When the COVID-19 crisis peaked in March 2020 forcing tourism businesses and restaurants to close across the province, Off the Eaten Track in Victoria, B.C. had no choice but to shut down as well. During this downtime, owner Bonnie Todd enrolled in the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program.
Todd reports the most significant benefit of the program to Off the Eaten Track was receiving immediate marketing support from one of the Program Experts. She found that having someone to brainstorm with who had an outside perspective and could provide fresh ideas was extremely helpful.
After her complimentary, one-on-one meeting with the marketing Program Expert, Todd came away with creativity, positivity and new ideas for collaborating with other tourism businesses. After ceasing operations for about a month, Off the Eaten Track was able to quickly adapt their business once restaurants and food services were allowed to offer take-out.
Off the Eaten Track originally offered five guided food tours around Victoria, but after being inspired by other Canadian and U.S. food tour companies, Todd decided to create a product that incorporated culinary offerings from several small businesses which could be delivered to guests in their homes or hotel rooms. This “Brown Bag Food Tour” delivery service was a great success with over 50 sold in the first week, more than Todd expected.
In addition, Off the Eaten Track also introduced online culinary experiences in which they safely deliver a curated selection of food and drinks to customers at home and then later lead an interactive Zoom call where a local expert takes participants through a tasting.
This new service gives customers the option to experience the Victoria culinary scene from their homes or hotel rooms if they are not yet comfortable dining in a restaurant, while also providing the same level of engagement they would experience from a regular tour.
All deliveries are contactless and come from certified kitchens that are practicing the safe protocols set out by The Province. Every person handling products and boxes wears protective gloves and has been trained on proper sanitation measures as well as safe food handling practices. Deliveries are dropped at the customer’s doorstep and they receive a text upon delivery to avoid any unnecessary contact.
Operating with a virtually nonexistent marketing budget and pivoting their target customer to a local audience was the biggest challenge for Off the Eaten Track. “Trying to get the word out about our new offerings during a global pandemic with many other businesses also needing to communicate their changes, has been challenging,” says Todd. “We’ve had to work hard to become recognized by residents and to encourage them to spend locally.”
As time has progressed, Off the Eaten Track has been able to reinstate some of their regular guided walking tours. There is now a maximum of six people on each tour, two metre distancing between guests, masks and hand sanitizer are available and the tours stay outside as much as possible, following the health and safety recommendations for tour companies.
Despite Off the Eaten Track’s resiliency in adapting for this year’s remaining tourism season, there are still concerns about what will happen once the season is over and restaurants start to quiet down. Todd hopes to see more support from the buy local movement and that visitors continue to make smart travel decisions.
However, thanks in part to the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program, Off the Eaten Tracks’s Bonnie Todd is proud of how fast she was able to adapt and get new offerings up and running. “This is what helped keep our brand relevant and keep us in business,” she concludes.