You take a birthday party of 10 eight-year-olds to WildPlay Element Park on Victoria’s West Shore, where they’ll go through an array of zip lines, rope swings, suspended bridges and hanging nets. The kids are boisterous. Some are excited, some tentative. Your mission is to bring them back unscathed. To that end, you hand them over to the smiling young lady at the processing counter. This is Jenessa Baert, 25, and she is a pro at finessing such situations.
The West Shore location is one of four owned by WildPlay, the others being in Nanaimo, Whistler and Maple Ridge. This location has been open for a year, and Baert has been there as a guest services agent (GSA) since its early days. Over the past year, as she has seen the park evolve, she has advanced in her career to the position of guest services activity supervisor. In the off-season, she oversees a couple of GSAs, eight during the full-tilt summer season.
Originally from Winnipeg, Baert earned a two-year tourism management diploma at Red River College there. As part of her course, she worked with Hostelling International’s Winnipeg Downtowner facility as a front desk agent. She impressed her employers to the extent that after her course she was taken on as group coordinator. “I knew through that experience that I wanted to keep doing a job where you work with people every day,” says Baert. In September 2009, she moved to Victoria and saw a WildPlay job opening on craigslist.
“I’m definitely learning as I go,” says Baert. “I deal with a lot of schools and youth groups, which I never thought I’d be doing. The company has allowed me to grow with them.” She is excited by the range of opportunities in tourism here. “When I moved to BC and Victoria, I had to learn about it, but now that I’m part of it I can’t see leaving the tourism industry here.”
Baert likens her role to a front desk agent: making reservations and checking people in to the attraction. “It’s slightly different,” she says, “because the main thing we’re focusing on is that we have all the proper info, and all aspects are covered safety-wise. There’s a lot of rules, regulations and supervision requirements for younger ages. There’s a height requirement, and everyone has to sign a waiver. We have to make sure that the clients have a good idea of what they’re getting into.”
The park offers a kids’ course for those aged seven to 13, as well as an adult course for those 12 and older — or younger guests who stand at least 5-11. “There is an element of risk,” says Baert. “But we have tree guides who train you in how to manage that risk.” Tellingly, the most common injury is skinned knees suffered by kids in their excitement before getting near the course.
“You have to act quickly, and you want people to be treated efficiently,” says Baert. “But you don’t want them to feel rushed, that you’re pushing them out the door. It’s a hard balance.” Some clients are afraid of heights yet want to go through with the adventure and overcome their fears. “You don’t want to make light of their fears,” says Baert. “We want to make sure that whoever is coming here gets the kind of experience they want out of it. If they are afraid of heights, we want them to be aware that they can be going as high as 54 feet and to be prepared. If they’re in their mid-20s and athletic and want to get their adrenaline pumping, we want them to know they can get that.
“It’s great to be able to help people every day,” says Baert. “I knew before I decided to take tourism management that I wanted a job where I deal with people every day. It’s great to do it in the tourism industry because, more often than not, you’re dealing with people who are happy or on vacation. Even if it’s just their day off from work, they’re doing something that’s fun. So, automatically, I find I’m having a good time, too.”