This story is part of an ongoing series exploring how businesses are approaching reopening. We hope these stories provide actionable tips and inspiration that tour and transportation operators can use to make the transition smoother.
After weeks of standstill, some sectors are looking towards reopening here in Beautiful British Columbia. With case numbers declining on the daily, businesses are starting to open their doors to the local community in the next phase of the COVID-19 recovery plan.
We caught up with George Lacny, Director of Sales and Marketing at SKY Helicopters and Zaui customer to discuss how SKY has braved through the pandemic and adapted for a changed landscape and consumer.
A Look Back: From Closure to Reopening Doors
It was the week of March 16th, and non-essential businesses in BC were mandated to close.
As a helicopter service provider (Transport Canada approved Air Carrier), SKY Helicopters was deemed an essential service by the BC Provincial Government and continued to provide service to industry clients who required access to essential infrastructure in the backcountry.
However, to support BC’s Provincial Health Officer’s directives and assist in flattening the curve, SKY Helicopters voluntarily suspended service.
Like many, the initial move had an impact on staffing, specifically with their front office team but SKY Helicopters has since welcomed back furloughed staff and have been operating at full force for the relaunched tourism operation as of May 14th.
Planning for Recovery – Local Experiences
In early March, SKY Helicopters attended the BC Tourism Industry Association conference in Victoria where the conversation centered not only around the theme #BCTourismMatters, but also the looming threat of COVID-19.
Recognizing a demand for safe experiences after what would surely be months of isolation, the team got the ball rolling with the development of their RE-DISCOVER BC campaign which focuses on re-engaging locals, with a health and safety spin.
A big component of this campaign involved creating timely visuals and engaging video content to showcase enhanced safety measures while speaking to BC locals.
Their customer base has warmly embraced the new localized campaign and has shared positive feedback on the enhanced personal health measures that have been implemented, as well as a strong interest in experiencing BC again.
Interest in High Quality, Low Contact Experiences
Helicopters by nature are low passenger capacity aircraft which makes them well suited to providing safe, comfortable, low-contact personalized experiences.
From day 1, the team at SKY has been dedicated to creating world-class experiences, and meticulously maintaining aircraft and highly trained pilots to build a high level of confidence with guests.
As BC approaches the 3-month mark since the first wave of COVID, there appear to be hopeful signs of recovery. The public response to their changes and enhanced protocol have been overall positive – but the work doesn’t stop there. The SKY team is continuously exploring new opportunities for maintaining appropriate measures to mitigate the virus spread.
Although any return to normalcy and pre-COVID numbers will take some time, SKY Helicopters team is beginning to see calls and online inquiries from their local customer base rising.
Measures for Ensuring Safety and Building Travel Confidence
Changes to Arrival: Upon arriving at SKY Hangar at Pitt Meadows Regional Airport, guests have access to ample, free parking immediately outside their main entrance.
As they enter the terminal building, guests are welcomed by a large, spacious foyer leading to their reservations check-in area, now with a plexiglass barrier for added protection.
To maintain social and physical distancing, only one group (in SKY’s lounge or reception area) is permitted at any time. Added visual markers also help ensure appropriate guest traffic flow through the facility.
Pre-Check In Process: Prior to check-in, the reservations team conducts a brief health questionnaire before permitting guests to board the aircraft. SKY Helicopters aims to minimize contact at check-in, through convenient online booking and digital waivers for all tours.
Private Experiences: Given the changing times, guests are upgraded to private, non-sharing flights with masks provided.
Helicopters and passenger headsets are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to each flight with special attention taken to sanitize headphones, door handles, windows and seat belt buckles.
Marketing and Engaging Local Communities
With local tourism positioned first to return, it’s more important than ever to add value by engaging and partnering with local businesses. SKY Helicopters is kicking it up a notch by working with hotel partners to offer value-added, stay-cation packages for an all-round experience.
To further support local initiatives, the team has also re-directed their international marketing budget to target the local market through an extensive online ad and social media campaign.
And speaking of social – big things are in the works! SKY will be partnering with Tourism Vancouver for an account takeover and will be showcasing how their team and customers are embracing the new reality of tourism.
So what’s next?
Beer, Wine and Choppers is the recipe for lifting spirits and fostering local pride. The team at SKY is excited to reach their WEST COAST CRAFT BEER FLIGHT with new partners showcasing BC Craft Beers. The team will be joining forces with Glass House Winery & Joseph Richard Group to launch a VIP winery experience.
Lastly, we had to ask – What are some tips or takeaways for fellow community operators reopening in the next few weeks?
George summed it up nicely for us, “ Understand that re-launch is not as simple as turning on a light switch. It takes exhaustive work to reach your market, to engage with them and to instill confidence that your efforts on behalf of their safety are in place.
We feel confident that this is the year local residents will RE-DISCOVER BC”