Segway Tours Ride Wave of Popularity
The first time Chris Szydlowski saw a Segway was while watching the iconic TV sitcom Frasier. The title character’s brother Niles, a psychiatrist, is conducting an experiment by riding one of the self-balancing, two-wheeled vehicles.
“I thought it looked really neat and wanted to try it right away,” recalled Szydlowski.
Thus began a decades-long association between Segway, Szydlowski and his wife and business partner Gianna, as retailers of the electric “personal transporter” and co-owners of River Valley Adventure Co., one of only a handful of tourism operations in Canada that offer guided Segway Tours.
Rated the top activity and tour in Edmonton by customers on Trip Advisor for the past two years, River Valley Adventure Co. now offers a full slate of activities in Canada’s largest urban park with bike rentals and tours, walking tours, sports equipment rentals, corporate team building packages and a riverfront café. A Calgary location opened in 2014 and operates in Sien Lok Park near Eau Claire.
“For us, it’s all about building a culture of customer service,” says Szydlowski. “We all have great fun working here and our number one goal is that our customers have fun, too.”
A Tour With A Twist
The Szydlowskis originally planned to set up their Segway tour business in Vancouver but couldn’t get the needed municipal approvals. So they moved back home to Edmonton and started working with West Edmonton Mall to offer Segway Tours at the world’s largest shopping centre.
In 2009, they acquired regulatory approval to offer tours in Edmonton’s River Valley along the North Saskatchewan River and the spectacular TransCanada Trail, the longest in North America.
In 2011, River Valley Adventure Co. was born with tours, bikes, packages and toys – like badminton and volleyball sets, croquet and bocce ball –providing all you need for a great day in the park.
But it was the Segways that really put River Valley Adventure Co. on the map. Easy to master in a 30-minute training session, the devices are fun, exhilarating and allow visitors to experience far more than from an open-top bus or car window. It’s an up-close, hands-on experience with a twist.
Expert trainers and tour guides lead groups of up to 10 through various parks, gardens, to the Edmonton Queen Riverboat, the Cloverdale foot bridge and more. Along the way, guides talk about the history of the river and the settlement of the city.
New Products Fuel Growth
Szydlowski estimates about half his customers are local residents and half are out-of-town visitors. Groups with three generations of families are common. “It’s a great family outing.”
Growth has been steady and impressive. “In 2011, we were doing about five to six tours a week; now we do about five to six tours a day.” The company has about eight full-time employees in summer and two in winter.
The introduction of winter tours in Edmonton was a real hit. “Edmonton’s River Valley is simply majestic in winter,” says Szydlowski. “We put snow tires on the Segways and the paths are so well groomed that it’s a great outing.” From two to three winter tours a month, he’s now operating about five to six a week.
All About the Service
Szydlowski says his core business strategy is commitment to service.
He likes to talk about the rule of 200. If someone has a good experience, they may tell two or three people. If they have a bad experience, they’ll tell 200 – everyone they know.
“Today with the Internet and the ability to ‘tell’ thousands of people at a time, you simply can’t afford for your customer to have a bad experience. Our philosophy is that everyone has to have an awesome time.”
River Valley Adventure Co. invests in training their tour operators to be good storytellers, and puts significant effort into quality control and team-building.
Thinking Like a Tourist
Another core strategy for success is outreach. Szydlowski has connected with Travel Alberta to attend Canada’s West Marketplace and Rendez-vous Canada to woo the international travel trade.
“I now have connections with all the major receptive tour operators and am getting lots of business from them.”
Szydlowski is also a graduate of Travel Alberta’s SHiFT program, which helps operators develop the kinds of hands-on experiences today’s travellers want.
“SHiFT really opened by eyes,” he says. “When you’ve been doing one thing for a while, it’s easy to get a bit complacent. But they got me thinking like a tourist in my own city and it really lit a fire under me.”
As a result, River Valley Adventure Co. has about a half a dozen new products under development, is scouting new locations and working on a downtown Segway Tour for Edmonton and Calgary. The Calgary location will also be expanded to include bikes, games, sport equipment and water-based products.
“We want people to come and spend the whole day with us.”
Check out River Valley Adventure Co.’s business profile on travelalberta.com. Find out how to set up a profile for your own Alberta tourism business through ATIS, Travel Alberta’s free online marketing platform.
This is the seventh in a 12-part series on Alberta tourism success stories.