A new face in the tourism industry has been welcomed to downtown Pictou and, while the name may be new, they are certainly not new to tourism.
Sandy and Cathy Best have purchased the Auberge Walker Inn on Coleraine Street. And they have big plans for it and the two buildings beside the 150-year-old inn which they also purchased.
While only in town for a couple of months, the couple has set down some roots and made it their mission to meet many locals. They are ready to dig in and change the face of tourism in the area and are confident their extensive experience in the industry will benefit their new venture here.
Sandy is the director of business development for the Lake Louise Ski Area where they also own a small inn and restaurant in Banff. They also have operated boutique hotels in the French Alps and the Greek Islands as well as British Columbia and Alberta. They also own Ski Canada Holidays and My Fiji My Tonga “Our South Pacific” for which Sandy is managing director and Cathy is director of operations. In fact, Sandy admits they own a small piece of a tropical, South Pacific Island where they live on their yacht, the Taboo Tiki.
The couple did extensive research before buying property here; they first settled on property in Cape Breton, where they planned to build a fishing lodge, but Sandy says they found building costs were very high. But they fell in love with the province.
“I was blown away by how clean and friendly it is,” he smiles over a cup of coffee in the parlour of their Pictou inn as the family parrot, Pumpkin, nips at his ears, and Cathy looks after the guests checking out of the inn.
Sandy grew up travelling the world and ended up in Banff, Alta. He speaks several other languages besides English including both French and Spanish; he merely dabbles in German, Chinese and Japanese. (“If you go to live in someone’s culture you owe them the respect to learn their language and way of doing things,” he explains.)
It was to this area they were attracted last year when Sandy was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
“I was told to put my financial house in order,” he shrugs. “So we decided to find a business we could both enjoy, but that Cathy could maintain herself if she had to.”
It was a long, unpredictable road, but he endured his final surgery on August 9 and on August 25 was declared “cancer free.” He does need one additional “cleanup surgery” in December but takes that all in stride.
The couple has big plans for the inn and already, their ideas are generating revenue for the Pictou hotel.
“Attention to customer service makes paydays possible,” he says. “The rest is bull.”
Sandy feels Pictou is “one of the best kept secrets” and “undervalued properties” in the province. He believes it could become the same mega tourism attractions as Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove. He is full of plans and dreams for his local operation.
“Life is like a banquet and everyone is invited to the table to eat and it’s disappointing that some go away hungry,” he explains of his life philosophy.
Sandy admits he is opinionated and strong willed when it comes to his ideas about growing tourism, but he has a method and a proven track record.
“I came to Canada in 1989 with 400 bucks,” he points out. He now owns, co-owns and/or manages tourism interests in many parts of the world.
“Pictou is a beautiful location with underdeveloped resources in an area where it seems the tourism department hasn’t realized the potential… This could be the Mahone Bay of the North Shore. The strength of this town is that it is the gateway to the PEI ferry and Cape Breton. There is massive opportunity here.
“Pictou is a little gem that no one has discovered,” he smiles.
Today, Sandy and Cathy are renovating their Pictou properties with an eye to capitalizing on that opportunity and growing their business and in turn, business for the entire town. There is a name change for the inn. It will be known as The Scotsman Inn and they have plans for their holdings here, none of which they would divulge.
Stay tuned for what they have in store.