Kevin Tessier is living the dream. As owner of the NorthWest Voyageur Company, work for him is paddling out on the lake in an authentic voyageur canoe and revisiting Canada’s fur trading history with a group of Sun Peaks visitors.
“I often tell my guests when they’re in my boat, ‘This is my office and it’s not a bad office to have, even when it’s raining’,” he said.
Tessier has always loved the outdoors having worked as a canoe guide in Ontario since he was 16. After moving to B.C., he enrolled in the Adventure Tourism Guide program in what was then University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson Rivers University). There, he got the idea of starting an adventure tourism business.
“They preached in the program that adventure tourism was going to be the next big thing and, looking back, they were absolutely right. Adventure tourism has become huge since then,” said Tessier.
Tessier is one of many wilderness tourism entrepreneurs who, in total, contribute about $1 billion of revenues a year in B.C. alone. With B.C.’s breathtaking scenery and topography, it’s not surprising that the adventure tourism industry has significantly grown in the province.
“The biggest heli-skiing industry in the world is in British Columbia,” said Gilles Valade, Adventure Studies program chair at Thompson Rivers University. “We don’t get millions of clients but certainly the profile and the spending that’s seen in those activities are quite high.”
Job opportunities are also plentiful, said Valade, but they’re usually seasonal and may not always be financially appealing to recent graduates. So some people, like Tessier’s classmate Adam Stein, opted to start their own business instead.
Stein initially took the program wanting to be certified as a mountain guide. But being outdoors, he discovered his love for photography. He opened his own business, Alpine Images Photography.
While not working in adventure tourism per se, Stein said taking the program was worth it.
“(Having) the capabilities and skill sets to be out on those different environments was certainly the canvas for my photography,” said Stein. “The opportunity to be out there in a safe manner and on a regular basis gave me the chance to photograph.”
“The other portion of the program is getting people certified by different governing bodies . . . as a guide and eventually as a business owner. So a lot of the business principles held through,” he added.
For Tessier, the program fed his entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating, he started reading about the pioneers of the area, which sparked a business idea.
“I was reading stories about all these individuals, and I thought it would be neat if I could do something out of Sun Peaks because it was growing,” he recalled. With the help of the B.C. Community Futures network, Tessier fleshed out his business idea and launched the canoe tours at Sun Peaks.
But like any start up venture, starting an adventure tourism business is not easy.
“Because you’re a small business, you do everything yourself,” said Valade. “You’re the guide, the marketer and the driver and you do the shopping and the books until you get to a certain size.”
Getting the appropriate permit for access to water or land may mean going through bureaucracy, and securing insurance for activities like heli-skiing or rock climbing can be a challenge, Valade added.
There’s also the financial aspect of the business.
“You can take your projections and make them as conservative as you like but . . . the fiscal challenges are definitely very real,” said Tessier.
Timing factors into the equation too.
“You couldn’t start Mike Wiegele’s (heli-skiing) today,” said Valade. “There’s a bit of luck in there. If you have a special service or product that nobody else has, then it’s easier to make it.”
This is what Dylan Methot hopes to build on. Last summer, Methot opened a mountain bike guiding and shuttling operation in Kamloops called Mostly Mental Shuttles.
“Kamloops doesn’t have a shuttling service, why not take a crack at it?” said Methot. “I may just be the only company in the Interior.”
“It’s gone well enough that I’m really excited about next season.”
Despite the hurdles, there’s one common thread in these entrepreneurs’ experiences—doing what you love is very rewarding.
“As long as you put a lot of work into it, I think anything is possible,” said Methot. “But when you start, you really have to love what you’re doing because it does take a while to get the ball rolling.”
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