Best Western Leisure Summit: Summer travel looks good

TORONTO — If the travel plans of the five panellists at the 11th Best Western Leisure Travel Summit are an indicator, then Canada is batting 1000 this summer.

Best Western panel, from left: Brian Payea, David Goldstein, Charlotte Bell, Dorothy Dowling and Tony Pollard.

Best Western panel, from left: Brian Payea, David Goldstein, Charlotte Bell, Dorothy Dowling and Tony Pollard.

TORONTO — If the travel plans of the five panellists at the 11th Best Western Leisure Travel Summit are an indicator, then Canada appears to be batting 1000 when attracting summer visitors.

Dorothy Dowling, SVP and chief marketing officer for Best Western Hotels & Resorts will be coming back to see friends and family in Toronto, a vacation that must include a Jays game, plus trips to the Shaw and Stratford theatre festivals. Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada always goes to his cottage. Brian Payea, head of industry relations at TripAdvisor, who lives in Boston, plans a week in Montreal and Lake Champlain, his old stomping ground. Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) will travel to the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where she plans to eat great food and taste great wines. And David Goldstein, president and CEO of Destination Canada, who lives in Vancouver, plans to holiday in Muskoka, Ont., where his little one goes to summer camp.

Pollard told the audience of travel writers at the Arcadian Court in Toronto on Monday that he is sorry the situation in parts of Alberta has gone from bad to worse, but Vancouver's forecast leaves him breathless, and Toronto looks fabulous this summer. 

Payea has a unique perspective at TripAdvisor, and noted that views of Canadian properties are 36 per cent higher this year over last.

Bell noted that the low Canadian dollar is not the only factor attracting people to the country. “Destination Canada has been getting the word out. Numbers are already up 20 per cent from the U.S., and it's not even high season.”

Destination Canada's Goldstein sees great growth as well. He said the 2002 to 2012 was lost decade, where domestic demand grew and but U.S. travel compressed. “Hoteliers did a good job at growing rate, which made us even less attractive.” Now, he sees a demand surge everywhere, with growth coming from Japan and France as well as the U.S. “It's not just seasonal — there's winter business, shoulder business and soft spots.”

Dowling said this summer will be another blockbuster, but noted that the look to book ratio now has become quite short, with guests booking two weeks prior.

“We always have a focus on summer — and we've allocated lots of marketing dollars,” she said.

Heidi Baldwin demonstrates the Best Western Virtual Reality Viewer at the Summit.

Heidi Baldwin demonstrates the Best Western Virtual Reality Viewer at the Summit.

Virtual reality coming this summer

At the summit, delegates got to look through virtual reality viewers to get a preview of Best Western's virtual reality hotel tours which will launch this summer. Best Western launched Google Street Views of its hotels two years ago. “Virtual reality is one up on this. Today's Best Western is an immersive experience,” Dowling said, adding that they partnered with Google on this as well.

“Millennial travellers are engage with gaming, and this helps quantify and qualify that experience.”

Looking at the Best Western app on their phone through the viewers, people can get a 3D experience of the hotel; when they look up, they see the ceiling and when they look down, they see the floor.