Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SPARC BC and Tourism Industry to Bust Myths

On June 4, 2009, the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC) will mark Access Awareness Day with Conversation is the Key, a round table discussion focused on dispelling myths about employing people with disabilities. The event will bring together voices from the tourism sector and is part of a campaign to increase the number of people with disabilities working in tourism.

During the event, SPARC BC will welcome representatives from organizations including Flight Centre, Delta Burnaby Hotel, TransLink, and Tourism Vancouver, as well as individuals with disabilities and employment agencies specializing in placing people with disabilities. Together, they will uncover and address the discouraging myths that can prevent an employer from hiring someone with a disability, or prevent an individual with a disability from applying for a job in tourism.

“The best way to tackle these myths is to talk about them,” says Emese Szücs, Manager of Accessibility Programs at SPARC BC. “We recognize that it’s not always an easy issue to discuss, so we’re so pleased to see that so many businesses and individuals have the courage to talk about the myths and find creative solutions.”

Research gathered by SPARC BC shows that, despite a myriad of resources that exist to help employers hire people with disabilities, and despite evidence of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, the employment rate for people with disabilities is still significantly lower than for those without a disability.

A January 2009 report from BC Stats shows that in 2006, the employment rate for people with a disability was significantly lower than the rate for those without a disability (59.1 per cent vs. 74.3 per cent, respectively). The same report also states that 12.8 per cent of British Columbians of working age have a disability.

According to go2, BC’s tourism industry human resources association, the tourism industry is projected to face a labour supply shortage that could become acute. People with disabilities represent a talent pool that can help fill these jobs.

“We have chosen to focus our campaign on the tourism sector because it has the potential to demonstrate to the world that British Columbia is an inclusive and accessible society,” continues Szücs. “But there is also a solid business argument for it. People with a disability can play an important role in easing the anticipated labour shortage in the tourism industry. And businesses that offer an accessible workplace to employees are also accessible to travellers and residents, which is simply good for business.”

Meetingmax inks deals with four more tourism bureaus

Vancouver company’s online platform now used by 12 convention and visitors bureaus in the United States

Curt Cherewayko

A Vancouver-based company’s online hotel booking system for large-scale event planners is continuing its U.S. expansion, signing deals with four convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) in Tempe, Arizona; Bakersfield, California; and Tri-Cities and Yakima, Washington.

That brings Meetingmax Planning Inc.’s client roster of U.S.-based CVBs, which market their respective cities as destinations for conventions and other large-scale events, to 12.

CVBs such as the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau (SRCVB) use Meetingmax’s booking platform to assign hotels, set room rates and manage room inventory.

Ann Gillespie, a convention sales assistant with the SRCVB, said that the bureau has used Meetingmax’s platform to organize room bookings for up to 25 hotels during a single event. She added that the average convention or conference in Spokane typically requires co-ordination between four or five hotels.

Meetingmax’s platform is essentially another marketing tool to attract event tourism to Spokane, said Gillespie.

“Basically it’s a service for our customers – both the meeting’s planner and the delegates that are attending,” she said.

CVBs, hotels and meeting planners can all use Meetingmax’s system simultaneously to manage and update the planning of an event.

Meetingmax started as the event planning and managing arm of Uniglobe Network Travel. When it began experiencing solid growth, it was spun out as its own entity.

The seven-year-old company initially developed its online platform as a tool to use internally but, after CVBs began inquiring about licensing the technology, Meetingmax developed it into a robust, sellable offering.

“When we needed an online housing solution we went and shopped the open market and looked at all the various solutions before they were our competitors,” said Jeff Duncan, Meetingmax’s COO.

“None of them really addressed 100% of what we needed them to do. So we built one on our own.”

The company generated roughly $1.8 million in revenue last year, between its event planning business and its online system. And while it still does event planning, Duncan believes the company’s future growth will stem largely from its online offering.

In 2008, the platform processed $3.15 million worth of hotel bookings, versus $1.17 million in 2007.

Duncan projected that the system will book more than $6.5 million worth of hotel-room nights in 2009.

The company generates revenue from annual licence fees and commissions from each room night that is booked through the system.

Adoption of the platform has been largely through word of mouth. For example, the CVB in Spokane helped sign the CVB in Madison, Wisconsin, onto the system. The CVB in Tempe was introduced to Meetingmax by organizers of the Ironman competitions in Madison.

Duncan said that what differentiates Meetingmax’s platform from other online hotel-booking systems is that it was built by event planners, not software developers.

“We’re not a software company jumping in the business of online housing solutions,” he said. •


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Poll Finds British Columbians Willing to Exchange Flexibility for Lower Mortgage Rates

Prospera Credit Union today announced the findings of a survey gauging British Columbians’ attitudes towards mortgages in today’s economic climate. The poll was conducted on Prospera’s behalf by Ipsos Reid.

Reflecting concern about the current economy, the survey found that 75 per cent of British Columbians are paying closer attention to their household budget than ever before. This focus on household budgeting extends to mortgages, especially among younger British Columbians. The survey found that 60 per cent of younger British Columbians (under 45 years) with a mortgage or in the market for a mortgage were interested in giving up some mortgage payment flexibility in exchange for a lower interest rate.

According to the poll, 59 per cent of all British Columbians were not aware that mortgage holders pay a higher interest rate for the ability to make lump sum payments against their mortgage.

“Canadians across all age and income levels are looking at how they live and how they spend,” says Sundeep Sandhu, Prospera’s VP of Marketing. “While rate, flexibility of payment schedules and the credibility of a lender are still important factors when deciding on a mortgage, the poll demonstrates that the ability to make lump sum payments is much less critical to the consumer – especially in today’s economy.”

Traditional long-term cost-saving measures include increasing mortgage payment amounts and decreasing the loan amortization. However, given today’s economy many homeowners indicated that they would prefer to see the immediate savings obtained from a lower mortgage rate. With mortgage payments comprising 25 per cent of the average Canadian family’s expenses, the savings can be significant.

“The findings of the poll show that there is a need for a mortgage product that allows homeowners to trade flexibility for a lower rate, and that’s why Prospera has introduced the myStyle mortgage,” continues Sandhu. “Why pay for mortgage options that will never be used?"

The myStyle mortgage rewards consumers with a low interest rate on a five-year fixed mortgage. It was designed for people who know they will not take advantage of pre-payment privileges and would rather have a lower interest rate.

The survey also explored other aspects of what concerns British Columbians about the current economic climate.

  • Concerned about the economy getting worse: 67% agree
  • Had to delay a major purchase: 45% agree
  • Concerned about job security: 44% agree

The online poll of 603 adult British Columbians was conducted by Ipsos Reid between April 21 and April 24, 2009.  The margin of error for a sample size of 603 is ±4.0%, 95, times out of 100. The data was weighted to reflect the actual age, gender and regional composition of British Columbians.