Q&A with Tourism Vancouver’s New CEO

Ty Speer, Tourism Vancouver | BCBusiness
Ty Speer addresses members of Tourism Vancouver at the organization’s 2014 Annual General Meeting.

Ty Speer shares the details from his first week on the job and where the city’s tourism organization is headed next

After holding positions with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the London 2012 Olympic Games and, most recently, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as deputy CEO, 48-year-old Ty Speer succeeds Rick Antonson as CEO of Tourism Vancouver, the city’s destination marketing and management organization. Speer arrives amid what Tourism Vancouver board chair Bob Lindsay has called “a pivotal year for the city’s tourism industry.”

On the Friday after his first official week on the job, Speer sat down with BCBusiness to talk about how his past roles will assist him in his new CEO duties, where growth opportunities lie and why 2014 is a pivotal year.

Tell me about your first official week on the job.
It’s really validated why I came. Two things: one is that there’s great work happening here and you know the team is continuing to drive a terrific agenda of bringing business travel, bringing leisure travel to Vancouver. This is an enterprise where you’re building on success, not trying to do a turnaround of something that’s going in the wrong direction.

The other thing is—and the team has been really open about this—there’s plenty more we can be doing. So you know we’re in a good place, but we can still find opportunities to be at a better place. Lots of optimism this week, which has been great.

Can you tell me a bit about your former roles with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and also with the London Olympics, and what you’re bringing from those positions to this role?
The commonality, I suppose, with what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing now really comes around sales and marketing jobs, and jobs in complex stakeholder environments. When you get lots of people involved and everyone has a valid view, getting people and organizations moving in the right direction together and feeling good about that direction is a lot of the challenge.

With Glasgow, that was around two or three different things. It was driving the commercial program, which was probably my top priority. That was around making sure that we raised 100 million pounds to support the funding that they need to put that event on. So that’s being out in the corporate marketplace selling sponsorships; it’s being in the retail marketplace building up a licensing program of T-shirts and caps; it’s being in a direct conversation with consumers when you’re selling tickets; and it’s in the media landscape when you’re selling media rights.

And then there was another large piece of my role, which was around dealing with major stakeholders. We had two very large government stakeholders: the Scotland government and the Glasgow city council government. Different organizations, different political parties, different needs. Finding that balance was a big piece of what I supported our team to do.

The London job is also a commercial job—working on the Olympics commercially to raise money. That was a role that, in some ways, brought me a little bit closer into the sector that I’m now working in. A lot of our clients had very important relationships with the hotel sector, which had very important relationships with the tourism authorities at both the London level and the U.K. level. Again, trying to bring everybody with different needs into a common system.

Shifting often from client-to-client and customer-to-customer, but still finding a way where you can sell through and service a variety of needs in and around what you’re doing—which is where I feel pretty good about coming into this role. We are a sales and marketing organization, and service is what we sell. So whether that’s shifting from servicing the needs of a member one day to the needs of an association who’s coming in do a conference the next day to a leisure traveller who’s coming in. We’re constantly going to be looking at who’s my customer, who am I servicing, how am I servicing them, how am I providing value? How am I making sure that they’re getting what they want?

A lot of relationships, a lot of stakeholder management. Which I think is inevitable when you get into big, complicated marketplace environments. You never should expect that you can set an agenda, drive an agenda, get to where you want to go, just because you’ve worked out the plan. The world just doesn’t work that way.

The Tourism Vancouver board chair Bob Lindsay was quoted in a recent release saying that you were taking the helm in a “pivotal year for the city’s tourism industry.” What makes 2014 a pivotal year?
I think clearly we have in front of us an important step we need to take about how this organization is funded. We have been up front that we want to make sure that the tourism industry here—and, in particular, Tourism Vancouver—is funded well to do the job it needs to do. It comes down to the overall consolidated picture of how we’re funded, which is done through a tax on room nights, so the long-term plan is important to us.

The other thing is, 2014 is shaping up to be a very good year for tourism in the city and thus a good year specific to the work that Tourism Vancouver is doing. There are a number of things that look very positive for 2015, but we’re always casting our minds forward. You know what you’re doing in ’14 influences ’16, ’17, ’18 and ’19. I think what’s important for us to be thinking about is how does the forward commitment schedule look, and how do we begin to make sure that that’s thick with opportunity of conventions and events coming through here in 2016, 2017 and beyond.

The mid-year data indicates that Tourism Vancouver is doing quite well. There are increases in overnight visits, in hotel stays and in visits from priority markets such as China. What would you attribute this growth to?
The team now and my predecessor have put into place a terrific organization that’s doing great work. I think it’s important as well that we are now working effectively—as a community, not just as an organization—with our partners at the convention centre, our partners in the hotel industry, experiences and attractions, restaurants. The industry has done a good job coming together as a collaborative system.

I would be remiss not to recognize the fact that we are impacted by economic cycles. Most of the economic signs—U.S., Europe, Canada—are trending positively. They’re not going crazy, but they’re trending in the right direction.

I’m always cautious whenever I think too much about how well things are going, because the world can turn in a minute, economies can change, competitors can do new things, so I’m always mindful of thinking that we’re in a globally competitive business that is competing aggressively every day.  

Where are the opportunities to keep this growth going?
To pull one example from [the tourism master plan created last year]: What are we going to do as a group? What are we going to do about an element of a continued event strategy for the city? What does that mean? Who’s involved? What events do we want? There’s a target that’s been set and that we’ve been successfully working toward, ensuring that there’s a major event and a major conference in the marketplace every month. And that’s a helpful methodology to keep track of whether you’re hitting your targets.

It’s a globally competitive business. How do we best position ourselves to be in that business? To get the business we want. And that’s one that I want to spend some time understanding.

What are the keys for Tourism Vancouver to place itself in that position?
We are here to serve the mission of making this a better place to work and live because tourism contributes to the economy. That’s our number one objective: we hope that tourism is a major contributing factor in making this a more vibrant city.

Back to your question—we are here to help from a tourism angle. For some events that might be enough, other events will need more specific things covered by the other parts of the wider ecosystem. They might need facility services from something like PAVCO, so obviously those are not our venues, so we would need to co-ordinate with them. If it’s at BC Place, if it’s across the road here (gestures out the window to the Vancouver Convention Centre), it could be at another arena. Our role is to make sure that if there is an event strategy that makes sense, that it’s making sense from a tourism point of view. But I think we also play a co-ordinating role as a key stakeholder in any event discussion. Whether or not we lead it is not important, but we should be involved in helping to make sure that any event strategy is consistent with the tourism strategy.