Taking Over Tourism BC

The tourism ministry is still ironing out wrinkles after absorbing Tourism BC.

Tourism BC | BCBusiness
Kelly Lake, near Clinton, B.C.

The tourism ministry is still ironing out wrinkles after absorbing Tourism BC.

The once vaunted Super, Natural BC brand is in need of a little polish these days. Nearly three years after Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberals brought the arm’s length Crown corporation, Tourism BC, under direct government control, government is still working out the kinks. The move was to create efficiencies and reduce redundancy, but critics believe it’s had the opposite effect, shackling Tourism B.C. to year-to-year budget allocations and a bureaucracy that makes long-term planning and marketing campaigns difficult. Bureaucrats within the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation are in discussion with the Tourism Industry Association of BC to develop a new provincial marketing organization to promote what many consider to be the province’s embarrassment of tourism riches.

In its previous incarnation, Tourism BC was charged with marketing an industry worth $13 billion annually, and had a degree of autonomy that was a model for other jurisdictions, including our neighbouring province and its Travel Alberta. It was funded through a portion of a hotel tax and answered to a board of industry and government representatives. Over the years Tourism BC garnered a string of accolades, including the 2008 Globe Tourism Award at the World Travel Market in London, England, as well as recognition from the Canadian Marketing Association and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. Last fall, former Tourism BC president and CEO Rod Harris, now an adjunct professor in tourism management at Royal Roads University and an industry consultant, was inducted to the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.

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Today the message from industry to government seems to be: we need your financial support, but let industry take care of the nuts and bolts of imaging, branding, marketing and training and keep politics out of it. Though Christy Clark’s Liberals seem to be getting the message, uncertainty plagues the tourism sector. Tourism Victoria, one of six regional marketing organizations in B.C., has recently struggled through lean years in terms of funding and visitation. In 2007 Greater Victoria clocked 3.63 million visitors, generating $1.23 billion in revenue, compared to 3.08 million visitors in 2010 with an economic contribution of $970 million, a 21 per cent decrease.

“It’s been tough sledding,” says Tourism Victoria president and CEO Rob Gialloreto. “So much has happened with the Olympics and Tourism BC being absorbed. We need a new industry-led marketing organization with a leader that is the face of tourism the way Rod Harris was.”

Will industry or government steer Tourism BC?

Amy Thacker, who heads the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Marketing organization in Williams Lake, says that Tourism BC is still staffed with excellent people, but questions around who will steer the ship – industry or government – are directly impacting her already threadbare operation. Weeks prior to the March 31 fiscal year end she still had no idea what her budget would be for 2012. Dave Petryk at the Tourism Association of Vancouver Island is even less charitable with his comments: “We were all pretty disgruntled with the demise of the Crown corporation. Post-Olympics we haven’t seen the kind of resources we need to keep the brand awareness up. And the fact is, even though Alberta is a partner province, they’re also a competitor and they’re outspending us.”

An analysis published last November by Victoria-based Chemistry Consulting compared B.C. and Alberta on a number of tourism performance indicators.The study was cursory, but the results are telling. For example, although B.C.’s tourism industry generates roughly four times the revenue of Alberta’s, Tourism BC’s annual budget is only 85 per cent of the $65.4 million Travel Alberta has to spend. B.C.’s efforts to attract foreign travellers also appear to be faltering. Between 2001 and 2010, U.S. visitation to B.C. dropped 20.5 per cent, while the number of international visitors grew by less than one per cent. By comparison, Alberta held its U.S. numbers steady and grew its international market by 18.3 per cent.

“It’s clear that Alberta has its act together regarding the tourism industry and is eating our lunch,” says Frank Bourree, a founding partner at Chemistry Consulting.

Dave Butler, director of sustainability for the heli-skiing powerhouse Canadian Mountain Holidays, is vice-chair of the Tourism Industry Association of BC and chairs the task force leading discussions around the development of a new provincial Marketing organization. He agrees this is a difficult time for B.C.’s tourism, with the high Canadian dollar, economic volatility in the U.S. and Europe and fierce global competition for tourist dollars. That’s why, he says, the goal is to develop a new marketing model that improves upon the old Tourism BC. “I’m very pleased with how discussions have proceeded so far and I don’t want to say anything that might jeopardize the process,” Butler says.

In a phone interview Pat Bell, minister of jobs, tourism and innovation, told BCBusiness that he received complaints from industry that Tourism BC has traditionally been too urban-focused. “If you happened to operate in the golden triangle of Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler, Tourism BC worked well,” Bell says. “The goal is to create a more accountable organization based on good governance and whether that’s a Crown corporation or not, it’s too early to say.”

Meanwhile, boutique firms like the sea kayak tour outfitter West Coast Expeditions, which help make up the diversity of B.C.’s tourism industry, are hoping discussions bear fruit soon.

“I think with all the confusion we’ve lost two years in terms of marketing B.C. to the world. It’s very competitive out there,” says owner Dave Pinel.