Laila North has a conversation about her entrepreneurial journey and how she was able to merge her background as a professional ballet dancer, her deep knowledge of the wine and her tourism experience and create Go North Tours which was the first and currently longest running wine tour company in Nova Scotia. As we get a better understanding of the unique excursions, she offers those looking to explore Nova Scotia as a staycation or while visiting the province on vacation.
If you are like me, you are the one that usually does the driving when out exploring with family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, I like being the chauffeur however, as I am focusing on the driving unfortunately, I do not get to have the same experience as those that I am with. Well thanks to Laila North, owner, and professional tour guide, of Go North Tours there is a solution. You simply book a tour, and Laila will be happy to pick you and your group up in Halifax, Windsor or Wolfville so you can leave the driving and adventure up to her.
Laila is used to being in the spotlight and performing for an audience as she was a professional ballet dancer in Toronto, and she still teaches ballet in the off season today. After deciding to stop dancing professionally, she was able to chaseé in the liquor industry as a sales representative for E & J Gallo Winery from 2001 to 2003. It was also at this time that Laila decided to head back to school to become a travel agent. It was as a travel agent in Winnipeg that she had the opportunity to work with a tour company from 2004 to 2008 guiding excursions to Churchill, Manitoba during the short Polar Bear season.
It was during Laila’s time as a tour guide to the polar bears that this daughter of an entrepreneur was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug herself and got the idea that she would head to the East Coast where she could offer guided tours that didn’t involve 5 AM mornings and that she could operate for more than six weeks out of the year.
So, you ask why the East Coast to start a tour company? Well, the answer is simple, Nova Scotia has something to offer tourists in every season making it much more feasible to operate a tour business given your window of opportunity for potential customers is much larger than six weeks as it was in Churchill, Manitoba.
Interesting fact is that it was not until Laila arrived in Nova Scotia in 2008 that she learned about the emerging wine industry in the province. During her four years with E & J Gallo, Nova Scotia wines were not even a whisper in the wine industry.
The Go North Tour brand officially became a company in January of 2009. The focus of the brand was to offer tourists the opportunity to see the many wonders that the province had to offer with the vision of becoming the premier company offering quality tours of the region specifically Peggy’s Cove and what was then a relatively new Annapolis Valley wine region.
Peggy’s Cove was an easy sell as it is known worldwide as a tourist destination for those coming to Nova Scotia. The wine industry, well that was a different story. At that time, the wine industry was just starting to blossom, so Laila added these tours not knowing what might happen with the industry, but it be these wine tours that would eventually become the main focus of the company. In the beginning many wine enthusiasts were not sure or even understood what wine from Nova Scotia was all about, and it had a bad reputation, as Laila said, “There was a story that needed to be told and I was going to tell it.”
As mentioned in the beginning when Laila first started the company not a lot was known about Nova Scotia wines or the industry. So, a major challenge for her and the brand was to start educating not only tourists coming to Nova Scotia but many of the hotels and those in the hospitality industry about what was happening in the Annapolis Valley wine region and wine industry in the province in general. Laila was able to convince them to allow her to display brochures so she could promote her Go North Tours to those visiting the area. The second major challenge was getting the locals on board, as back in the 70’s and 80’s Nova Scotia wine was considered cheap and low quality which is no longer the case today. Laila is quick to acknowledge the success of her business is truly because of the quality of the products that are now being offered by these wineries. She goes on to say that ‘Tourists are now building vacations around coming to Nova Scotia to visit the amazing wineries of the region.’
It is because of the growing industry and popularity of the wines from this region that in 2015, Laila created Uncork Nova Scotia, a division of Go North Tours dedicated to giving wine enthusiasts an extraordinary look at Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley wine industry offering unique itineraries and intimate interactive experiences for their customers. Some people think that taking a wine tour is stuffy and boring, well they are going to soon find out that Laila is a true performer and in fact, these top-quality wine tours are educational but are also loads of fun with a lot of laughs along the way. All tours are private with a maximum of 8 people travelling in a spacious air-conditioned passenger van. It goes without saying that each tour offers friendly, personalized service and a comfortably paced day trip where guests have the opportunity to visit smaller wineries that are less commercial and give you a truly intimate experience.
“I have really watched this industry grow from the humble beginnings of eleven wineries back in 2009 when I started, to twenty-four wineries now and wine tourism becoming extremely popular,” said Laila.
Wine tourism is not just about jumping in a van or on a bus and heading to Annapolis Valley to drink wine, it is more than that. Wine enthusiasts want more than just to taste the wine, they want to understand where it comes from and what makes it unique. They want to feel connected to the product and the producer. Laila is a member of the Wine Growers Nova Scotia (WGNS) formerly known as The Winery Association of Nova Scotia, which was formed in 2002 and works to build awareness of the types and brands of wines that are available and serves as a voice for wineries as they work with government to grow the industry and expand market opportunities for the sale of Nova Scotia wines. “Because of that, I have a deep knowledge of the wine industry and I tell the story of the industry’s growth in a unique and interesting way on my tours. It’s not about dates and facts – it’s about how the wineries have worked together to get to the place we are today. It truly is a great story, and you’ll have to take the tour to hear it!”
Go North Tours and specifically Uncork Nova Scotia division of the company focuses on the industry and those within it that are making the growth possible. These tours are more than sampling wine as you travel throughout Nova Scotia’s beautiful Annapolis Valley, it is about learning and understanding what is happening in the area, getting firsthand knowledge of the innovation and efforts behind the growth of the industry and how the wineries from the area are continuing to evolve and grow. Plus, we are seeing additional vertical industries like the development of craft breweries, cideries and distilleries that have also become part of the Uncork Nova Scotia tours, showing that there are no limits to the potential of growth of agricultural related products that can come from the Annapolis Valley.
“Even as the wine industry and wine tourism have grown so quickly, I’ve kept my model the same. Wine is an intimate experience to be savoured among friends and family,” says Laila. Go North Tours’ Uncork Nova Scotia experience is not about large groups of people gathering at a winery, craft brewery, cidery or distillery. The Uncork Nova Scotia experience is about an intimate experience as a small group, visiting small wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries with a high-quality interactive experience and an educational component of the products and the industries that are second to none. Laila was very confident when stating that, “With the connections I’ve built with the breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries I work with; guests will see they are getting the utmost in VIP treatment.”
We recommend that you book your tour today, to experience Go North Tours’ VIP service as well as “skip-the-line” and “behind the scenes” interaction with the owners and producers. Then all that you have to do is sit back, relax, enjoy the wine, cider, beer and spirits while leaving the driving to Uncork Nova Scotia!
by Ryan Myson