Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours was conceived in the early 2000s by longtime tourism professionals Brett Solberg and Jeff Lamarche, who shared a dream to create a wildlife watching venture with a focus on environmental sustainability.
Situated right on Fisherman’s Wharf in stunning Victoria, B.C., their vision is now a reality. They hold Victoria’s top spot for all tours on TripAdvisor 7 years running and have won the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) Sustainable Tourism Award the past 2 out of 3 years.
"We like to be ahead of the curve, and we think that's where our competitive advantage is."
- Nathan Bird, Director of Operations
We had a chance to sit down with Rachel Solberg (Reservations Manager) and Nathan Bird (Director of Operations) to discuss what has led to the success of Eagle Wing and how Checkfront plays a part.
Lugging around what she called her ‘Magical Binder,' Rachel managed all of Eagle Wing’s bookings and waivers on paper and pen alone. With only one boat, communication was easy among the staff, but continued use of paper and pen wouldn’t allow the business to grow.
She set in search of a digital solution, but after trying multiple software solutions, she was finding that there were too many compromises with booking systems. She faced adapting her business to suit the software or building an expensive custom system.
When Rachel was introduced to Checkfront, she quickly found that she could set up her trial account to adapt to her business, not vice versa. “[Eagle Wing] needs to run a certain way and there are so many parameters within this business that don't exist in anything else in the world."
One of those parameters being that Eagle Wing took the lead by implementing a $2 per person wildlife fee that sends half the funds to Pacific Salmon Foundation half to Centre for Whale Research. Both the fee and totals are automatically placed on invoice and reporting, respectively.
With the help of Checkfront’s Support Team, Rachel was able to configure their booking system to match the unique needs of the business. “Each day is different, each time of year is different. We built what would work best for us.”
Nathan adds, "It's a relatively simple system that does a lot of things for us."
With a growing fleet at the docks, Checkfront has helped Eagle Wing scale quickly by alleviating common problems that would tie up staff— including spending too much time on the phone.
Nathan says the ability for people to book themselves online without picking up a phone is by far the biggest win in using a booking system.
“Somebody on the phone is not approachable by someone who is walking by. A big part of our business is walk up sales: having your head up from a computer, looking out, smiling, greeting people and getting excited about whale watching. If you're on the phone, you're not able to do that."
Callers are typically more hesitant to provide additional reporting data like how they heard about Eagle Wing, whereas it’s a standard requirement for booking online. This extra data ensures Rachel, Nathan, and the team are reviewing and spending marketing budget where it belongs.
Introduced in 2016 and shaped with the help of customers like Eagle Wing, Checkfront offers waivers built right into the booking system. With Eagle Wing’s complete commitment to sustainability, this meant a drastic reduction of wasting paper. Lineups also decreased with customers already showing up with payment completed and waivers signed online.
Bird expects over 25,000 waivers filled out per year, and the digital solution not only saves the company money but completely backs up their commitment to sustainability with limited paper waste.
By removing these paper systems thanks to Checkfront, they were able to further their focus on sustainability. They were first in their industry to go 1% for the planet and reach carbon neutrality. Many of their competitors have now followed suit.
“We love people that have already paid, and ‘waiver’d.' Done. Here's your boarding pass,
welcome to Eagle Wing." - Nathan Bird, Director of Operations
Operating a fleet of boats with a seasonal business means having capable staff and crew on-call for busier days and times. Living in the cloud, Checkfront has simplified scheduling by providing operations and crew to check real-time bookings from anywhere.
Nathan says, "From a scheduling perspective, because of restrictions that we have with Transport Canada, as soon as we hit certain thresholds of guests, we have to add additional crew members. I need to know at literally all times when we're going over those thresholds. So even on my days off, I'm always checking what's happening.”
Rachel adds, "I use [Checkfront] on my phone, I use it on my iPad, on my computer at home, my laptop, I even dream about it."
The Key to Eagle Wing’s Success
Checkfront gives customers the tools to make running their business easier so they can focus on what they do best. In the case with Eagle Wing, it’s that they always say yes.
While other whale watching companies have a standard 3 hours in, 3 hours out trip no matter what, Eagle Wing often extends tours to track down every inch of wildlife they possibly can. It’s common for sightseers to catch glimpses of Eagles, Seals, Porpoises, and of course, Whales, among the many treats the Salish Sea has to offer. Bird says they’ll find you whatever it is, however long it takes them to do it, as long as you don't have a flight to be on that night.
“We're the 'Yes' company, and that's how we've always made ourselves different from other people." - Nathan Bird