B.C. Tourism: The Province Takes Over

Six months before the Winter Olympics, the Board of Tourism B.C. was disbanded and the rest of the operation rolled into the Provincial Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts.


Six months before the Winter Olympics, the Board of Tourism B.C. was disbanded and the rest of the operation rolled into the Provincial Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts.

It’s tough to imagine what could possibly be a greater boost for tourism promotion than a chance to host the Olympics. You couldn’t top this kind of attention with anything short of a celebrity mass-wedding, an extraterrestrial landing or legalized marijuana. But far-fetched miracles aside, the tourism promoters who have been working tirelessly to hype B.C. to the rest of the world deserve some recognition. These folk, after all, are partially responsible for raising the province’s profile enough to win the bid in the first place, not to mention helping grow tourism revenues consistently through some very tough years.

So it’s understandable that many in the industry were shocked when the B.C. government decided to end the agency chiefly responsible for promoting B.C. tourism. The announcement came in August 2009, six months before the Games, that the board of Tourism B.C. would be disbanded and that the rest of the operation would be rolled into the provincial Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. Whether the ministry will use this opportunity to make major changes to the research, promotions or development work done by the agency is still unclear, but now that the former Crown corporation is firmly under Victoria’s roof, the potential for greater government control is certainly there.

Brock Smith, a professor of marketing at the University of Victoria, says there’s no clear reason why the government would want to annex Tourism B.C.: “It came as a big surprise to me because I thought they were doing really well.” 

The organization was an effective partnership between government and industry, Smith says, providing long-term research and a consistent advertising message that neither player could easily provide on its own. Governments can be prone to “wild swings in strategy” to suit short-term political pressures, which risks confusing the audience, Smith says, while industry is easily dominated by big players, such as major hotels and resorts, and can neglect smaller developing tourism sectors.

Why the government chose to change a system that was apparently working well – particularly so soon before the Olympics – is still a bit of a mystery. “I wouldn’t care to speculate, but at the end of the day it’s often an issue that the government of the day wants more control over the message,” Smith says. “It’s very easy for the government to think, ‘I can do this better’ . . . but in the long run that usually doesn’t work out.”

According to B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger, the change has more to do with economics and efficiency than it does with control. He tells BCBusiness that, with provincial finances stretched by the recession, it was important to make sure that Tourism B.C. and the ministry were operating in a synchronized, effective way. “These are tough economic times, the toughest we’ve seen in my lifetime,” Krueger says. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t wasting a dollar or an hour of a person’s time with duplicating efforts.”

To represent the interests of industry, the ministry has appointed a 13-member advisory council, including prominent business leaders from various tourism sectors. Krueger says this team will have complete freedom to make recommendations to the ministry. When asked if the council will have any decision-making power, Krueger re-emphasized that their role is to be advisers. 

The move “was a shock to the people in Tourism B.C. because they’re proud of what they’re accomplishing, and I’m really impressed with it too,” Krueger says. “But I think they realize more and more the affinities and the strengths of having a staff that’s doubled in size and all working together.”

Whether ministry control will change the way tourism is promoted in B.C. remains to be seen, says Rick Antonson, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver. He says that, while Tourism B.C. was a strong and effective organization for many years, the ministry’s advisory group is made up of excellent industry representatives and there’s no indication that the government plans to go its own way without industry input. 

What B.C.’s tourism industry has really achieved over many years is a sense of partnership, Antonson says. Business players and regional groups from across the province have managed to work together to successfully market B.C. as a single destination, rather than just competing with each other. It’s part of the culture in the industry here, he says, and it’s something the B.C. sector is known for around the world. The loss of Tourism B.C. shouldn’t change that.

“There obviously is a certain frustration at what happened, but at some point that’s got to be parked,” Antonson says. “We’ll always have things that we want government to do differently as an industry, but right now, so many people have worked so hard to get us to this moment in time, and it’s our time, so let’s use it right.”