Buck’s T-4 co-owner to attend

By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is working to make the most of Montana’s northern border, promoting international business with Canada through a tourism trade mission to Alberta this October.

Through the trade mission, David O’Connor, co-owner of Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky, will attend the TravXchange tourism trade shows Oct. 15 and 16 in Edmonton and Calgary. Designed for travel agents, tour operators, resorts and destinations, the shows are centered mostly on business networking, “getting up and getting to know people, starting relationships,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor will have a display alongside other Montana companies, where he’ll have a display about Big Sky and Buck’s.

“You can’t talk about Buck’s without talking about Big Sky,” he said. “You’ve got to sell the community first.”

According to O’Connor, partnering with the Baucus trade mission and Brand America, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce that promotes tourism as an export, will give Montana businesses a larger presence.

“My goal is to increase visibility among travel agents and tourism operators in Canada,” he said.

The show in Edmonton is “the best industry travel and tourism show in Canada,” said Carey Hester, Director of the Montana U.S. Export Assistance Center, who is working with Baucus’s staff to organize a tourism trade mission to Alberta, Canada in October.

Trade delegates like O’Connor, there to promote tourist destinations or resorts, will talk with top tourism agencies or tour operators from across Canada, Hester said. “It gives exhibitors the chance to interact one-on-one with tourism agencies in Canada who are arranging trips for travelers.”

Baucus, a Democrat, is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Senator organized a previous trade mission that brought 20 Montanans to Alberta in September 2011. The October 2012 mission is designed to build on relationships and business contacts established during that mission.

“Having the Canadian market right next door is a huge opportunity for Montana businesses to expand their customers, grow and create jobs,” said Sen. Baucus. “The best way to make things happen is to go straight to the source, and that’s exactly what Montana businesses are doing on this trip. I’m excited to hear how they turn this opportunity into jobs for Montana.”

For O’Connor, this trip is as much a fact-finding mission as anything.

“I’m very interested in looking at tourism as an export from Montana to Canada,” he said. “I’m going up looking for more individual travelers.”

Hester’s U.S. Export Assistance Center in Calgary is also hosting a breakfast roundtable during the trade shows. “The whole purpose of these kinds of mixers is to put our tourist resorts and destinations in contact with as many industry people as possible,” he said. They begin to network and discuss business opportunities, identify potential projects and bring them to fruition.”

“There is opportunity in Alberta,” O’Connor said. “The market is close enough to be accessible. They know our mountains and climate, and the exchange rate is good. We just need to learn how to go up there and communicate that.”

Including the upcoming trip to Canada, Sen. Baucus has organized eight trade missions for Montanans to 11 countries: Mexico, Cuba, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Colombia and Canada. Last May, Baucus brought top-level trade officials from around the world to Montana for the spring APEC meetings in Big Sky.