Nancy Greene's Keys to Success in the Tourism Sector

Nancy Greene Raine reflects on how to excel in the tourism sector and what we can learn from the 2010 Olympics.

It’s rare to find someone who can confidently and competently advise both an Olympic hopeful and a young entrepreneur but if anyone is qualified, it is Nancy Greene Raine.

Nancy, spokesperson for the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) dominated the ski slopes in the 1960s winning gold and silver Olympic medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and was named the Canadian Female athlete of the century.  After retiring from her Olympic career, Nancy and her husband Al Raine set their sights on building a destination ski area in Whistler.  Whistler was a success and the couple enjoyed the start-up phase so much that they moved on to Sun Peaks, now BC's second largest mountain resort. 

The earliest goal for Whistler was to host the Olympics.  In 2010, the goal was achieved and Whistler hosted the world at the Winter Olympics.  During the Games, Whistler/Blackcomb gave away pins that read, “Born for the Games”.  How did the founders of Whistler get the snowball rolling to build the ski lifts, then the resort village, until Whistler ultimately became a successful site for hosting the Olympics?

The path to success in the tourism sector will sound familiar to athletes.  According to Nancy Greene Raine, to be successful, one must set goals, be a team player, pursue extraordinary opportunities, and cultivate and maintain a positive attitude.

What do you want to accomplish and how will you get there?

The skills and traits of an Olympic athlete can be used to build success as an entrepreneur in the tourism sector.  One of the first things that budding athletes learn is to set short-term goals, like a weekly training schedule, to work toward accomplishing long-term goals such as taking home a gold medal at the Olympics.

“Once your goals are set,” says Nancy, “you need to stay focused on them”.  She advises business owners to experience all angles of their business.  “Learn the basics like making beds and food preparation,” she says.  “That way, you’ll know what it takes to do every job needed to run your business.” 

Make People Your Priority

Running a small business is a great post-Olympic career choice for athletes because they develop strong interpersonal skills as they train for their sport.  The ability to work well with others, no matter what the size of the team is, is an indispensible tool for entrepreneurs in the tourism sector.

When it comes to running a resort, Nancy says that business owners must be genuinely hospitable and want to help people.  “If you take the time to make a real connection with your guests,” says Nancy, “you can make their holiday even more enjoyable”.
Extending a welcoming attitude to staff, Nancy and Al have embraced the Golden Rule as their human resources strategy: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”.  “For example,” says Nancy, “when it comes to professional development, instead of subscribing to a one-course-fits-all attitude, offer employees a variety of options and let them decide what they want to pursue.”

Take Advantage of a Great Opportunity

On February 12, 2010, the Olympics came to Vancouver.  What was it like for Nancy to not only have the Olympics in her home province, but also to participate in the Opening Ceremonies?  “It was amazing,” she says, “Lighting the cauldron was such a privilege, and experiencing the flawless execution of the years of planning and preparation.  Vancouver and Whistler really got it right.” 

The business owners who were most successful made the Olympics their business.  Some held raffles, offering employees tickets to sought-after events such as the medal ceremonies, which Nancy describes as “outdoor festivals with incredible entertainment.”  Other employers ordered clothing for their staff to wear and sell such as shirts bearing Olympic-related logos.  These instant souvenirs were a hit with customers and employees alike.

Whistle While You Work

Canada’s success at the Olympics is due to the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) program, which defines the stages of development for athletes, beginning with the "Active Start" right to the top, either competing for Canada or becoming “Active For Life”.  The “Learn to Train” stage emphasizes that sports should be fun, which Nancy argues is just as important as winning a prize. 
Incorporating fun into the job description also benefits small business owners. “As an employer, you set the standards,” says Nancy.  “In Tourism our days aren't predictable, but you can cultivate a consistent approach to the day.”  A positive outlook benefits all because, as Nancy says with a laugh, “staff won’t have to tiptoe around you to figure out what kind of mood you’re in.”

The Final Word

Whatever the situation, Nancy Greene Raine is confident that entrepreneurs in the tourism sector will succeed when they think on their feet and turn negatives into positives. 

“Let’s say you are a resort owner,” she says.  “A rainy day presents two options: be depressed about the weather (which you have no control over) or pull out the tickle trunk and plan a variety show for the evening.  I say: put on the show!  Guests will get the chance to get to know one another and everyone will have a good time. Rain is an opportunity, make it fun!”