By Sheliza Mitha
(Tej’s first day at Tourism New West!, The NewsLeader 2007)
June 18th, 2017 marked 10 years exactly since Executive Director Tej Kainth first joined Tourism New Westminster. At the time, she was hired as the Marketing & Visitor Services Coordinator – the first full-time staff member in the organization’s history.
Since then, Tej has been the driving force for local tourism through innovative marketing and revenue-generating programs – both of which help support this non-profit’s limited budget. Five years later, she was officially named executive director.
While chatting with Tej recently on a mild spring evening, it quickly became clear there’s nothing else she would rather do and nowhere else she’d rather be. Tej lives and breathes New West and – as a local taxpayer and consumer of the city – is a perfect representative of leading by example.
“I was born and raised here – this has always been my home. Almost every dollar I earn goes back into New West,” Tej explains. “I’m as New West as New West gets.”
(Tej as the May Queen, 1993)
To back up this claim, one has only to look at her family and her own past. At the age of 11, Tej was named New Westminster’s 123rd May Queen. Six years later, she was given the title of Miss New Westminster Deputy Ambassador. Her ancestry and family ties to the Royal City date back more than a century to 1913.
“I respect the past, and am proud of where I’ve come from – but I’m also excited about where the city is headed,” she adds. “We have such an incredible history, but I feel like New West has also had a rebirth. It’s an exciting time to be here, and moving forward.”
Along the way, Tej pays credits to those who helped to advise, guide and support her – most especially during those early and formative years.
“I’ve been so blessed and truly feel as if this job was tailor-made for me,” she says. “And I have so many people that I’m grateful for – for their support, wisdom and experience – including all my past and present board members, City staff, local business owners and, of course, my colleagues in other communities who have become friends.”
(Winning Marketer of the Year, 2013) (Torch Relay Committee, 2010) (Launching Historic Walking Tours, The Record 2009)
In her role, Tej also works to represent New Westminster beyond the city’s borders through key community networks such as the BC Destination Marketing Organization Association, the Lower Mainland Tourism Alliance and broad-based efforts such as the culinary-focused West Coast Food. She also delivers WorldHost workshops to ensure local tourism and hospitality staff members have the necessary world-class customer service training to welcome visitors.
Above all else, Tej seems to place the greatest emphasis on two particular points: driving visitation to the city, and encouraging and maintaining positive relationships.
(Feast on the Fraser, The Record 2016)
While New Westminster has always had its own events and traditions, these have grown exponentially over the past few years. Ten years ago, there might have been two or three events a month; this number has now grown to two to three events a weekend. Add to this New Westminster’s emergence as a culinary and cultural hub, and it’s a recipe for tourism growth and opportunity.
As for relationships, Tej wholeheartedly believes that a destination’s success depends largely on its people.
“For me, relationships are a key ingredient for developing tourism,” she explains. “Our relationships give us a push, nudge, inspiration and motivation to keep thinking outside the box and position us as an exciting and evolving destination with so much to offer.”
(Aboriginal Tourism Conference, 2014)
Indeed, over the past decade or so, the city has benefitted from a growing visitor market. More people are visiting New Westminster, and these people are staying longer. Day trips are turning into overnight trips. One-night stays are becoming multi-night stays. All of this, of course, brings in more dollars to local businesses – from hotels and restaurants to the city’s arts, culture and retail stores.
As part of its marketing efforts, Tourism New Westminster works to create awareness and drive visitors to the city – as well as work with media, local businesses and other local organizations to create market-ready products and deliver experiences and services that are considered distinct and unique.
One of these key efforts includes a new 150 Bucket List of experiences to help celebrate both Canada’s 150th birthday and New Westminster’s many products and offerings.
The organization also operates a year-round Visitor Information Centre that serves thousands of visitors each year. A second Visitor Info Centre will also open as of July 1st at the River Market for the summer season – along with pop-up visitor centres at some of New West’s major events and festivals.
“We work hard to market the city, but it’s impossible to do it all – and that’s where locals come in,” Tej says. “They’re our ambassadors, and our best resource to promote New West. After all, what visitors want is an insider’s view. That’s also where the idea of the 150 Bucket List guide came from. It’s about authentic experiences, and that’s what we have here – amazing, authentic experiences. And it’s important to let the world know.”