The Liberals promised an industry-led tourism marketing organization, but is it just more election fodder?
When Premier Christy Clark took the podium at the Vancouver Convention Centre last November and announced that Destination BC Corp., an industry-led Crown corporation marketing B.C. tourism, would launch in April 2013, it was exactly what the disheartened tourism industry wanted to hear. The Liberals, Clark promised, would “create an unbiased strategy based on ideas that were generated from the ground up, rather than imposed from the top down.”
Industry members had been rallying for the return of a semi-autonomous provincial marketing agency since the Liberals, under former premier Gordon Campbell, dissolved Tourism BC, a Crown corporation, in 2009. But tourism insiders were left to parse the semantics of Clark’s announcement. Yes, industry—in the form of a nine-person task force developed through the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. and working closely with Minister Pat Bell—had been consulted to create the strategy behind the new Crown corporation. Implementing that strategy with transparency and autonomy, however, is a different story; just how arm’s-length this new tourism body will be remains to be seen.
Few industry players disagree that Destination BC will be a step up from current provincial tourism marketing efforts. Critics have cited year-to-year budget allocations, exhausting bureaucracy and a revolving door of ministers as reasons the province has failed to capitalize on the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and continues to lose visitors. While Tourism BC was criticized for focusing resources too heavily on major centres and for a lack of accountability, the province’s solid visitor numbers leading up to the Olympics are often cited as a tale of success made possible by independence from the government.
“It all depends how you define autonomy,” says Dave Butler, director of sustainability for Canadian Mountain Holidays Inc. and chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. task force working with the Liberals to create Destination BC. He points out that since the dissolution of the former Crown corporation, decisions have been made by a board of government appointees and staff, while the board of Destination BC will comprise nine business people. “If you look at how it’s set up, the tourism people will be doing the marketing strategy and tactics. So in terms of autonomy in marketing, I think we’ve set it up better than it used to be.”
James Chase, CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association (BCHA), also believes that the new Destination BC model balances the important principles of autonomy and accountability. As the BCHA understands it, Destination BC funding will be based on a portion of the eight per cent collected on accommodation following the reinstatement of the PST. “A sustainable and predictable funding model that is performance-based, such as this... will allow the organization to grow its budget based on its success,” Chase says.
Former CEO of Tourism BC and Canadian Tourism Hall of Famer Rod Harris, who lost his job when Tourism BC was dissolved, says that the organization he ran was “far from perfect,” and Destination BC needs to go even further than the model he oversaw. “It needs a system that encourages synchronized collaboration,” Harris, now adjunct professor at Royal Roads University, says. “There was a lot of collaboration that took place in my day largely owing to the goodwill of the people involved—and there’s still great people involved, but British Columbia needs a better operating system.”
Harris also believes that the model proposed for Destination BC doesn’t guarantee autonomy. “Hats off to the industry for its perseverance over the past three years,” he says. However, he adds, “Without the right foundation, the organization will find it increasingly difficult to function in an effective manner. This will require the right governance model with meaningful accountability mechanisms, the right funding model reflecting changing market conditions and the best human resource development system, so as to attract, motivate and retain talented staff. You need all three, and I would argue that what is being contemplated currently under Destination BC is lacking in all three areas.”