So it will come to an end. In a few weeks, I will terminate my longtime work for Canada to pursue other professional activities such as my blog. Mixed feelings for sure, but it is about time. And an excellent opportunity to review this milestone of my career in tourism.
How did it all begin?
Well, in 1991, the German travel trade press commented that "the Canadians" were about to close their big National Tourism Office to move to the Consulate General in Düsseldorf instead. Since I was looking for a new job during that time, this caught my interest. Until then, I was contracting and marketing hotels in warm destinations worldwide, so why not try to promote a completely different destination? So I applied. The first interview went well, and let me confess that I lied during it - I stated I had been to Canada before, which was not true at all (shhhh...!). Call this a white lie. On a sweltering summer day, I got a call to come over for a second interview. My office in those days was just a stone's throw away from the Consulate General. "I can come, but there is a little problem", I said to the secretary over the phone. "What problem?" On that day, I was wearing a striking red silk shirt with short sleeves, which I did not deem appropriate for a visit to a Consulate. "The gentlemen want to see you and not your shirt", was the cool reply of that lady. To cut it short: a few days later I got the job as "Tourism Manager". I think I was the youngest guy in such a position in all of Germany. A new kid on the block.
First Trip to Canada: Winnipeg
My first trip to Canada ever took me to a manager´s meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. A whole bunch of older gentlemen (and a few ladies) was having endless discussions. They talked about producing collateral at hardly any cost and other things I really did not have to deal with before. Was I in the right place? I had just given up a pretty good job in the private tourism sector. My second trip took me to the headquarters of Tourism Canada in Ottawa in February. I am sure you know what that means: -25 degrees C (- 13 F) and snow all over the place. I was well prepared with a big coat, warm underwear, and gloves. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about my head and decided to walk from the hotel to the office. When I arrived, I was not sure if I still had ears at all. At least I could not feel them. First lesson learned: never leave the house without head protection when in Ottawa in winter. Years later, I experienced that city (which I like a lot, by the way) from another side. It was July and almost 40 degrees C hot (104 F). I remember that a colleague took me out for lunch on a lovely patio. When the waiter arrived with our food, he was sweating so much that I was concerned that some of his drops of sweat could make their way right onto my salad.
Six Trips to Canada in one Year
Back to year one with a total of six trips to Canada, lots of learnings, unpleasant meetings with two airlines, and a few incidents with German tour operators that I could have easily done without. I almost got hit during my first big travel event (no kidding) by a German tour operator. He was upset about the fact that I had interviewed one of his competitors on the stage. I had done this because that competitor was one of Germany's most successful skiers who had won a World Cup race in Quebec. After that, he had become a tour operator and could talk nicely about his skiing experiences in Canada.. Not everyone seemed to understand this, though. A few years later, the guy who had been about to hit me (someone went in between) went out of business. I have to say that my pity was sort of limited.
Another tour operator threatened to take me to court since some of our collateral had not arrived in time at a consumer show. "If the stuff is not here until noon, I will take legal actions against you." Lovely people. Ah, the brochures arrived shortly after, and I did not end up in jail ;-).
Some of the German representatives of Canadian Provinces counted how often "their" specific region was mentioned in Canada brochures. If not all of them were treated equally, I had a problem. And never forget to mention any partners who participate in your promotions. This happened a few times to me, making me feel like the most guilty man on earth. Well, life is an everlasting learning process, isn't it?
WHAT THE HECK IS INTERNET?
During my first year, I was asked by a colleague from Ottawa if I thought that the internet would significantly impact tourism. I'm talking about the year 1992 here. I did not have a clue what he meant with INTERNET, and for sure, I could not google the word in those days ;-). I gave a vague reply in order not to admit my ignorance. Oh yes, the Stone Age of tourism was about to end soon!
From Tourism Canada to the Canadian Tourism Commission and ... Destination Canada!
Over the years, the Canadian landscape changed. In the late 90s, Tourism Canada was altered into the Canadian Tourism Commission, and the marketing became much more professional. The so-called CTC was on its way to becoming one of the most efficient and innovative tourism organizations, which Destination Canada still is today. It was exciting to be part of it and watch all the changes, away from bureaucracy towards creative and efficient world-class marketing.
We engaged INFLUENCERS before the Word was even created
We had moved out of the Consulate and created innovative campaigns to attract more German visitors to Canada. Long before the term (which we cannot hear anymore) was created, we were using "influencers" to promote Canada as a world-class travel destination. German actors, authors, sportsmen and women, and singers went to Canada to write blogs about it. Some of them became very close friends. The CTC and its partners really appreciated our innovation and creativity. We received the President´s Team Award, and three team members, including myself were also recognized as "Employees of the Year".
Life is ... Change!
However, what would life be without change? In 2010, I learned that our office would be closed (along with Paris and Sydney). To reduce the overall costs, the CTC intended to work with an agency instead. I was offered to apply as "GSA" (general sales agent) which, - after many thoughts - I agreed to do in co-operation with Travelmarketing Romberg. This agency that has a long experience in representing international destinations. To cut a long story short, we were awarded the contract. At the same time, I created my agency KHL Tourism & Lifestyle Consulting to do some other stuff on the side (such as PR for luxury hotels). From today´s perspective, this was another brave decision in my life. Seven years of work for Canada, along with a dedicated team, followed. Most of that was fun.
These days I thought a lot about my experiences in Canada, that big country with untamed nature and those wonderful cities that I love so much. I have done it (almost) all! I have gone horseback riding in Alberta and in the Yukon. I have flown over the giant Kluane National Park all the way up to Alaska.
I have learned how to survive in the wilderness and how to mix cocktails (yes, life is colorful). I have tried to play golf, I have conquered Whistler Mountain as a non-skier. I have done sea kayaking in Nova Scotia. I have walked the ocean grounds during low tide in New Brunswick and paddled the Yukon River. I have admired all kinds of whales in BC and Quebec. I have conquered the Coast Mountains by mountain bike, and I have tasted local wines in the Okanagan Valley. I met inspiring people such as scientists, elders of First Nations, and celebrities; some have become great friends over the years. I have traveled over the Big Pond almost 100 times. I have attended at least 50 trade shows in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK. I have made uncountable presentations to Canadians and Germans, and I have moderated 13 events at the Embassy of Canada.
I must have attended a couple of 100 meetings (still remember the one on the 54th floor of the Shangri-La in Vancouver - a tough session but at least a gorgeous view). I accepted many prizes on behalf of the CTC/DC and even made a few appearances on TV. What did I miss? Well, I have never seen a moose in its natural habitat (shame on the moose for not showing up). I just had one in the form of a stew on my plate. Shortly after that, I became a vegetarian, by the way. Blame it on the damn moose!
Joking apart, I can only be grateful for all these beautiful experiences and all the love and sympathy I have received over the past 26 years. The nicest compliment I have ever received came from Michele McKenzie, former President and CEO of the CTC (and a wonderful woman). "Canada does not need Hollywood; Canada has Karl-Heinz." I still get goosebumps when I think of that. I have to thank so many people, can`t name them all. Let me just mention Barbara and Nina, who were my guardian angels over the past years. And Rupert Peters and his fantastic DC team in London, UK.
THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH - MERCI BEAUCOUP À TOUS - DANKESCHÖN!!!