the same time last year! With these balmy conditions, what does it mean for travel?
In previous assignments, where I was focused predominantly on leisure travel, I relied heavily on outbound travel by disgruntled sun-seeking Canucks escaping winter from November to April. At that time, cold and miserable weather meant (or at least we thought) more last-minute money.
Although my focus has shifted more recently to corporate travel, my perspective has been more dramatically altered by an interesting argument:
The hypothesis is a complete 180-degree shift and argues that a milder winter actually increases the likelihood that Canadians will travel both for leisure and for business. The supporting evidence comes from three assumptions.
January can be a tough month in Canada. Let's face it, for the most part it's cold, it's dark at 4:30 p.m. and winter has really settled in. There are two options: mope around for the next few months or accept reality and find things to do to actually enjoy yourself.
Here is a fantastic option that really embraces winter: the Niagara Icewine Festival 2010. Back for its 15th year, the entire Niagara region transforms into a wintry wonderland to host a celebration of one of Canada's most beloved products, Ontario icewines.
Much more concentrated than regular wine, icewine is a dessert wine whose name comes from the process that goes into harvesting the grapes. The Niagara region in January is when the grapes freeze while still on the vine. Wineries harvest the grapes delicately at night when they know they're frozen. It's a very labour-intensive process that results in small quantities which makes the wine relatively expensive. The first Canadian icewine has been traced to the Okanagan Valley in B.C., but the Inniskillin Winery is believed to have started the process in Ontario after launching its first icewine in 1984.
My wife Ruth and I sat down last weekend in attempt to come up with five travel-related resolutions for 2010. The process itself was really enjoyable and an excellent catalyst to create a wish list for the year. Here are the results:
1. Take more pictures.
We love to sit around and reminisce about some of the trips we've taken. Two years ago, we got really motivated and took lots of pictures and even created and printed photobooks as keepsakes. There are many online services to choose from; we've used www.photoworks.com and have been delighted each time. Unfortunately, we didn't do so well last year and it's a shame. In 2010, we vow to make sure we get back to it because it's so easy with digital. The process is fun and the memories last a lifetime.
On July 2, 2003 (nearly 24,000 days ago!) the International Olympic Committee chose Vancouver as the host city for the XXI (21st) Winter Olympics. Since then, countless hours of blood, sweat and tears from more than 25,000 volunteers have gone into preparation for the world's biggest winter sporting event.
My Dad and I dropped in on Vancouver eager to see what changes have been made and how things are progressing to get ready for the Games. We checked into the Best Western Downtown Vancouver, a beautiful 143-room property which is one of five Best Westerns in the Vancouver area. After a quick workout in a panoramic fitness centre with a great view, we set out on foot to hit trendy "Yaletown" (only a five minute walk away) and both noticed two things immediately. For starters, the number of cranes that have been a staple on the Vancouver skyline have disappeared. It definitely gave us a sense of being in a more established city. Secondly, the city is clean. The streets, sidewalks and buildings all seemed very tidy and well kept.
During our stay, we informally polled a number of locals about all things Olympics and here are the top three things we learned:
The second leg of "Bob & Bryson's Excellent Western Adventure" took my Dad and I to Whistler to preview one of the marquee sites for the 2010 Winter Olympics. During this visit, I was stunned to learn it was actually my Dad's first trip to Whistler. For me, it was my third and, having been in April 2008, I was most interested to see if I noticed any major changes.
The first big change was the trip from Vancouver to Whistler. Highway 99, known as the "Sea-to-Sky Highway", has been given a major facelift. The 125-kilometer drive has historically been a challenging one, with twists and turns, major elevation changes and a steady stream of big trucks. Travellers needed to be alert at all times and budget two hours to travel this stretch of beautiful roadway. Four lanes now make up most of Route 99, turning this scenic drive into a quicker and safer journey. We cruised up to Whistler in about ninety minutes--including a quick pit stop for coffee.
Last Thursday, my Dad and I started our "rock star" tour of Western Canada with three stops in three nights - Kelowna, Whistler and Vancouver. Minutes after landing in Kelowna, we were immediately struck by the remarkable landscape. From the Okanagan mountain range to the shores of Okanagan Lake, this place was truly breathtaking.
For a relatively small Canadian city (population of about 115,000), the region has lots to offer. It's truly become a four-season vacation hotspot. In the winter, the main attraction (as we highlighted in last week's blog) is the skiing and snowboarding, with Big White only minutes away and the snow affectionately called "champagne powder".
The region is very dry, with less than twelve inches of rain accumulating each year. This makes conditions ideal for another one of Kelowna's big industries - wine-making. The Okanagan Valley produces award-winning wines in many varieties including ice wines. We spent a couple of hours later in the day at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, a truly remarkable and unique place. With more than 80 acres of organic vineyards, Summerhill takes on the character and personality its proprietor, Stephen Cipes. Every wine spends time in the pyramid, a replica of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, allowing the energy of this unique cellar to enhance each bottle. They offer wine tours and tastings, and have a bistro with one of the best views out over the lake you'll ever see.
Last month marked the first time in recorded history, (which apparently goes back 165 years) that Toronto had no snow in the month of November. Not a single flurry! Great news for drivers and bad news for skiers. The reality is any skier/snowboarder who's serious about the sport needs to get a long way from the Greater Toronto Area if they want to enjoy the best mountains in the country.
Narrowing the following list of ski areas down to five was a challenge and truthfully I could have found five great ones within the province of British Columbia alone. My methodology for ranking the resorts took into account a number of factors including:
Size of the mountain
Number and diversity of the runs
Average annual snowfall
Tourism infrastructure (accessibility, # of hotels, restaurants and activities)
Last Sunday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes squared off in the 97th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alberta. Canada's version of the Superbowl is held in late November each year and unless it's being played in Vancouver or Toronto (which have dome stadiums--weather usually plays a key role. Surprisingly, this year's weather was tame and quite boring, making it a non issue. In fact, at kick-off the sun was shining and a balmy eight degrees Celsius.
In contrast, the football game was exciting and full of intrigue, making it one of the best I can remember. It came down to the final play, where the heavily favoured Alouettes kicked a field goal with no time left on the clock to win by a single point. Heartbreak for Saskatchewan fans and the thousands who made the trip to Calgary to cheer on their provincial heroes. The game was the icing on the cake for a fantastic week of events and activities that make the Grey Cup a truly must-attend Canadian event. If you've never been, do yourself a favour and mark your calendar for the 98th game next year. It will be contested on November 28th, just three hours north of Calgary in Edmonton - "The City of Champions!" Edmonton has hosted three of the most memorable Grey Cup games in recent history and will sell out their 60,000-seat stadium. Chances are the weather will be nasty, which perhaps surprisingly will add even more fun and festivity.
Last Sunday, with Grandma in town from Calgary, we packed up the family for a visit to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) in Toronto. The annual event is held at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds in the core of Canada's largest city.
Since the very first fair in November, 1922 the RAWF has grown to become the world's largest indoor agricultural and international equestrian competition.
The RAWF attracts more than 300,000 visitors to the greater Toronto area every November to see thousands of unique entries from elite Canadian and international breeders, growers and exhibitors, more than 4,500 large and small animals, shows, activities, shopping, dining and, of course, the Royal Horse Show.
This week, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, concluded their cross-Canada, 11-city tour. The red carpet was rolled out for the couple who certainly got the `royal treatment` (excuse the pun) and were greeted by large crowds at every stop. It was the 15th trip to Canada for Charles and the inaugural visit for his wife. It was very interesting to see the media attention which surrounded the visit and the rock star-like following the couple generated. As much debate rages on about whether the monarchy should be abolished, the brand seems strong and relevant with many Canadians.
If you are one of those "Royalty Wannabees," how about replicating the trip? You might not get the same attention, but let's face it...that would be stressful anyway. I warn you it's a busy 11 days but we can make it a lot more conducive for a non-royalty budget with locally-owned and operated Best Western accommodations along the way.
First stop: Newfoundland. Day 1 - Morning visit to Cupids, N.L., to celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2010; afternoon visit to Brigus, N.L., including the home of Arctic explorer Capt. Bob Bartlett; opening of new housing project in St. John's; late afternoon visit to Marine Institute at Memorial University; evening reception at The Rooms (Provincial Archives, Art Gallery and Museum). Grab a quick private jet to St. Margaret's Bay and end a busy first day, but get a great night's sleep at the Best Western Chocolate Lake Hotel.
With just more than100 days left until the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, why are people talking about Quebec City and the Olympics? And why is travel and tourism at the forefront of the discussion?
The issue centres on Quebec City's desire to have a new $400 million arena erected to replace the relic known as Le Colisee. The story has become a national one with two very compelling angles already taking shape. The first is the potential to have NHL hockey back in Quebec City after it left town in 1995. The second buzz surrounds the opportunity to bid for the Olympics yet again (Quebec City was eliminated from the running for the 2010 Winter Olympics) in either 2022 or 2026.
Quebec's timing is very opportunistic with both of these story lines very front-and-centre with Canadians. The hockey angle has been very top-of-mind as Jim Balisle's bid to bring a 7th team to Canada stole the headlines all summer and Olympic excitement really heating up with only three months left until the Games.
It all sounds good, but with a $400 million price tag, who is going to pony up the cash?
With just more than two months left in 2009, its time to look ahead to 2010 and make some predictions about the future. Will the Leafs win their first Stanley Cup in more than 40 years? Will we see a federal election in Canada? Will our economy turn the corner quickly and recover from a tough 2009? Aside from the Leafs winning the cup, the other two are a great source for debate, but here are a few personal predictions for the travel industry:
The Olympic Effect. The Vancouver Olympics will be a resounding success and accomplish a number of wonderful things; it will serve as the perfect excuse to transition economically from bad times to good. It will act as a catalyst to improve consumer confidence and boost spending. The Olympics also will highlight the beauty of Canada and its west coast, helping tourism in the second half of 2010.
If you are like me, then Thanksgiving is second to only Christmas on your list of top notch holidays. I always enjoyed the start of a new school year, a new hockey season and the majestic colour changes that have all started by the second Monday in October. For all of these reasons and many more fall is without question my favourite season.
In speaking with a friend last week about plans for Thanksgiving he told me that a few years ago his family started "outsourcing" the holiday. After my initial chuckle, which was not reciprocated, I started to listen more intently. The more he spoke the more sense he started to make. A mere five minutes later, thirty seven years of traditional Thanksgiving celebrations had come squarely into question. It seemed so plausible; could you keep all the benefits of this splendid holiday and outsource the bad? Let me see if I can replicate his sales pitch.
According to a market forecast from American Express, a sharp spike is expected in the amount Canadian businesses spend on travel next year. After what has been characterized as the "worst recessionary period in our history" travel and tourism in Canada is starting to see positive signs of recovery. The market forecast projects corporate Canada to increase its spend by 15 percent in 2010, far outpacing a miniscule 1 percent increase from the US and an expected further decline in Europe.
I can attest to the business travel market starting to turn. For the corporate agency I work at, September was the first month in 2009 we were back to pre-recessionary levels. I am cautious though about declaring the trouble completely over just yet. There are three things I am waiting to see before I ink my declaration:
It's that time of year again where the Niagara region welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to celebrate this year's wine harvest. The festival has been happening annually dating back to the 1950's and has been, like their award winning wine region, growing every year by leaps and bounds.
As a Brock University alumni (located in St. Catharines), I can attest to the celebratory atmosphere that engulfs the area, as hundreds of activities and events are put on over the 10 day festival. Residents and visitors are entertained, fed, and of course, able to sample an array of award-winning wines.
The Niagara region now boasts 29 wineries, all of which can be toured - check out a complete list here http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/page/winefest_wineries.
The marquee event is the parade that takes place this Saturday, September 26th in St. Catharines. More than 200,000 people are expected and the theme this year is "Embrace your Olympic Spirit".
With Labour Day behind us now and the kids all back in school, you should start thinking about your travel plans for holiday break. I know it seems ridiculously early, but I am recommending people make their plans now. Here's why:
If you want to travel when everyone else does then you are going to have to act early, pay more, or compromise on exactly what you want to do. I am all for acting early above the other two options.
Last November things really started to get ugly in Canada (and everywhere, for that matter). Investments started to drop and job security became very uncertain for a number of people. I know a lot of people put travel plans on hold. This year, although things are not perfect, people in general are feeling much better and have more certainty financially. That means more people on the road and less supply for last minute travellers.
In addition, our summer in Canada was terrible. With the exception of two weeks in August, some would argue that we transitioned from spring right to fall. This coupled with no trips last winter will create a surge in demand this year.
Although travel companies hope I am right, they are not leaving it to chance. Early booking bonuses, loyalty point bonuses and other incentives are in full swing. These will begin to taper off if the demand is there.
The last reason is less practical and more emotional, but I love having something to look forward to. I am sucker for the countdown. I certainly don't wish time away but it can serve as a great cure for a stressful day to escape for a moment and daydream about that upcoming trip.
Enjoy your September, but don't wait too long to start thinking about your winter travel.
Let me know your plans.
I knew this statement was true, but I didn't quite now how true until I started digging for some facts. According to Colloquy Research, a whopping 93.6 percent of Canadians belong to at least one loyalty program. That number has jumped almost 9 percent since their last study in 2007, which is shocking for an already very saturated market.
Why do we like them so much? Optimists will tell you that we are smart! Why not be rewarded for spending our hard earned cash and for our loyalty - that's worth something you know. The cynics say we're cheap! "Those Canucks always looking for the best deal" they say. In my opinion, both are somewhat accurate.
Although neither cheap nor smart came to mind last week when I witnessed the lady in front of me at the grocery store express line reach back to grab seemingly anything that would take her to the total to the purchase minimum to get a point. I did think to myself, "wow, talk about engaged" and I came to the conclusion the most Canadian generally think of collecting rewards as a game and have fun with it.
Dog ownership is on the rise--one-third of all Canadian households have a dog and, according to Ipsos Reid, we spend a whopping $2 billion a year in dog-related pet expenses.
With the number of short domestic excursions on the rise as well, it makes perfect sense that I have had a number of questions lately about people hitting the road with their dogs.
I am a dog lover currently between canines. My last cocker spaniel/poodle Buster--I just can't bring myself to call him a cockapoo--and I had a number of travelling experiences together. So to help out my fellow canine lovers, here is the skinny on travelling with your dog:
We just got back from a week in South Carolina and the trip was fantastic. The weather, the beach and yes, even the drive went famously. With two kids ages six and five, we were certainly a little nervous about driving across the United States.
Here are my top 10 tips to make a long car ride a good experience:
10. Pack a small cooler, some ice and pick up some healthy snacks. Juices, yogurt (don't forget plastic spoons) and fruit. Without the snacks you'll end up stopping more and likely eating exclusively fast food.
9. Make sure you pack some treats. We found Skittles to be a great currency to bribe our children. It sounds cruel as I write it, but trust me; it works and makes everyone's trip a lot better.
8. Pre-plan your route and make hotel reservations. Try to stay with the same hotel group throughout the trip and make sure you are a member of their loyalty program. For instance, if you stayed with Best Western twice over the summer and are a member of Best Western Rewards (like me!), you got a free night voucher!
7. Plan to stop every two to three hours to stretch, use the facilities and fill up on gas. No need to have the gas gauge under a quarter tank, especially on long Interstate highways in the evening. Make sure you encourage the kids to use the facilities. If you don't, invariably ten minutes later they'll magically need to go.
I have noticed a brilliant trend in marketing and advertising in Canada lately that I think is really resonating with Canadians. In the face of a challenging economic environment, increasing competition, and perhaps the influence of Canada hosting the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, Canadians are being encouraged to get out and explore their own backyards when travelling. Supporting businesses that are "locally owned and operated" has never been more important.
That being said, here are some tips for vacationers looking to support Canadians by travelling domestically:
Look for hotel properties owned and operated locally - bed and breakfasts, small inns and locally-owned chain properties are a great place to start. Best Western is a great example of large chain where properties are owned by independent hoteliers across Canada.
Eat at smaller, independent diners and restaurants in addition to visiting the larger chain restaurants. These establishments are often cheaper and may serve local favorites too!
Visit community-based festivals that offer goods and activities from local artists, bakers and entertainers. A great Web site to find these types of events is www.canada.travel.
You may have caught my recent blog about the five most important things to pack for any getaway. I am writing now to correct myself and add one thing to the list that any good husband and father should never forget.
That item is whatever the last thing your significant other tells you to pack. No matter how trivial or seemingly unimportant you may feel it is as you try to configure the space in your car trunk. Learn from my mistake and just make the room.
People ask me all the time, what should I pack when travelling?
Here are my top five must haves that will make your life a lot easier just about anywhere.
1) Your credit card. Ten years ago, traveller's cheques were the best form of payment internationally outside of cold hard cash, but not anymore. These days you'll have an easier time with a debit card than travellers cheques, but the best and safest method is by far a credit card. It can get you access to cash, is insured if someone swipes it and is accepted just about everywhere - even in some areas you probably think it won't be.
With the kids out of school, summer is officially here! This means it's time to look for some fun family things to do. Here are my picks for the top three family festivals happening in July across Canada.
The Calgary Stampede which is underway and runs until July 12, 2009 is known as "the greatest outdoor show on earth". Every year more than one million people attend the Stampede as the city of Calgary shuts down to host this authentic cowboy party. Even my parents host a Stampede party and break out the cowboy and cowgirl apparel for 10 days each July.
July 1st marks the 142nd birthday of our great nation and for you a great chance for a short, fun getaway. This year Canada Day falls on Wednesday, at first blush this seems kind of disappointing, but if you reframe it, it provides a perfect chance to get a five-day mini-holiday and only cost you two days vacation.
I was very fortunate to have been able to participate in Canada's Leisure Travel Summit, hosted by Best Western on June the 9th in Toronto. The event brought together some leading executives from the travel industry to discuss current issues and trends.
As a golfer and someone who has been closely associated with travel industry for more than a decade, I have organized, attended and read about lots of golf getaways. But last week, I attended the best mini-golf trip ever, bar none. If you are a golfer you need to rally the troops and pull one of these together.
Get ready - another acronym is hitting the travel industry. This time it's WHTI, which stands for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. After much debate and delay, June 1, 2009 marks the introduction of this new U.S. law requiring every Canadian above the age of sixteen who enters the U.S., via land or water, to present a valid passport.
Victoria Day, more affectionately named May Two Four weekend, is upon us already! The holiday officially recognizes the birthday of Queen Victoria (May 24, 1819) and has been a holiday and cause for celebration in Canada dating back to 1854, her 35th. It is celebrated the Monday prior to May 24th and this year is as early as it can ever be, with the holiday falling on May 18th.
Unofficially however, this weekend signifies the end of winter in Canada and that warmer weather is ahead. "May Two Four" is a double entendre used to indicate the date, or the case of beer (24 beers total) that many enjoy to help celebrate the weekend.
The first week in August you will find the Forbes family in Fripp Island, South Carolina for a little beach time with friends. Three families are all making the 1,600 kilometre drive from Oakville over the civic holiday weekend.
I asked my wife whether she thought we should rent a car. She gave that look like I just sprung antlers. So now I feel obligated to demonstrate the logic of the question and stubbornly build a case for why it makes sense. So here goes...
If you are a parent like me you likely had this experience when your kids were toddlers. You research the best, must-have gift, only to realize your child invariably plays and enjoys the colourful box it came in, while the actual toy remains untouched. We had a similar experience while traveling on a quick getaway this past weekend.
Saturday morning we packed up the SUV and hit the road for a quick one-nighter in London, Ontario. It's less than 150 kilometres from home and a very easy straight forward drive, especially when you have a GPS (dads - this is a great investment and you'll only ever have to stop at a gas stations for gas)! Our original plan was to check in to The Best Western Lamplighter Inn by lunch, hit a local theme park for the afternoon, have an early dinner and then go see Monster and Aliens, a movie we been eyeing for weeks.
As the weather north of the 49th parallel begins to heat up, hockey nets have taken up their permanent fixture and the kids have officially declared the start of road hockey season. Shouts of "car!"and "game on!" are echoing around neighbourhoods.
Although I still participate weekly in a men's ice hockey league, I have to admit I haven't played road hockey in years. But that is about to change.
I just heard about a great event that "Hockey Night in Canada" has organized nationally called "Play On" - The Official Canadian Road Hockey Championship and outdoor hockey festival. The event is happening between May 23 and the end of August in a dozen cities across the country, where downtown urban areas will be converted into a series of outdoor street rinks. You can register as a team of five and prices ranges from $30 - $50 per player. Check it out.
IValue can be defined as a function of price and quality. In Canada, I am suggesting that we have a rare situation, caused by the economic downturn, where both factors are working positively together to produce an enhanced value equation.
My crystal ball indicates that this will last until September 9, 2009. Although this date seems random, it is six months from the date that it appears the Toronto Stock Exchange hit bottom. Experts seem to agree that markets are six months ahead, telling me the world will be right again around September 9th.
So the clock is ticking for you to get a great deal, exceptional service and in turn, the best value for your trip. But there's an interesting phenomenon happening out there, where people who have money to spend are trying to hide it. Coined "stealth wealth", it is affecting the travel industry too, as a growing faction of would be travellers are feeling guilty about the notion of vacationing during this economic downturn.
Earlier this week, I was in my car listening to the radio and an ad came on referencing the $1,350 tax credit available to Canadians against the cost of anything related to "home improvement." The Home Renovation Tax Credit is a key part of our economic stimulus plan to get Canadians spending in industries hurt during the downturn.
A few minutes later, I had one of those "a-ha" moments. Why not give taxpayers (both individual and corporate) a break against the cost of travel? This may seem a bit selfish coming from the guy who is a part owner of a travel agency group, but seriously, what would help kick-start the economy like people getting out flying, driving, eating in restaurants and staying in hotels?
This weekend, the best college basketball event and arguably the greatest tournament in sports will crown a champion at Ford Field in Detroit, MI. That's right; the final games of March Madness have arrived.
For those Canadians like me who are NCAA college basketball fans (and there are plenty of us out there), the four hour drive means the final event has never been so close! It's the perfect opportunity for this sports fan to scratch off another of "the events I must see before dying" list.
You may not understand the reference unless you too are a fellow Canuck and remember the now famous 2001 Molson Canadian Beer Commercial titled "the rant". Hilarious and award-winning; it reminded us all why we are proud to be Canadian.
Despite what Chicken Little and every newscaster, radio host and journalist would have you believe, the sky is not actually falling!
Personally, I don't think I can take much more of the doom and gloom and am looking at things from a different angle. This challenge has created some of the best travel opportunities seen in decades. The reason is simple; you stand to get the greatest value for your vacation if you plan and go during the current recession.
To take advantage of the great offers available, my wife, Ruth, along with our two kids, my daughter Caira, six going on 16, and son Ethan, who is four, just returned from a 10- day escape to Arizona. The deals were great for every facet of the trip. Hotels, car rental companies, restaurants and even airlines are fighting hard to win your business, which means great value for Canadians looking to travel.
We know it is a big world out there with lots of places to see and experience.
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