Sarah Murdoch October 3, 2009
Just back from last week's GoMedia Canada Marketplace, an exhausting but entertaining event at which 125 journalists (75 Canadian, 50 representing the international press) vigorously took notes, milled and looked attentive while destinations, events and tours were pitched to them by about 125 representatives from the travel industry --hotels, cruise lines, provinces, botanical centres, spas, regions and the like. Each meeting is exactly 15 minutes and over the course of two-and-a-half days, each journalist talks to 27 tourism concerns. Yes, exactly like speed dating--and very quid pro quo. Travel writers meet travel providers, to their mutual benefit. Trips are arranged and business cards exchanged. For journalists, it's a great boon because the trips are paid for by the host of GoMedia, the Canadian Tourism Commission. This year's event was at Whistler, which gave everyone a chance to check out the secondary venue for February's Olympic Games (10 of 16 events will be held at Whistler). Herewith, a few highlights:
Karen Blaylock, a Whistlerite since 1969, gave a handful of journalists a tour around town the first day. She has a palpable nostalgia for the old pre-development hippie-dip days. But even she looks around in wonderment at the exquisite resort town it is today, with its luxe quaint ambience. Blaylock is a fount of local lore. Why is it called Whistler? After the high-pitched whistle call of the western hoary marmots that live on it. And Blackcomb Mountain? Because its peak looks like a rooster comb, only white. What is the ratio of permanent residents to restaurants? Some 10,000 residents and 120 restaurants. Blaylock's favourite Whistler sushi spot? Sachi Sushi. Her favourite view? At Rainbow Park.
That afternoon, while hardier souls went ziplining, 16 of us met two attractive young chaps, Skai Dalziel and Joe Facciolo, who last December opened Whistler Tasting Tours (whistlertastingtours.com). Over the next three hours, we consumed fried goat's cheese and bruschetta at Monk's Grill; had some sumptuous mouthfuls at Bearfoot Bistro (where owner Andre Saint Jacques, who holds the Guinness World Record for "sabering," taught us the essential art of removing the cork from a Champagne bottle by rubbing a sword gently on the neck of the bottle); scarfed pan-fried salmon at Elements; ate cajun-crusted ahi tuna at Hy's Steakhouse; then finished with supernal rack of lamb at Quattro. ---
Day 2 began with a trail ride in the beautiful Pemberton Valley, courtesy of Outdoor Adventures Whistler ( adventureswhistler.com),beneath snow-capped mountains. It was a tame outing, mostly walking, brief trots, no canters. Nevertheless, a Chinese journalist contrived to fall off his steed. Unhurt, he picked himself up and got right back on. Back at the paddock, our trail guide, Belinda, a charming Australian, a witness to the mishap and the young Chinese writer filled out an incident report. I'm sure he will remember this as a highlight of his trip. ---
Every industry gathering worth its salt needs a bit of a scandal to create buzz, and at GoMedia it came courtesy of Canada's tourism minister, Diane Ablonczy, who addressed us at the lunch hosted by Travel Alberta (the minister's home riding is in Calgary). She talked on and on -- way beyond the anticipated five-minute welcome -- directing her remarks primarily at the 50 international journalists (Ontario is very big, Prince Edward Island is very small). It struck many as a tad condescending. But eyes really rolled and the room started to hum when, during her province-by-province exposition, she put Great Slave Lake in Alberta (it's in the Northwest Territories), mispronounced Wasaga (the second "a" should be hard) and entirely forgot to mention New Brunswick. However, we did learn that P. E. I. has red soil (though no Anne of Green Gables), that B. C. has wild animals (and that, compared to Albertans, its people are laid back).
You may think you've left it too late if you want to go to Vancouver for the Olympics. Not so, Tourism Vancouver's Wendy Underwood told me when we met at Table 16 on the first day of the Marketplace Marathon. There is still accommodation available, albeit often what she referred to as "nontraditional." Go to 2010destinationplanner.com,click on Accommodation, then scroll down to More Accommodation Options. I visited this week and there are still rooms available in B&Bs, apartments, even a cruise ship. Underwood was also anxious to get the word out about Vancouver's Cultural Olympiad, which runs from Jan. 22 to March 21, and includes performances by the Alberta Ballet, a run of Nixon in China (an opera about the late president's 1972 trip), street performances, rock bands and a number of pedestrian corridors. Later, at Table 4, I talked to Janet Miller of VANOC, the Olympics organizing body, who enthusiastically described it as "60 days, 60 venues, 600 performances." At the first Cultural Olympiad in 2008, 180,000 attended, last year 230,000. ---
Mike Taylor, the public relations manager for the Fairmont hotel chain was among my favourite conversations, in part because he was prepared to acknowledge the existence of other hotels, a rare quality in publicists. The Fairmont Whistler was the venue of the event, and when I complimented him on the excellence of the hotel's mattresses, he brushed it off, saying that a decade ago Westin Hotels set the industry standard -- and received plenty of publicity for it -- with its landmark Heavenly Bed. A superior mattress can be had today in any first-class hotel. He also had a great story idea. Enjoy the Olympics without going to the Olympics: You can curl at Montebello, downhill ski at Lake Louise, bobsled at Olympic Park in Calgary. All, naturally, are blessed with a Fairmont Hotel.
Cruise North Expeditions ( cruisenorthexpeditions.com)specializes in Eastern-Canadian Arctic adventures, and Jillian Dickens, ensconced at Table 15, told me the company is excited that next year it's launching its first "international" cruise to Greenland. There's a 14-night cruise from Iqaluit on July 23 and a 13-night one from Kuujjuaq on Aug. 6. It's pricey (starting at $5,300 plus airfare, another $1,200) but definitely a contender for the once-in-a-lifetime list. A cruise that sounds perfect for the aspiring nature photographer on your holiday gift-giving list -- providing you have at least $7,400 for the cruise plus airfare -- is led by photographer Younes Bounhar. It sails Sept. 6 to 15, from Resolute Bay, down the coast of Baffin Island, ending in Kuujjuaq. ---
Over at Table 14, Irene Knight, the CN Tower's publicist, was resolutely upbeat over the Guinness World Record's recent statement that the structure (until recently hyped as the world's tallest free-standing structure and free-standing building) would henceforth hold the title of the World's Tallest Tower -- what might be regarded by many as a reversal, since the title of tallest building has been usurped by the Burj Dubai office building in Abu Dhabi. And that's not all, record-wise. The CN Tower, she explained, has other records up it's 553.33-metre sleeve you may be unaware of, to wit: It's the World's Top Elevator Ride and, get this, has the World's Highest Wine Cellar.
And speaking of records, Heather MacDonald Bosse, who handles marketing and media for New Brunswick, described the many reasons -- whale-watching, kite surfing and a host of the usual tourist activities -- the province is a worthwhile travel destination. I also learned that Grand Manan Island is the dulse capital of the world and, perhaps of greater importance, that Machias Seal Island may hold the record of Canada's longest territorial dispute with the States. Remarkably, visits to the foggy, treeless island--mostly by bird watchers -- are limited to July, when no more than 15 Canadians and 15 Americans are allowed to go each day.
On the final evening, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre hosted a reception, catered by Four Seasons Resort Whistler -- consisting entirely of what might be described as aboriginal fusion, developed by the resort's executive chef Scott Thomas Dolbee and First Nations chef Andrew George. Here are some of the canapes that were scarfed: Alderwood smoked salmon and bannock pizza, bison jerky, salmon candy, clam fritters and fried oysters and, most exotic, pemmican balls, which are basically ground beef jerky, lard and blueberry. I am reliably informed that the balls have an endless shelf-life and First Nations people used to bury them along trails for snacking.