Stuck in The Bubble With You; Perspective from Tourism, Tech and a Goat

November 5, 2020

I am in the middle of the ocean, standing on a paddle board, desperately try to keep a goat from jumping off, all while looking at a camera pretending to enjoy the experience… Hey 2020. How you been?

From not being able to visit family, to job loss, to entire industries in turmoil, to our health sector feeling overwhelmed, to kids going back to school, it’s been a while since we’ve all felt such uncertainty in our lives.

As a start-up coach at Propel, I’ve seen startup companies that have managed to grow despite  Covid. If anything, some companies have thrived thanks to an increasing number of customers and businesses who are seeking alternative tech solutions to age-old problems, Covid has led to a significant need to adapt technologies. We have also seen some very high valuations for tech companies on the stock market – a glimpse of optimism in uncertain times. One of the companies that we help, renderator.com, based out of Halifax, provides Condominium developers the opportunity to pre-sell condo units with virtual tours. Walk around your future condo before the developer lays a single brick on the construction site at the convenience of your smartphone. While this type of product had traction pre-Covid, as you can imagine, the demand sky rocketed as people scrambled for tech solutions during Covid. Look at the changes we’ve all experienced in a matter of months: doctor’s appointments, financial services, your MBA class… all at the convenience of your kitchen table.

How things have changed.

While some of these companies are finding success, it also means that some are losing at the other end of the stick. This summer I had the opportunity to see that first hand in the Maritime tourism sector.

I landed a contract earlier this summer with alocal marketing company (Peach Marketing in Moncton NB ) to film a series of videos promoting local tourism. We drove around NB-PEI-NS, visiting tourism operators in order to encourage people to ‘’visit their backyard’’. Though our plot was sort of cheesy, it was also quite eye opening for people who didn’t appreciate the beauty of where we lived. I pretended to be on my way to do a North-American road trip, only to be denied at the border, and was thus “stuck” in the Atlantic bubble. We then visited the 4 corners of the Maritime provinces to showcase the many incredible attractions we have. We also created these photo comparisons from around the world to highlight how amazing the region truly is:

We are the fortunate ones to be “stuck here”.

But it’s no hidden secret, ask all the tourists who would spend their summers here. Being brought up in the coastal community of Shediac NB, I was well aware of this. The number of Quebec and Ontario plates we typically see in our community throughout the summer would make most local citizens roll their eyes and say “Look at this Quebec license plate in front of me… What a terrible driver… Classic Quebecois” (it’s mostly a love-hate relationship.)
But if any Quebecers or Ontarians are reading this, let me tell you, we surely missed the love this summer.

If 2020 brought anything to the Atlantic bubble, it was our appreciation for these “bad drivers”. In my hometown of Shediac, some campgrounds have seen a 65% decrease in overnight campsite rentals from last year ( https://globalnews.ca/news/7235860/shediac-businesses-lose-quebec-tourists-coronavirus/ ). The entire region was feeling the pinch, and I was embarking on a 2 month journey to see this first-hand.

The response from our first published video was quite positive. I remember coming back and having family members and friends tell me they visited one of the establishments on the show « HEY!! On a été à la Terrace à Steve, trop cool hein? »

Yeah… I have to say that place was cool. All of it was cool. The video reached 55,000 views and 900 shares on Facebook within 2 days. Not bad considering it was a French video and the Acadian population is about 230,000.

While we were basking in this early success, it also dawned on me how risky this initiative was. Travel! Try local experiences. Meet the people on the front lines who are feeling the biggest effects of Covid…tourism operators. What did I get myself into? That anxiety was eventually overshadowed by empathy.

I can’t erase the experience we had at a Bed & Breakfast during our third weekend in PEI. After a full day of filming, we arrived late in the evening and laid eyes onthis beautiful Victorian house, isolated among surrounding potato fields. I had to pinch myself that this was work.

As we approached the house, an older lady came out and signaled us to come on in, and I felt a tad bad because we arrived quite late that evening. I am sure this lady couldn’t wait to go to bed, but had to wait for these four hooligans as they loudly dragged their bags and filming gear upstairs. A new policy in the province had every guest sign their name and cell number on a Covid-list upon entry. A great idea for contact tracing, but it occurred to me that I had the entire guest list in front of my eyes. All of it …every single visitor forthe entire 2020 summer season thus far… Only problem, after inserting all four names, the result was the following;

Other Guest …………………………………….…..June 24th

Julien (filmcrew)……………………………………July 26th

Mathieu (filmcrew) ……………………………….July 26th

Mathieu (filmcrew)………………………………..July26th

Alex (filmcrew)………………………………………July 26th

A single visitor had been there before us.

Next morning as we sat down for breakfast, I couldn’t shake this thought as I stared blankly into the heart of my coffee. How many businesses are suffering right now? How much can we sustain as a society or as an economy? So many sectors are in dire situations, and I can’t begin to comprehend the challenges for local governments…

Let’s use the example of where we were filming, the PEI Evangeline region. This is a destination that used to accommodate hundreds of bus tours full of tourists from the United States, China, and Quebec. Thousands of people eating, camping,staying in hotels – all of it … just gone. Staff is hanging by a thread, event halls are empty, local businesses have hardly any foot traffic…

As I stare blankly into my cup of coffee, I’m increasingly envious of its darkness. I try to lift my spirits by looking at the day’s agenda:

8:30 Fishermen at the Pier…
10:00 Roma, experience at…
11:00 Paddle board with goats…

Wait what? I am paddle boarding with goats today?” My astonishment was met with chuckles fromthe boys. Hehe. I start smiling… and pour some milk in my coffee cup, like a light piercing through the darkness of my thoughts.

While the experience was a stretch, paddle boarding with goats is an example of the type of innovation and business startup that can be done in the age of chaos. At Propel, we are seeking the innovators and the risk takers. Paddle boarding with goats may not be the next big success (although who knows with Instagram nowadays …) but others will succeed. At Propel, we nurture companies that want to be the next success story in tech. We’re seeing incredible growth of tech companies on the stock market, why not have a home-grown company, here in the Atlantic Provinces, reach for this kind of success?

Goats on a paddle board. Hey, the worst that can happen is I try something new and learn from it.Build-Measure-Learn – it’s a methodology that we use at Propel with our early-stage companies. This process is based on Ash Maurya’s “Starting Lean”, which provides a proven framework when dealing with high levels of uncertainty.Build-Measure-Learn; take scientists as an example, they have proven that in order to innovate, you must measure results and learn from it, this is the iterative process. It’s also why I believe a number of tech companies do so well. Alot of these companies were founded on A-B testing, hypothesis validation andbuilding MVPs. Propel also helps and supports companies that have a track record and are seeking growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for the business community to envision its business differently, it’s a great time to revise your business model. Businesses need to adapt or die.

Yes, Covid has hit some industries more than others, some sectors are finding it very difficult to adapt and innovate. How do you innovate airlines? I unfortunately don’t think flights to nowhere are the answer (reference to Quantas’ 7 hour flight to nowhere that sold out in 10 minutes… https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/flights-to-nowhere-qantas/index.html.)

On some level, we have all been changed by Covid... Our spending habits are a prime example, like with groceries or entertainment. We must be conscious that everyone is in a different fight of their own. If we don’t make a conscious effort to reach outto one another, well, don’t be surprised if your favourite restaurant won’t bearound next summer, or your local band doesn’t play anymore, or your hairstylist had to find a new job, or the local boat excursion had to close. More than ever, we may need to put in that extra effort and those extra dollars to support one another.
Bonus – this gives you a Get-out-of-Jail-free-card to indulge yourself in whatever your local guilty pleasures are… It’s for a good cause!

“As my good community-focused deed of the day, I would like to try a slice of your carrot cake… and if you would happen to have something for my goat, that would be great… Thanks. - JROB

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