Jacques Bourgeois has been working at the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre, in Manitoba, Canada, for the past 18 years in various roles. He is currently the Promotion and Marketing Coordinator. He sat on the Interlake Tourism Association Board for many years and currently serves as the President. Bourgeois has developed many tourism initiatives and partnerships linking different regional attractions together. He regularly leads familiarization tours to the area with travel writers and tour operators from around the world and constantly promote the region, whether locally at community events or at national or international trade shows. Jacques is a graduate from the Edge of the Wedge program offered by the Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism; the premier experiential travel training program in Canada. He has since provided his services and conducted workshops to create experiential tourism products at Oak Hammock Marsh and within the province.
Jacques has earned several tourism awards and meritorious distinctions such as Manitoba Tourism Service Excellence Award, Winnipeg Tourism Award of Distinction – Partner of the Year Award, Travel Manitoba Tourism Ambassador for Outdoor Experiences, and Interlake Tourism Association Award of Distinction.
How does the “A Bird in the Hand” experience offered Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
The Bird in the Hand Canadian Signature Experience offered at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre allows our visitors to intimately connect with our avian wildlife while simultaneously participating in scientific research. The diversity of habitats found in the wetland as well as the strategic location of Oak Hammock Marsh, located the crossroads of many migratory corridors in Canada, make it the perfect setting to capture, band and release a very large diversity of bird species. Thus far, 300 bird species have been recorded at Oak Hammock Marsh, which is approximately 50% of all the species found in the entire country.
The bird banding experience is followed by a guided canoe excursion through the marsh to explore the amazing biodiversity that calls the marsh home. This is a multisensory experience where participants will use all their senses to gain a better appreciation of this important ecosystem.
How have the experiences that you offer at the centre evolved since their inception?
We have been doing surveys and census as well as a bird banding program on site for our own records for several years. With the demand for experiential tourism options for visitors, we decided to cater this hands-on activity to this audience. The participants are able to experience something very few people have the chance to do: hold a wild bird in their hands and release them into the wild after they have been banded.
The canoe excursion was already a favourite activity offered at the marsh, combining the two seem like a natural fit as visitors could now have a close up look of the marsh inhabitants and make an tangible association with their habitat.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by visitors, but which you feel is important?
Everyone really enjoys participating in the bird banding experience (especially holding the live birds in their hands moment before they flutter away) but the scientific research they are participating is also key. Bird banding is an important part of better understanding the bird populations. The data collected is useful in both research and management projects. Individual identification of birds makes possible studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. This ongoing research is nearly 100 years old.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
Our main goal for this program is that participants leave with a better understanding and appreciation of the importance of wetland ecosystems not only for wildlife but for all of us. Habitat destruction is an unfortunate reality taking place at an unprecedented rate across the world. By connecting our visitors with a real live single wild bird, they can better relate with the necessity to conserve and protect its habitat.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The experiential tourism trend is definitely giving travelers a chance to participate in activities that were not available to them in the past. It opens new doors and new opportunities for those who were not necessarily in the tourism business to embark and offer new exciting products. By doing as opposed to watching, visitors get a better connection with the local natural environment and the culture surrounding it.
What sets Oak Hammock Marsh apart from other interpretive centres?
The Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive is located in a unique setting, at the western edge of a reclaimed 36 square kilometer wetland. The Centre offers year-round activities and our wild “collection” varies from season to season. Every day is a unique and different experience to our visitors and so not two visits are ever the same. Our nature interpreters are very enthusiastic and eager to share their knowledge and passion of the marsh and its inhabitants.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Visitors should plan to stay a little longer than they first anticipated. There is so much to see and do and the wildlife is always on the move. Binoculars are available for spotting birds at a distance and a micro-video allows visitors to look at the tiniest creatures that call the marsh home. Our Café is equipped with several binoculars to allow diners to watch muskrats swim by or bald eagles soaring over the marsh. Taking more time will definitely enrich the visit.
What is one strategy that has helped the centre to grow?
Being attentive to what our visitors have to say and always providing the best service possible. We constantly strive to fill the needs of our visitors; ensuring that everyone’s experience leaves a lasting impression they will share with friends, family and on social media. Word of mouth has been our most effective tool in expanding our program
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
I always treat everyone with the same quality of service and I am always extremely enthusiastic and excited to share the experience. This becomes contagious and visitors also get excited and become more engaged.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
Some of our previous participants were so enthused by their visit that they decided to stay on and work for us. One of them has been here for over 10 years already!