5 Questions: Royce Chwin, president and CEO, Destination Vancouver

Royce Chwin, president and CEO of Destination Vancouver, asks why government needed so much prodding to help his COVID-ravaged industry.

Credit: Destination Vancouver

Chwin has a question of his own: Why did government need so much prodding to help his COVID-ravaged industry?

1. After you took over as CEO last year, why did Tourism Vancouver change its name to Destination Vancouver?

It was a long time coming. Destination Vancouver was a better representative of what this organization’s mandate needed to be. The old saying is, trade influences tourism, and tourism influences trade. If we think about tourism as part of the overall economic mix, then the economic mix and the beneficiary is the destination that is Vancouver.

So what’s our bigger, better, broader role than simply just inviting tourists here? Because that can’t be the endgame. Tourism is really a catalyst for transforming our destination—people and place. The best and easiest example is what Expo 86 did back in the day. That created infrastructure. The [2010] Olympics created infrastructure and put us on the stage.

2. It’s late July—usually the height of visitor season. How is the Vancouver tourism and hospitality industry doing compared to this time last year? What are a few key numbers?

We’re still between 70 and 80 percent down. There’s no events and festivals happening of any meaningful size. There are no citywide conventions—so 1,000 people or more, that’s missing. Cruise is missing, of course, and our borders have just opened up.

To give you an example, in 2019, Metro Vancouver’s visitor economy was worth $14.3 billion. Forty-six percent of that number comes from international visitors and same-day and overnight U.S. visitors. That chunk is gone.

There’s a bit of travel now from Alberta; we’re seeing some Ontarians and a lot of Quebecers. But that Canadian visitation will not replace what we miss in U.S. and international. That’s how our economy is built here.

3. How has COVID changed the way British Columbians see their own backyard as tourists or visitors? What positive results might come out of that?

Any time you can get people to enjoy their backyard and they have a great experience, they become the greatest advocates for tourism that we could ever want—friends, family, coworkers, neighbours, what have you. And now with the unbelievable proliferation of social media, people are sharing their outdoor journeys, their dining journeys. That really helps us sell the destination.

How do you rate government support for tourism and hospitality? What needs to happen for a strong recovery?

First, government support needs to continue….We’re going into fall and winter, which are typically slower seasons. Depending on what happens with the pandemic, we really need some bridging support, particularly on hard costs like rent relief, to get us to next year.

The second part is—and this is where I’m a little bit dismayed. I say it mildly: Why did it have to take us to advocate to government for so long for support, in an industry that’s well recognized as being first and hardest hit? That’s mystifying to many of us. When you stop the movement of people, which is what our industry needs, clearly we’re not going to be able to do business. The question is, could we have spent time better elsewhere doing what we need for structural change?

5. What do you hope to accomplish as CEO? What’s your vision?

Two things. The name change–more importantly, it’s a mandate change. And really, Tourism Vancouver becomes a destination organization. We support the development of tourism in all of its facets, and the promotion of tourism. That was the first big thing for me to get changed.

The second part is rebuilding and restarting Metro Vancouver’s visitor economy. Getting businesses back on their feet. Getting air routes back in place—supporting our airline partners, our airport partners to get that business back in. And to rebuild the visitor economy and put Vancouver back on the global stage as a recognizable destination—and, ideally, not just recognized for tourism but all of the other great facets that make up Vancouver’s broader economy.

That’s what I’d love to see: one of the most sustainable cities, one of the greatest cities, one of the most policy-progressive cities in the world. And that we can demonstrate what a city can do when it puts its collective foot forward for the betterment of its community, its citizens and the environment. I would love to see continued global recognition in that space for our city.

Previously: President and CEO, Travel Alberta; executive director, brand integration, Canadian Tourism Commission

Hobbies: Hockey (goalie), guitar, travel, food and wine

Last book I read: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Favourite podcast: Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly

Most memorable concert: Tragically Hip’s final tour

Pet peeve: People who lack self-awareness

Guilty pleasure: Collectibles