Marsha Walden, CEO, Destination BC

Marsha Walden, Destination BC | BCBusiness
Marsha Walden was formerly CEO at B.C. Lottery Corp.

The inaugural CEO of Destination BC reveals her initial plans for a province in desperate need of tourist dollars

What attracted you to Destination BC, especially considering it’s freshly reorganized, and is quite a departure from your former position at B.C. Lottery Corp.?
One of the initial draws for me was looking at the kind of dynamic and talented board members that also chose to be part of this new Crown Corp. It’s a fresh start for an industry that’s enormously important to B.C.’s growth and to the jobs plan that the province has set out. It’s certainly a fascinating industry itself with really incredible new competitive challenges that are coming from all over the globe. The opportunity to address and think through some of those is something I really relish.

I think that Destination BC is very lucky to be supported by dynamic and dedicated and diverse partners from all over the tourism sector, and if you’re asked to bring the world to a place where you live and that you love, frankly, that’s about as good as it gets.

Your background is in marketing and corporate communications. How do you think your skillset will translate to tourism?
I do have a strong track record in marketing and communications across a whole bunch of industries. In my early days in marketing, I probably worked in 20 different sectors. The marketing skills and the way you think about business issues translate well across any industry. More recently my career has focused on corporate strategy, transformation and operations. And I think it was the mix of all those things that was the key reason I was chosen for this role.

What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of from your 11-year tenure at BCLC?
I was fortunate over that time to have many different portfolios of responsibilities. Firstly and recently, I led our strategies for business optimization and this was an exercise that compared BCLC’s operations to the best of the best around the world to see how we stacked up. And I [organized] it by ways we could improve and opportunities for long-term growth over the next 10 years.

Secondly, I led the organization’s desire to become much more customer-centric and to look at our relationships with customers from a multi-channel perspective. That’s an important component of making sure the business stays relevant. The consumer landscape is changing right now and it’s difficult for businesses to keep up with consumer trends. Effecting this cultural change for BCLC was, I believe, important for the success of the organization in the future.

Something more concrete in terms of operational activity is that a number of years ago, I developed the original vision for changing B.C.’s bingo halls into community gaming centres. There are about 20 of them now and they account for about $300 million in revenue, so it was a big aspect to BCLC’s growth.
What’s your overall vision for the direction of Destination BC?
It’s very early days still. Rather than specifics about a plan of action, it’s more about a few key things that I really want to discuss with industry and the leadership team at Destination BC. The first is the relevance of our travel brand within today’s landscape. Canada and its provinces have been slowly but surely slipping off the radar in many top tourism countries as a destination of choice. So we need to make sure we refresh our brand and the approach to how we go into those marketplaces to make sure we’re still relevant.

I want to understand how we can best optimize the investments being made at every level of the industry, both in B.C. and across Canada. We need to have a more powerful impact in the markets where we compete. And throwing more money at the problem is not the only answer. In my view, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and we’re so fragmented right now that I fear we’re getting really lost in the shuffle.

I think we also need to think very differently about how we compete in this new world. How do we give our guests in B.C. an experience they want to share across the world? That kind of word-of-mouth referral is your best marketing tool.

So I’d say direction at the moment is assessing our relevance, how we can be more collaborative to make the most of our money and more innovative in igniting the imaginations of some travel planners.

When Destination BC announced your selection, you said one of your goals is to focus on emerging markets. Why? 
We want to take a good look at which markets make the most sense for us. There are a lot of markets across the globe that present opportunities for us, the obvious ones being China, Australia and Mexico. But there are emerging markets as well that are presenting new competition for us—sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe come to mind. Every major Western and Eastern travel destination is trying to compete for the attention of those travellers, so we have to figure out where we have the best fit and how good is the access and the cost of getting those travellers to B.C.