Main photo (from left) Stefan Ruby, Michael Ruby, Bev MacWilliams, and Michaela Ruby at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s annual convention on Nov. 19. (submitted)
Huntsville native Michael Ruby has achieved hall of fame status in Canada’s tourism industry.
Ruby was recognized for his contribution to the industry during the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s annual convention on Nov. 19.
“I didn’t expect it,” said Ruby. “It was a really nice recognition of what I have been involved with. My kids were there and they could see why I wasn’t there for Halloween for however many years, and all those times I was on a plane in another country. It showed them their dad wasn’t such a loser,” he added with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun. You don’t volunteer to get awards, but this was really nice.”
Ruby grew up in a customer-service minded environment.
“My background was in the skiing industry and I worked in it for 15 years full-time, both in Ontario and BC,” he said. “While I was in BC I worked at a four-season resort and my dad was in business in Huntsville for 47 years. I grew up in the environment.”
While working at the resort in BC, Ruby was given an opportunity to go to Japan and from that decided he wanted to get more involved with the international side of the industry.
“I like to travel and learn, and thought a better way of doing all of this is having a job where someone pays you to travel,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have that.”
After working in BC, Ruby spent 10 years working with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism. He was responsible for looking after four offices in the U.S. – Chicago, Boston, Los Angelas and New York – then internationally in Tokyo, London, Frankfurt and Paris.
“We were responsible for bringing international visitors from those countries to Canada,” said Ruby. “We tried to look at different options of the province (to draw people in).”
After that experience Ruby and his business partner, Bev MacWilliams, came up with the idea to bring international students to small communities, starting with Huntsville in 1994. Their company is called Muskoka Language International.
“A friend from Japan gave us the idea. The premise was to mix living in people’s home and having young people experience what it was like for us growing up in a small town,” he said. “You walk out your backdoor and you have wilderness, or close to it. You have safety, security, friendly people and lots of activities and mix that with learning English. Twenty-five years later and we’ve grown from 53 kids in Huntsville to thousands of young people from Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, France, China, Italy, Spain. We’re in about 100 different communities.”
Ruby thinks tourism is currently one of the fastest growing industries.
“When I grew up there was no career in tourism,” he said. “You either worked for hydro, Bell, department of highways or you left town. Now you look at what tourism is to Huntsville. It has such a widespread of jobs, and interesting jobs. It’s also a business that has so many opportunities for small businesses. You don’t have to be a big company. Here’s two guys from Huntsville that created a business from nothing and now we’re the largest in Canada and we’re expanding markets. We have 75 to 80 people that work for us full-time. Without a good business partner, you’ve got nothing,” said Ruby.
Ruby said it’s also a good industry for people looking for occasional to part-time to full-time work.
“The beauty of what we do is giving back to both sides,” he said. “The community gets something out of it from an economic standpoint and the visitors have an amazing experience to take home.”
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