The amount of international visitors to the province of British Columbia has been in steady decline for the last 10 years, causing the tourism industry to take quite a hit.
Fortunately, things are slowly picking up again and an innovative approach to tourism created by a Victoria, BC entrepreneur may be helping the upswing.
BackyardBC, a startup company founded by Brian Friesen, is taking an innovative approach to tourism in the province. The site offers BC residents discounted rates on participating hotels and resorts all across the province, aiming to encourage locals to travel and explore their beautiful home. Friesen, a former hospitality industry professional for over a dozen years, saw the opportunity to capitalize on a potentially vast market.
In Friesen’s years of experience working for hotels such as Victoria’s Hotel Grand Pacific, he’s observed problems in the industry. Often, the larger online travel agents impose strict contracts on hotels and charge high commissions for bookings through them making it difficult and expensive for hotels to promote themselves and to generate direct bookings.
Friesen saw the opportunity to offer lower commissions to hotels and resorts while also helping them promote themselves to a different market: local BC residents. He’s used his contacts from the hospitality industry to make deals with local accommodation providers to create a relationship that is beneficial for all parties involved.
The company is in its third year of existence and is growing quietly but steadily. It’s participated in a number of programs that have helped it launch successfully and sustainably. These programs include ACETECH’s Market Validation Program, BCIC’s 2012 New Ventures Competition, and the Venture Acceleration Program at Victoria’s local accelerator, VIATeC.
The company made it into the third round of the BCIC competition, reaching the top 25. Although funding has been a challenge for the company, Friesen says he’s enjoyed the challenge and has learned a lot from it. Currently, the site has signed up over 5,000 members and is adding 300 to 400 new members every month.
The BackyardBC platform is easy to use. A simple, free sign-up will allow users to access special rates in six regions that cover the whole province. When booking a reservation, either online or via phone, guests simply need to provide their unique booking code. Upon check-in, they will need to show proof of BC residency with valid ID or recent mail in order to apply the discount to their payment. Discounts range from 10% to 40% and offers frequently change as hotels and resorts get added to the list.
At the moment two to three new properties are added every month. Offering hotels and resorts the possibility to fill their rooms without paying high commissions to external agents while also offering residents a way to pay less for vacations that are closer to home may make this mutually beneficial relationship just what the tourism industry needs in this economic climate.
The possibilities are pretty endless for the future of the company. With plans to extend throughout Canada and even into the United States, the potential to make it big is definitely there for BackyardBC.
Friesen wants to continue growing and learning while further developing the company. He hopes to add BackyardBC to the success stories that are coming out of Victoria’s growing tech sector.