BY JANELLE HARDY

Making the most of technology, in an industry devoted to getting people as far from the trappings of daily life as possible, may seem like an oxymoron.

But, as Nahanni River Adventures has discovered, informed customers made happy by access to a crisp, organized and in-depth website get the most out of their trips.

Nahanni River Adventures website recently won the Yahoo Creative: Big Ideas prize and the famous and coveted Big Ideas Purple Chair.

The Big Ideas prize is part of a campaign sponsored by Yahoo Canada and by the Canadian Tourism Commission to seek out the best tourism-related websites in Canada with three categories: regional, national and corporate.

As Neil Hartling, owner, outfitter and guide describes, “We ended up winning the top of each category and then we won the grand prize as well, which was the Yahoo Big Idea purple chair.”

Within a tourism industry and a business dedicated to getting people away from it all, technology and the Internet play a huge role in keeping business smooth, informing customers and providing information.

“It’s ironic that we offer something that people associate with being very earthbound and, in truth, one of the greatest strengths in terms of running the trips has been the Internet,” says Hartling. “I often say to people that the Internet has been the greatest advancement in the adventure travel business since the advent of nylon after the Second World War.”

While no one would dispute the Internet has been a big deal, Hartling finds that for the travel industry it’s been revolutionary: “We used to advertise in the back of magazines and people would see our ad then they would send us a letter in the mail.

“We would mail them a package and 95 per cent of the time they would throw it out. But now, with the Internet, people can click on the website and they can spend hours there. If they’re not interested, they are gone and it hasn’t cost them or us a penny.

“It saves a lot of paper and it’s allowed us to be targeted in our advertising.”

Nahanni River Adventures has had a website for 12 years, since the early days of popular Internet usage, more by accident than on purpose, as Hartling admits. However, on the suggestion of a savvy marketer, he got a domain name, developed the website and it’s been a key tool ever since.

“When we got into it, I didn’t even really know what a website was. As the story goes, this marketing consultant asked me if I had a website and I thought I did, but really what I had was an advertisement on someone else’s website.

“He said to me, ‘What’s your URL?’ and I said, ‘What’s an URL?’ and after he described it to me I said, ‘I think it’s just some numbers and flashes’. He said, ‘You need nahanni.com’. I said, ‘If you say I need it, can you get it for me?’ and he secured it for me and there was no looking back after that.”

Through that serendipitous turn of events, Hartling invested heavily in the Internet early on with the help of Andrew Robulack and has continued to make it a priority. He feels having a high-quality website has allowed Nahanni River Adventures to stay at the top of its sector and benefited its clients.

The award-winning website was designed and programmed by Outcrop Yukon and it continues to maintain it. The Big Ideas Purple Chair nows sits in a place of honour in the Outcrop Yukon offices.

The benefits, Hartling says this website offers his clients, are preparation and education: “Our type of product requires a lot of information to help customers make their decision and prepare for their trip,” he says.

“The clients we attract tend to be knowledgeable, well-educated people with a strong sense of curiosity who want to learn a lot before during and on a trip. What we have found is that by being able to disseminate this information on the website, which is very deep in content, and by being able to make that available to people economically and expediently on the web, it has greatly enhanced their experience with us.

“It’s been a win-win for us and our clients.”

For more information on Nahanni River Adventures, go to its award-winning site at www.nahanni.com.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]