Who’s EM Adventure Marketing?
So, how did Elyse Mailhot, founder and president of EM Adventure Marketing get where she is now?
Elyse’s enthusiasm for travel started at an early age, “My parents and I spent hours travelling to airports to drop off my sisters and pick them up. I developed an emotional relationship with airports and everything that happens inside them; the tears, the laughter, the frustrations, the love, the hello and goodbye kisses. I noticed the people behind the ticket counter and the customers in line, all of them travelling to faraway places, by choice, or not. When I turned 10 I asked my mom what I needed to study to work in an airport, knowing all too well that what I wanted more than anything was to travel.
“My sisters would send us postcards of their travels,” she says. “Reading their postcards made me dream about where my own travels might take me.” Upon finishing high school, Mailhot was at a crossroads. “What should I do? Complete a degree in communication or destination marketing and tourism development? I picked the latter and started working in the industry right after graduating and never looked back.”
Mailhot combines a love of lifelong learning with over twenty years of experience “in the trenches” of the tourism industry. She first graduated from Granby CEGEP in Tourism Development from her native province of Quebec. She then completed a Marketing Diploma at l’Université de Montréal in addition to completing several courses in the MBA program at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
Her first big break came when she travelled to Vancouver for Expo 86 and met Al Raine and Olympic gold medalist Nancy Greene-Raine, who co-owned a hotel in Whistler, BC. The couple was actively involved in developing Whistler Resort, decades before it would become the number one resort in North America. “A few months later, I started working at the Nancy Greene Olympic Lodge and as a Kids Camp instructor for Whistler Mountain. The experience and the people I met through Al and Nancy really left their mark on me. As I was starting to feel the travel bug hitting me again, Al suggested going to Japan to study Japanese, reassuring me that it would serve me well, and he was right!”
After a year-long Asian adventure, she returned to Vancouver and landed a dream job at Tourism Vancouver. The organization’s CEO at the time believed in the young, ambitious rookie and hired Mailhot to become Tourism Vancouver’s first Asia Pacific Manager for the Japanese travel trade, followed by a stint developing European and emerging markets.
Mailhot’s career path included being mentored by tourism leaders such as Tom Walker, Rick Antonson and George Bartel, President at Contact Pacific Services, now Cantrav, a reputable destination marketing company specializing in Incentive Travel, Meetings and Conventions. “For a solid eight years, I led, organized and attended many sales missions, events, marketplaces and global tourism shows like World Travel Market in London and ITB, Berlin. Then I was offered a position at Vacances Air Canada Vacations based in Paris, France where I lived and worked for a year.”
Upon returning to Vancouver, Mailhot met her husband-to-be and moved to Bowen Island, near West Vancouver for four years, giving birth to two girls and spending four blissful years being a mom. She channeled her abundant energy into school activities, running a bed and breakfast, volunteering for the tourism board and the local daycare. Realizing just how much she missed the tourism business resulted in a move back to the Mainland, settling in North Vancouver.
Serendipitously, people in the industry got wind that Elyse was looking to return to work just as PR and Marketing efforts were ramping up in advance of the 2010 Winter Games. After a phone call from an old work colleague from her Tourism Vancouver days she applied for a position at the Canadian Tourism Commission and won the competition to join the organization’s global communications department as a manager, marketing and media relations. The timing was perfect and she hit the ground running, organizing major media events such as GoMedia Canada Marketplace and the Canadian Media Marketplace, Canada’s premier media conferences. “I assigned stories for our Media Centre, helped plan the Royal visit, and started working with influential media outlets, broadcasters and social media influencers from around the world.”
Once the 2010 Winter Games ended, Mailhot knew it was time to get on the move once again. “I needed time to reflect so I splurged and signed up for a yoga and heli-hiking retreat at Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Bobbie Burns Lodge.”
After climbing a challenging, exposed Via Ferrata route on Mount Nimbus in the Bugaboo Mountain Range, Mailhot had her epiphany. “The light went on, and I promised myself I would never work in a cubicle again.” Several months later, she left the CTC to develop her own marketing communications consulting business. Acting on her revelation from the summit of Nimbus, Mailhot “knew that my niche was going to be adventure travel, specifically those experiences that are personally transformative. I made a list of companies I wanted to work with, networked with people in the adventure travel, outdoors recreation and sport industries and it all came together. The phone started ringing and referrals were coming my way.”
One of her first contracts was with Corey Trepanier, an acclaimed artist, filmmaker and speaker, who had just completed his Into The Arctic project. A love affair with the world’s polar regions was born, as Mailhot retained Squamish-based One Ocean Expeditions, a polar expedition cruise specialist who was involved with the search for Sir John Franklin’s sunken ships in Victoria Strait in the notorious North West Passage. She worked closely with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Parks Canada, the Weston Foundation and other partners involved in this important historic initiative.
Her most high profile project was the once controversial Sea to Sky Gondola, constructed near Squamish, BC. “The town was full of supporters, but there were some naysayers as well. Everyone sort of held their breath waiting for the sightseeing attraction to open.” Before the official launch date, Mailhot was developing storylines and focusing on media contacts, not just in BC, but around the globe.
Within a month of the Sea to Sky Gondola opening, stories came out in the global media. The overwhelming potential for cultural, adventure, and natural history tourism was soon realized. Numerous hiking and trail running events have occurred; slopes that previously were inaccessible have been skied by enthusiastic backcountry skiers, and more traditional events such as weddings and corporate functions regularly take place.
She says, “It is very, very rare to have a tourist attraction become woven into the fabric of a community, but it is unbelievable how much Squamish has embraced the Gondola, and vice versa. We have thousands of annual season pass holders, and during the summer months the parking lots are always full. It has truly helped make Squamish the place to be — “Hardwired for Adventure”, as Tourism Squamish likes to say.”
To keep things fresh, Mailhot has expanded her client list to include Seekers Media (Ski Seekers and Festival Seekers websites), Tartan PR to promote resorts in Costa Rica and CMH new women’s heli-ski camps, Kingfisher Lodge in the Comox Valley, Resonance Consultancy, Tourism Vancouver, Squamish Adventures, the Transformational Travel Collective and projects with Tourism New Brunswick. She also helped Robin Esrock, a well-known travel writer who is the author of The Great Canadian Bucket List. Her current anchor clients are One Ocean Expeditions, Tourism Squamish, SkyHugger, as well as consulting for resort developers, but there’s always room for more. “My goal is to expand EM Adventure Marketing and assist people who believe that travel can truly be a transformative, life-changing habit,” she says.
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