According to Statistics Canada, within ten years, one in four Canadians will be above the age of 55. The aging demographic may seem like a threat to our labour force, but it also means opportunities abound for baby boomers in the tourism sector. In order to fill the 111,350 new job openings from 2017 – 2027 projected by the BC Government Labour Market Outlook, there will be part-time, full-time, and even entrepreneurial opportunities that are great for baby boomers, offering a lifestyle, flexibility, and additional pre-retirement income.
Bruce Livingston fell in love with tourism for this exact reason. After three decades practising family law, Livingston has taken to the seas, opening a one-man eco tour business in Steveston, BC.
Launched in 2011, Steveston EcoTours offers marine tours around BC’s southern coast and the Gulf Islands aboard the six-passenger Archie V.
Like many baby boomers, or “pretirees”, Livingston was ready for a change. “Thirty years of divorces was enough,” he laughs. “When I started divorcing the children of my original clients, I knew it was time to try something different.”
Although it’s a far cry from the law, life as a tour operator is a good fit for the 59-year-old boating, heritage and nature enthusiast.
“I’m interested in local geography, I’ve volunteered with parks and heritage organizations for 25 years, and I love boating; the trick was to match all of those interests,” he says.
Surprisingly, much of what Livingston learned behind a desk has transferred well to his new career: whether navigating a client’s divorce or a visitor’s first whale sighting, similar skills are required.
“As a lawyer, I was dealing with people in stressful situations; now I sometimes have guests who aren’t too keen on getting into a small boat. Either way, it’s all about working with people and putting them at ease,” he observes.
“As a tour operator, you also have to keep up with your subject area. I did that in law, so I’m used to it,” he adds. Livingston researched local flora, fauna and eco-systems for some time before his launch date, and stays current by attending regular seminars and workshops.
Other pre-start up tasks included upgrading his boating certification and first aid credentials, incorporating the company and, of course, acquiring a suitable boat and outfitting it with appropriate safety equipment.
Unlike many start-ups, Steveston EcoTours turned a profit in its first year, and Livingston expects to do even better in 2013. “Some people do this as a hobby, but I’ve been able to cover my costs and earn some income as well,” he says.
“The trick is that I’ve found a niche. I don’t do sports fishing trips, for example, and I’m not a dedicated whale watching company. My focus is marine-based nature tourism; it’s about getting out and seeing nature.”
As a sole owner-operator, Livingston wears many hats. On any given day, it’s his job to prepare and fuel the boat, pick up the guests, plan and narrate the tours, and adapt each trip according to weather, wildlife sightings, and each group’s interests — all while operating the boat.
This level of multitasking can be challenging, but Livingston’s priority is clear: safety first, whatever might arise. And things do arise: “Last year we received an emergency call and carried out a rescue, towing another boat back as part of the tour,” he recalls.
As a one-man operation, Livingston is also in charge of accounting, administration and marketing. “A big challenge is promoting the business without losing control of the costs — you can’t just hang up a sign and have customers walk in the door. Tourism Richmond has been very good in terms of referrals; social media is also effective, but you’ve got to work at it all the time,” he says.
Ultimately, for Livingston, the most enjoyable part of the job, and the reason behind it all, is working with clients and showing them what BC has to offer. And, though it can be a competitive industry, he sees plenty of opportunity for newcomers.
“The key is to find a niche; to create a tour that no one else has. You also have to enjoy working with people and providing education in an entertaining way.”
I’ve always enjoyed that, he says. “My first job at 16 was selling tickets for Harbour Tours on the Stanley Park Causeway, so maybe I’ve come full circle.”