Bus tour operator boycotts Revelstoke after conflict with mayor

The owner of an ESL bus tour company that makes stops in Revelstoke says his buses won't be stopping here after he was offended by a letter sent to him by Revelstoke mayor David Raven.

The owner of an ESL bus tour company that makes stops in Revelstoke says his buses won’t be stopping here after he was offended by a letter sent to him by Revelstoke mayor David Raven.

West Trek Tours owner Jim Noonan is upset with a May 10 letter that that expressed “strongest concern” about a posting on West Trek’s website that recommended customers “AVOID REVELSTOKE.”

West Trek direct markets to foreign students studying English in the Lower Mainland. In an interview with the Times Review in late May, Noonan said he was competing with other tour companies that stayed in Revelstoke overnight, while his company stops in Golden.

He said the “avoid Revelstoke” clause was an attempt to educate his clients about the comparative advantage of waking up in Golden and being able to get on the road to tourist destinations around Banff faster. The posting incorrectly claimed that Revelstoke was “2 hours east of Golden.”

City economic development officer Alan Mason said some business owners had noticed the website and asked for action. City staff drafted a letter, asking for the clause to be removed.

Mason drafted the letter, which was then signed by the mayor and sent to West Trek.

The Times Review’s initial enquiry with the mayor about the letter was referred to Mason. “Alan Mason has the letters and can give you the background,” Raven wrote in a May 24 email.

“I am writing to you on behalf of the City of Revelstoke to express our STRONGEST CONCERN about the negative advertising against our community that is being distributed by your company in promotional material for your tours,” states the letter signed by the mayor. “The attached material is printed from your website. At the top of page 4, in large bold print, you explicitly advise readers to AVOID REVELSTOKE. In our opinion, this goes well beyond the limits of trying to establish a competitive advantage in the tour business, and could have a very negative impact on our local tourism industry.”

The letter continues: “Possibly your intention is to gain a competitive advantage over tour companies that do bring their guests to Revelstoke. However, this is a very poor way of achieving this. A professional marketing campaign works to promote the benefits of their own product, not criticize the product of their competition. This effect of this type of negative advertising is to portray your company, Westtrek (sic), in a very bad light.”

Raven finishes with a request for an apology. “We request strongly that you remove the negative remarks and comments about Revelstoke from your advertising materials immediately, and City Council would appreciate a letter of apology for the damage that your company’s advertising may already have had on our local tourism sector.”

In a May 24 letter to the Times Review, Noonan described the economic benefits his company provided to Revelstoke, noting he’d been stopping here for 11 years.

“Not only have those students stayed in Revelstoke hotels but they have eaten at local restaurants, shopped at local stores, and partied in the local pubs and clubs,” Noonan writes. “Their impact on the local economy would count in the millions of dollars in initial and secondary spending over the past 11 years. It would have added up to millions more in the coming years.”

Noonan said the posting on his website was simply an attempt to educate his clients about the comparative advantage of his company’s tours over his competitors. “Rather than research the issue or contact us privately he used what we consider intimidation and bullying tactics,” Noonan wrote. “We requested that he instead use diplomacy in order to protect local jobs and business owners. He didn’t bother to reply.”

Noonan says his tours will not be coming back to Revelstoke: “They won’t be spending Sunday night in a Revelstoke hotel. They won’t be eating dinner in a Revelstoke restaurant and they won’t be going for drinks in a Revelstoke club, pub, or sports bar. And they won’t be buying breakfast at Coopers, or anywhere else in Revelstoke, on Monday mornings.”

“I would have liked diplomacy, instead I got heavy-handed bullying,” Noonan said in a telephone interview, noting the mayor’s letter had been copied to the B.C. tourism minister, the Better Business Bureau, Kootenay Rockies Tourism, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and the Revelstoke Accommodation Association.

West Trek is one of several operators that run similar tours through Revelstoke. He estimated he books about 1,000 people into Revelstoke hotels and motels in the winter, and sends one or two buses a week for a dinner-hour stop in Revelstoke in the summer.

Noonan also noted his website receives very little traffic, so it shouldn’t have warranted a letter from the mayor. Most of his customers are generated through direct marketing to ESL schools in the Vancouver area, he said.

Noonan said he was done with Revelstoke. “I am not going to spend our time and money going to Revelstoke,” he told the Times Review.

In that telephone interview, Noonan also made reference to his history of struggles with government officials, mentioning he’d been battling perceived attacks from government bureaucrats since the days when the NDP was in power in B.C.

In an interview in late May, Mason said that Noonan had delivered an ultimatum to the city, asking for an apology and threatening to publicize the issue if they didn’t acquiesce to his demands. Mason said Noonan had distributed his ‘letter to the editor’ to city officials in advance of sending it to the Times Review.