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Scholarship Program a Sound Investment in Alberta’s Tourism Future

When photographers Jack Werner and Cameron Fischer founded Canadian Photo Adventures in 2014, they knew they wanted to target international travellers. They just didn’t know exactly how to go about it.

After contacting Travel Alberta about their vision to lead small custom tours – and teach photography skills – at the most beautiful locations in Banff, Jasper and Churchill, MB, they ended up enrolling in the Canada’s West Marketplace (CWM) Scholarship Program.

Now they are working with Expedia, Viator and a German tour operator, building an impressive international clientele. “Once we learned the requirements for working with international tour operators, we really moved forward quickly,” says Werner.

Canadian Photo Adventures’ success story is just one of many from the scholars in Travel Alberta’s program.

Over the past three years, CWM scholars have seen a total increase in incremental business of $461,600. For Travel Alberta, return on investment for the program is about 6.5/1.

“It’s exciting to provide businesses with the opportunity to look beyond where they are and see where they can grow,” says Cameron Spence, Travel Alberta’s Industry Development Manager, Canadian Rockies.

Efficient Access to World Markets

Launched in 2013, Travel Alberta’s CWM Scholarship Program provides coaching and financial support to Alberta-based tourism businesses to develop export-ready products or services for high-potential international markets.

In particular, it is designed to help industry showcase Alberta travel experiences at the annual Canada’s West Marketplace, which attracts more than 120 tour operators and wholesalers from Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

A partnership between Travel Alberta and Destination British Columbia, CWM is a three-day, four-night trade show that combines speed-dating style appointments between buyers and sellers with social events, networking opportunities and familiarization tours. It is a highly efficient and effective way for Alberta operators to access international markets.

The scholarship program runs over three years with a maximum of 15 participants. It involves face-to-face coaching, telephone and conference call mentoring, and a 1.5-day workshop in advance of each year’s marketplace.

Scholars are introduced to the Travel Alberta team, familiarized with CWM logistics, coached on distilling and pitching messages, appointment strategies, rate structures, marketing materials and leveraging partnerships.

Travel Alberta pays 75 per cent of the costs for the first two years and half the costs in year three.

 “The success of the scholarship program is firmly rooted in a multi-disciplinary approach with a broad range of Travel Alberta team members providing advice, expertise, tools and resources,” says Spence. “It is truly a Team Alberta approach that effectively drives tourism revenue.”

Lasting Lessons Learned

While the scholarship program is designed to help tourism operators succeed at CWM, much of the real work happens after the show in follow-ups with contacts made there. And the skills developed for CWM are widely applicable in all elements of business development.

Ben Johnson has operated Mountain Madness Tours for seven years, leading custom bike tours in the Rockies. At the beginning, much of his business came from Edmonton and he was looking for ways to increase his reach.

“As a one-person show I was making decisions based only on my own ideas about tourism,” he says. “The scholarship program was a way to get exposure to a lot of different ideas.”

As a result of the program, Johnson upgraded his website, built better marketing materials, introduced online booking, guaranteed departures and value-added bonuses.

All part of the requirements to attend CWM, these enhancements also better prepared him to drive new business above and beyond the trade show.

The result? His business is flourishing and he’s booked a 27-person, 15-day tour in September with a New Zealand tour company.

“The best part of the program is the awesome people who mentor you and open your eyes as to how you can fit into the bigger world of tourism,” says Johnson. “As well as bringing all that marketing expertise to the table, they really care about your well-being.”

Survey Shows Success

Every year, Spence surveys scholars on their experiences and provides them with an opportunity to evolve the program.

This year’s results showed scholars were very satisfied with the program and felt well prepared for CWM 2015:

  • Face-to-face coaching was the most effective mechanism (92.3%)
  • Pre-session workshops (72.7%)
  • Telephone/conference calls (58.3%)

The survey also found that as of February 12, 2016, scholars had signed a total of 22 new programs or contracts with receptive tour operators over the past three years.

“We see businesses that have never even looked at the international market before,” says Spence. “This program opens the doors to the world and has the potential to completely change a tourism partner’s approach to long term growth.”


Travel Alberta