Connecting Guests on Land, Sea and Sky. How Tourism is Evolving with Landsea Tours & Adventures
One Man. One Van.
Landsea Tours & Adventures has come a long way since Scott Mason set out with a single van to start city tours in Vancouver prior to the 1986 International Expo.
Over the last 33 years, they have grown to be an unshakeable army of “Olympic coloured” blue with over 100 highly recognizable staff on Vancouver’s bustling tourism scene. Landsea Tours & Adventures now caters to over 90,000 annual guests operating in Vancouver, Victoria and the Sea to Sky corridor (between Vancouver and Whistler).
“Landsea joined Zaui in 2007 and was a founding company on the platform,” says Zaui CTO, Kory Fawcett. “We’ve watched them grow and adapt with technology over the last 11 years.”
“If you stand still you fall behind,” says Landsea President and Co-Owner, Kevin Pearce. Landsea has learned the science of organizing tours and cultivating positive experiences for customers. They now run up to 45 revenue-generating vehicles on a daily basis organizing close to 1,000 guests. Precision is critical when managing that many pickups and dropoffs. The consequences of one wrong turn can make a tour be off by 20 minutes. And that does not create the kind of positive reviews that get you to be top-rated on Trip Advisor/Viator for three years in a row.
Kevin started out working as a co-op student at Landsea while studying Tourism Management at Capilano University. He later returned to become a high rising employee and partner in the company in 2009. He would later take on the role of president and lead a major rebrand that transformed the company in the wake of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and overcome economic recessions, SARS and 9/11.
It wasn’t all sunshine and Butchart Gardens for Landsea. “When the 2008 recession hit, our business was cut in half. Tourism had seemingly died and Landsea was just hanging on. That was until the 2010 Olympics when the world discovered Vancouver. It was a rebirth for the company.”
“Without the Olympics, we wouldn’t be in business. It doubled the work, cash flow and put Vancouver on the map as a world destination. We took a contract to charter all the Olympic media around the city and immediately had 10 vehicles dedicated around the clock. Landsea Tours & Adventures was the first company to get prepared for the massive influx of people that would hit the city.”
With the city’s new global attention, Kevin saw the amazing video and images of the Sea to Sky corridor being broadcast to the world and knew they needed to get better at marketing. This led to a major rebrand where all Landsea vehicles were wrapped in splashy vinyl decals, re-designing the brochures (which went on to win “Best Brochure in the world” in 2011 and attracted calls from Disney), and creating the “Westjet model” for modern tourism. This model breathes consistency across the board, with consistent vehicles, imagery, efficient processes that ensure top quality guest experiences, better-trained staff and yes, highly recognizable uniforms. During a planning meeting during the Olympic period, Kevin got a glimpse of the official “Vancouver Olympic Blue” as some shirts were being unpacked. In a brilliant move, one year after the Olympics, Kevin licensed the colour as the official Landsea Blue and started the Landsea Blue revolution.
It was the first rebrand for Landsea in 25 years. “Prior to the recession, we were a mid-range tour provider. Most companies went to lower cost after that. We saw the opportunity to go the other way. We were one of the first to start partnering with local activities providers to package tours and create more personal and high-end experiences. We even changed our name to Landsea Tours & Adventures.”
Zaui Connect is helping Landsea do that more efficiently through software automation. Landsea has been working with partners like Harbour Air for years to connect the transportation piece for guests although it was a lot of manual work. “Zaui Connect is now connecting the operations through software integrations. Guests can book multi-stage tours/trips in one place while keeping it simple for our sales agents.”
With the shift to higher-end tourism, Landsea introduced their black charter service in 2012, Landsea Charters & Services. In 2018 they are starting private excursions like sturgeon fishing, jet boating, and heli tours with fellow Zaui partner, SKY helicopters.
Technology is the Backbone
When Landsea joined Zaui in 2007. They were looking for a cloud-based system. “We had cheap old PCs that would always crash.” We were simply scared about losing data. They needed software simply to keep organized and facilitate growth at first.
The biggest immediate change was the ability to book online. “If we don’t pay attention to tech, we will fall behind.” Customers are savvy researchers. While the older demographic still love phones, the millennials are booking more online, through referral links or right on the spot through agents. In recent years, Landsea has seen a big increase in online and direct bookings. “A lot of our 2019 bookings are already sold out. The growth has been crazy and BC’s tourism industry is booming.”
Landsea has been ahead of the curve for fuelling efficiency with a complex pickup and drop-off ritual. Before Zaui, Landsea used paper sheets with 24 lines per page. Every time someone would call with a booking they wrote the booking with a pencil. When it was written in pen, it was confirmed. “Then we would organize the papers with bookings across the boardroom table and in the morning and tour guides would pick their routes. It was chaos,” Kevin says. It burns the team out and wasn’t efficient. “If bookings came in within 3 hours of a tour, we couldn’t even take them.”
One morning, while Kevin was on a tour, they were making 3 hotel pickups. They made a small planning slip up and ended up doubling back past a guest’s hotel to pick up other guests that were actually staying nearby. “Guests weren’t happy and were asking… why did we go back?”
Kevin saw the problem and went to work creating a manual algorithm mapping out the city by zones. It created a system of waves for pickups and each hotel was now part of a particular zone. “Depending on where you’re staying, I can tell you what time we will pick you up on a tour 3 years from now. This system has been a key to Landsea’s success. We provide customers with a 5-minute pickup window. Most companies have difficulty meeting a 15-minute window,” he says. All the load points were inputted into Zaui and enabled a way to organize everyone’s pickup windows.
Zaui’s new direct integration with Routific has Kevin particularly excited. Routific is an automated load balancing and route optimization software. Using the Routific plugin to Zaui, Kevin and the company will save 3-4 hours every day eliminating manual route optimization techniques. “With the new capabilities, we can accept bookings up to about an hour before a tour departs.” All bookings and pickup locations are inputted into the system. We push a button, the software sorts all of our guests into load-balanced buses (called “Splits”) in the most optimal sequence of pickups and hotel time zones. “We print the manifest and head out for the day,” he smiles. It will even give us the best routes based on real-time traffic updates on the day. This will expand booking windows and reduce the stress and uncertainty within the team.
But with all the new tech, Landsea still keeps a close finger on the pulse of their customers. “We still encourage phone calls.” Unlike a lot of our competitors, we offer a “real human” via phone 7 days per week. A comforting advantage for catering to the baby boomer generation.
When we asked Kevin about where the future of technology is headed, he had some interesting insight. “The more obvious direction is towards self-driving vehicles and more environmentally friendly vehicles,” Kevin says. Landsea is currently converting a diesel bus to an electric one. “It’s actually a lot more environmentally friendly to do conversions,” he says. What happens to old vehicles when you buy new electric vehicles? They end up in the salvage yard. You can re-use that equipment and keep it from ending up in the scrap bin.
Joys & Pains of the Cruise Ship Circuit
Working with cruise ships can be great for business but it also provides massive complexity that Landsea seems to have mastered. Next year it is expected that over 1 million guests will visit Vancouver through the port.
The story goes like this…Ships arrive in the morning. Passengers have to disembark pre and post cruise tours creating a time slot where guests are in limbo with nowhere to store their luggage and no accommodation. Landsea saw this problem as an opportunity to offer a free luggage transfer service. Landsea is one of the few tourism companies licensed with Transport Canada to bring luggage directly on the ship. They very cleverly manage their guest’s luggage when disembarking or loading to safely arrive at their cabin while they are treated to a Landsea tour or activity. It’s a complex process made simple with Landsea’s software that is part of their proprietary strategy for success.
Surprisingly, Landsea has no formal partnerships with cruise ships. As Kevin explains, “Cruise ship companies demand high net rates and can sometimes resell your product above retail. That doesn’t sit well with me. Everyone on board should pay the same price.” he says. “Never do anything just for the money. The money will come.”
Landsea used to receive 90% of bookings through hotel concierges. Now it’s about 36%. Although the number of concierge bookings has increased, the sales mix has changed. “Concierges are reliable because they send business 12 months per year, but it’s also gut-wrenching as reservations-only tend to come within a 24-72 hour window,” Kevin notes. “Moving more online with a diverse group of partners provides more predictability for our operations.”
Sales agents (concierges and wholesalers) log in directly to the Landsea system and book guests. They can directly collect payment or use referral links to track an agent’s commission. Kevin sees the potential for Zaui connect where agents will sell full experiences that are linked through the Landsea platform. An agent could realistically book 3 separate tours that all partner together, print 3 individual tickets and collect a commission on 3 different tours all through one-stop with Zaui Connect.
Landsea has been working with Zaui since the beginning, often meeting on a monthly basis, to create new tools and features and refine their system. With technology, we see fewer missed bookings. There is no ‘busy signal’. Kevin says. “Zaui has always been really receptive to our needs and developed a lot of tools, we asked for.
Online Travel Agencies
“If you can’t beat em’ join em,” Kevin says when asked about working with Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). Landsea was one of the first Vancouver tourism companies to join Viator and is now the #1 mini coach company rated on the platform. Kevin remembers when Viator was still a few people in an old tiny office in Australia. That says something about how young the digital travel space actually is and how quickly it’s grown.
“OTA’s have awesome SEO and best in class marketing. While receiving 100% of your bookings through OTA channels isn’t the most profitable sales mix, they provide a lot of certainties and we’ve seen massive growth.” At regular intervals, Kevin measures how much business is being turned away with the help of analytics on Zaui and OTA platforms, and applies a dollar figure. As Kevin says, if it can pay for a bus in 1-2 months, we buy the bus!”
In 2013-2017 Landsea received the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence and from 2013-2016, they received the Georgia Straight Reader’s Choice Award. To top it off, Landsea was awarded the 2018 TripAdvisor #1 day trip for their Vancouver to Victoria Victoria & Butchart Gardens Tour!
“People will always remember the guide”
Kevin believes this is the most important ingredient for a successful tour company. New employees go through five rigorous weeks of training before interacting with guests. “You hire for personality, train for skills,” he says.
To cultivate a family feel, every year Landsea throws a “Summer Sizzler” party where “everyone in the Vancouver tourism industry is invited.” This year’s party included axe throwing, a marching band and a candy buffet where everyone has a chance to win killer prizes. For Kevin that started shovelling snow on Grouse Mountain, this is important. “You’ll always remember that party wherever your career is at. We want happy partners and happy employees. It’s our way of saying thanks to everyone. We are all in this together.”
Landsea has cultivated a “family feel” over the last 33 years that is hard to replicate. “The Christmas party is still at my house,” Kevin says. We have a tradition called the Landsea Cup. It started with 30 employees and it’s been going for 10 years now. Every year new names are inscribed onto this Stanley Cup-like trophy. The 4 person team competition brings together different Landsea departments taking part in challenges like bowling, an amazing race scavenger hunt, or go-carts. It strengthens the organization and divides up the little “clicks” that form creating a unified team atmosphere.
The company also gives back to the community in spades. You’ll see the Blue uniforms in the community throughout the year working on the Great Canadian Shore Clean-up, Stuff the Bus which provides blankets/clothing for the homeless, donating transport for children’s sports teams, volunteering at the food bank, and last year donated $1 from every booking to Anti-Bullying initiatives which are close to Kevin’s heart.
The family approach seems to be working as Landsea took home the Employees First Award in 2017 by Destination BC (out of 19,000 companies).
Only Offer Positive Experiences
“The most important thing to remember is that consumer reviews trump any marketing,” Kevin states. In true head-of-household fashion, Kevin still personally responds to any negative reviews. “If we know ahead of time that it’s not going to be a good experience for the guest…say like a large scale city event is happening (marathon, parade, etc) and we know that roads will be shut down affecting our ability to run our tours, we will cancel. We only want to offer positive experiences. It’s our best defence to avoid negative consequences.”
Since the 2008 economic fallout, other events like SARS, the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war have tried to soften the tourism industry. But Kevin has an extremely positive outlook on Vancouver. “It is an international destination with a multicultural flare that makes people feel comfortable and safe here.”
Final P’s and Q’s
“Fairly price, never gouge and if it has nothing to do with Landsea, we’re out!” A few key messages from Kevin on staying on brand and keeping business close to the heart of the family.
This is one dynasty with a heart of gold, a mindset for technology and a goal to exceed every guest’s thirst for adventure. With that attitude, Landsea has its signature blue set as one of the primary colours in BC tourism.
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