On The Move: Vikram Vij & Michael Wekerle
Insight Vikram Vij and Michael Wekerle of Dragons’ Den share insight on business travel in this exclusive interview.
Mediaplanet: You’ve led two culinary adventure tours to India: The Royal Heritage Cuisine Tour of Rajasthan and Turkish Delights. What inspired these tours?
Vikram Vij: People love to travel with someone who knows the country they are visiting and I have always wanted to show how great India and Indian cuisine are, so it was only natural to host a tour that showcased where I came from. It combined my passion for food and my culinary roots with my love of people and entertaining.
MP Tell us a bit about the planning process. What steps did you take on to plan this kind of trip?
VV It usually takes a year of planning; a tour organizer is dedicated to making all the travel arrangements and ensuring the timing is right. We meet once a month to discuss the progress of the trip. It is a very painstaking process and it takes a long time to get all the pieces together.
MP What was your favourite aspect of the culinary tours?
VV To see how much love and care the home cooks and chefs put into their dishes. They pride themselves on their work, and it is a priceless sight to witness. In these moments, I am humbled and honoured that they are willing to share their dishes. I enjoy learning from them and being their student.
MP What were some hurdles you faced when planning group travel? How did you overcome them?
VV Due to the diverse nature of the group, some people love to shop more than others and some like to eat more than the others, but we make it work so everyone gets a taste of both.
MP What are important aspects of obtaining travel insurance when planning group travel?
VV We recommend every individual within the group obtain travel insurance to prepare for any emergencies or unforeseen circumstances, but we leave it up to each individual traveller to make that decision for themselves.
MP With your specialized insight into the dining experience, what do you look for in a restaurant when planning a lunch or dinner meeting out of town?
VV We look for a restaurant that specializes in a particular dish within the area or region we visit. We then ask if the chef or cook is able to show us how to make it. Sometimes we are lucky enough to go with the chef or cook to the local market to purchase the ingredients for the meal we will be preparing.
MP As an advocate for sustainable food practices, how do you maintain your preferred eating practices when on the go?
VV We never go to a restaurant or try a dish that does not follow sustainable food practices. If we do come across a restaurant that does not practice sustainable food practices, we try to bring it to the attention of the chef.
MP Between owning three restaurants, a gourmet pre-packaged food line, and your new role on Dragons’ Den, how has your business travel been affected?
VV I have a very solid management team, supportive chefs, and committed administrative and service team that enable me to travel when I want and when I need to.
MP How has participation in Dragons’ Den affected your business travel practices?
VV Before Dragons’ Den my schedule was very busy — I travelled for work throughout the year. I anticipate going on more trips both for Dragons’ Den and as a result of my participation in Dragons’ Den.
MP You seem to always have a new project on the go — what’s next?
VV I am always focused on growing the company and challenging myself. At the moment, I am working on opening a new Vij’s restaurant on Cambie Street in Vancouver and converting the old Vij’s space to something funky. I also have three other projects on the go — I want to keep what we have going and not lose sight of it.
Mediaplanet: You have found success investing in tech and media companies. What are some top technological tools that all business travellers should be aware of?
Michael Wekerle: House of Travel is the preferred place I use — Valerie Cohen, she’s the best. If you don’t have good people, the problem is that any technology can only take you so far, then you have to have a back up. So Valerie Cohen is my backup. We also use Travelocity or Hotels.com.
MP When planning a business trip, what are the first three things you make sure get done?
MW For me it’s about making sure that I optimize my time. I’ve been lucky enough to have my own plane, so it saves a lot of time going through airports, especially with six kids and being a single father, the ability to do this is very helpful. I also try to replicate my life in Florida, that’s our holiday spot.
MP Starting your career at the young age of 18, you must have a lot of miles under your belt — what is your favourite destination for business travel?
MW New York City is still the best, or London England — they are the commerce centres.
MP What products or services do you find essential for efficient and stress-free business travel?
MW Music and a headset.
MP What are some key services that you look for in a hotel when you’re staying for business?
MW For me, it’s having the ability to have a decent menu that’s available all night. Room service is key, and room service that’s punctual. When you’re in business you always try to have breakfast, it’s a good way to wake up and get the brain going. Nothing is worse than ordering breakfast and having it come late or cold, it throws my day off.
MP When travelling as much as you do, you must face some inevitable frustrations. What is the most difficult part of business travel for you?
MW Time management.
MP Do you find flying commercial or charter more efficient? What makes you choose one over the other?
MW That’s easy, everyone would find charter more efficient — it’s just a cost variation. I fly commercial when I’m by myself, but when it’s more than six people or if I have to move around quickly, then charter makes sense. My schedule sometimes dictates it. I’m very fortunate to be able to do this and that God’s put me in the position I’m in.
MP How has your new role on Dragons’ Den affected your business travel practices and expectations?
MW I haven’t really had to travel for the show. Eventually I’ll be doing a tour and giving speeches — I’m doing one in Vancouver soon, then one in the midwest, and then one on the east coast, so I’ll have some travel.
MP Between Dragons’ Den and your latest start up, Wahlburgers, 2014 has been a big year — what’s coming up in 2015?
MW I got a big opportunity with the ‘Waterloo Innovation Network’ as I call it. There are great entrepreneurs in Waterloo, so I focus on that as being the epicentre and am doing work there. I’m also on the tail end of a six-year investment in real estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the surrounding area. I bought a significant amount of commercial properties that I’m now selling a bit as the Canadian dollar weakens to the U.S. dollar, so trying to capitalize on foreign exchange and then capitalize on the return I’ve made so far.