B.C. tour guides on the frontline of Whistler tourism 

'First impressions are an important thing'

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - magic tour bus Tour guides like Jeff Veniot are often the first point of contact for visitors to Whistler.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • magic tour bus Tour guides like Jeff Veniot are often the first point of contact for visitors to Whistler.

Did you know that Vancouver City Hall is featured prominently in the television series The Flash?

Or that Donald Trump is little more than a glorified consultant for some of his famous Trump towers across the world?

Did you know Vancouver General Hospital is the second largest in Canada?

Or that Whistler got its start in the 1960s when some Vancouver businessmen had a vision of hosting the Winter Olympics?

Jeff Veniot knows all of these things.

Not only does he know them, but as a member of the Canadian Tour Guide Association of British Columbia he relays them with humour and poise while driving visitors to the province up and down the Sea to Sky.

"Being a tour guide you have to be kind of a jack of all trades," Veniot said.

"You have to be knowledgeable about flora, fauna, history, weather, population, all kinds of stuff that tourists routinely ask you."

On the route from the Vancouver airport to Whistler, Veniot is a mobile encyclopedia.

His knowledge is on display from the moment his bus leaves the airport, each new insight spurred on by the buildings and intersections that pass outside his driver's window.

He's not following a script, he says. It's all off the top of his head.

As the first point of contact for visitors to Whistler, it's hard to find a better first impression.

"My favourite is to get the groups coming up, because they're more eager to listen and learn and, wow, they've go this whole trip ahead of them," Veniot said.

"First impressions are an important thing."

In an industry as customer-service heavy as tourism, that may be an understatement. A visitor's first impression plays a very big part in setting the tone for the rest of their trip, and their perception of Whistler as a whole.

But pleasing the customer is something in which Veniot has decades of experience.

"I've been in customer service since my first job, when I was a newspaper delivery boy with the Vancouver Sun," he said.

"Over time you just pick up different things, and sometimes you learn different things from listening to the news or reading the newspaper."

A self-professed "news junkie," it seems there is little about the Lower Mainland of B.C. that Veniot doesn't know.

So is it possible that he's ever stumped by the questions of visitors?

"There's always the odd thing that someone will say that you're not 100 per cent sure," he said.

"But the funny thing today is you can just turn your head and speak into the mic and say 'yeah, does anyone want to Google that for me?'" he added with a laugh.

People like Veniot are a source of pride for the resort, said Jack Crompton, Resort Municipality of Whistler councillor and director of Ridebooker.com, which operates the Whistler Shuttle.

"That's probably one of the things that we're proudest about at the Whistler Shuttle, is the people that drive the vehicles," Crompton said.

"And it's why I personally got involved with transportation, is that I see it as a real important link in the resort experience."

Though Veniot isn't employed directly by Ridebooker or the Whistler Shuttle, drivers like him leave a good impression on visitors, Crompton said.

"People comment on the scenery as they come up or down on a beautiful day, but primarily they comment on drivers being able to give them some insight on where they are, which mountains are which and what's good to do when they get into town," he said.

Having someone with that local insight show you around is definitely handy, Veniot said.

"There are some things you just can't get anywhere else unless somebody tells you it," he said.

According to Tourism Whistler, the resort attracts about two million visitors annually.

The Whistler Shuttle carries about 14,000 people a month, Crompton said.

Watching Veniot in action, it's clear that he takes a lot of pride not only in what he does, but in the province he calls home as well.

"Generally people appreciate it and they'll make really nice comments," he said.

"We hope that if you can't come back at some point in the future, then send your friends and family to see us here in beautiful B.C."

For more on B.C.'s tour guides, visit www.ctgaofbc.com.



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