Editor’s Note – Welcome to “Leaders Talk with Dave Hall” a series of interviews posted every third Wednesday of the month here on the DMG blog. The series features experienced business writer Dave Hall interviewing an incredible line-up of DMG clients, giving you an inside look on what makes them tick. The questions will surround their success, their experience in their sector and the type of characteristics that drive them to be leaders in our community.
Last month we featured President & CEO of LucasWorks Maureen Lucas. This month we’re taking it to the West coast of Canada and talking to Jenelle Hynes, Business Development & Community Relations Manager Kelowna International Airport.
What are your most pressing challenges when it comes to attracting new airlines and flight routes?
JH:The largest challenge is aircraft availability. We’re not competing so much with other airports for additional routes and flights, we’re competing with an airlines’ entire route system because aircraft availability is obviously so crucial to any expansion of routes. People in our region love to travel for both business and pleasure and our challenge is to continuously strive to provide them with attractive options
How did the recent recession impact both pleasure and business travel and how were you able to survive?
JH: Even at the height of the recession from 2007 to 2011, we were able to maintain a level of 1.3 million passengers annually while many airports saw significant drops in their numbers. Much of it goes back to the draw of the region for family and friends travel as well as business and vacations. Between 2012 and 2014, we increased by about 100,000 passengers annually and we have sustained that level ever since.
What has been your most successful collaboration with another company or organization?
JH: Beyond the airlines which service our region, we are also home to Kelowna Flightcraft, an aircraft maintenance and repair operation which brings in aircraft from across the globe for repair services. In addition to commercial contracts, Flightcraft also has a maintenance contract with the Canadian Forces, all of which keeps our airport extremely busy. We have also become a hub for Air North which services the Yukon and destinations across Western Canada as well as Ottawa.
How important is social media to Kelowna International Airport?
JH: We started dipping our toes into social media about six years ago and since then we have attracted about 15,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a strong number for us because they seem to be fully engaged with the information we provide and it’s become an important way for us to connect with both repeat travelers and potential new travelers.
What are the most important customer service tips you can offer?
JH: We believe the key areas are making eye contact with our travelers, smiling and listening to what they have to say. We have successfully impressed upon our frontline staff the idea that we are all there with one goal in mind – to make a traveler’s visit to our airport run as smoothly as possible. None of us would have a job here if we didn’t provide first-class service to our customers. There are areas over which we have no control but where we do, we strive to provide the best possible service.
How important is community involvement and how do you encourage employees to participate?
JH: We have employees who participate in fund-raising events such as the Run for the Cure and when they do, we do everything we can to celebrate and acknowledge their efforts. We gave away 14 trips last year and we try to tie in every giveaway with a charity. We’ve raised between $10,000 and $15,000 at times and it’s our way of giving back to a community which supports us every year.
How has Kelowna International Airport been able to establish a successful corporate culture and strengthen its brand?
JH: We have established a YLW Spirit initiative which is designed to pass along our corporate goals and processes to our frontline staff in the most effective way possible. We want our employees to feel valued and part of our team. We want them to fully understand our purpose and our task so that they are all on the same page when it comes to customer service whether they work in maintenance, baggage claim, concessions, ticketing or security.
How are you able to successfully balance your two vocations – the airport industry and your pizza business?
JH: I’m passionate about both the airport and Bellissimo Pizza which I have co-owned for almost three years. It’s a farm-to-table concept in that we source all our ingredients from the area around us. We are very fortunate to live in a region which has such an abundance of fresh produce and we utilize them in all our pizzas. I like the notion of the pizza business providing instant gratification from our customers and it provides a great alternative to the airport’s day-to-day business.
Do you have a favourite vacation spot and why?
JH: I love visiting the Yukon and I’ve recently become a huge fan of Hawaii. They are such different destinations and I love the contrast they provide.
What is your ideal way of spending a day off?
JH: I have two teenage sons and we like nothing better than to go hiking in the canyons around Kelowna. I love being a tourist in my own region and I take advantage of what it has to offer whenever I can.