Tourism is back on Vancouver Island, evidenced by the fact that a
1,200-passenger Holland America cruise ship arrived in Victoria Harbour April 9,
the first cruise ship to arrive there in more than 900 days.
And with summer approaching, the island is preparing to welcome millions
of visitors – about 780,000 of those arriving on the more than 360 ships
expected to pull into the port between now and early November.
Vancouver Island is big – slightly larger than Belgium – and
pre-COVID, its tourism industry brought in about CAN$4 billion and employed more
than 50,000 people across hotels, restaurants, tour operators and other suppliers.
But as the visitors begin coming
back, the island’s 60-year-old tourism organization previously known as
Tourism Vancouver Island is making a major shift.
After operating for its first 50
years focused on promotions and marketing - with success measured in visitor numbers
and spending - and then shifting about 10 years ago to prioritize destination
management and planning, now the organization is operating as a social
Vancouver Island's bold shift reflects a changing paradigm - managing and marketing tourism towards the primary goal of delivering positive social impact versus a sole focus on economic indicators.
Jeremy Sampson - The Travel Foundation
The change brings a new name - 4VI
- and a new mindset and strategy rooted in using its revenue to support four
pillars of social responsibility: communities, businesses, culture and
“Travel is still a force for good,
but we need to strike a balance between the profitability and the business side
with what is best for the environment and the communities and the residents
that live here. It’s about mitigating
impacts but also enhancing the things that need attention,” says Anthony Everett,
president and CEO of 4VI.
“I wouldn’t have thought this way
five years ago, or I wouldn’t have given it priority. Now it’s entirely our
priority. We are focusing everything we do on finding that balance.”
The organization announced the news
April 13 during the Vancouver Island Tourism Conference, when it also announced
it has signed the Glasgow
Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism and will deliver a climate action
plan for the island within the next year.
Travel Foundation CEO Jeremy Sampson
was at the event and says his “jaw nearly hit the floor” at the news of the
organization’s shift to a social enterprise – the first such move for a DMO
that he is aware of.
“The DMO model is badly in need of a shake-up as
destinations grapple with the increasingly complex challenge of delivering
equitable benefits to locals while managing tourism's impacts on communities,”
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“Vancouver Island's bold shift reflects a changing paradigm - managing and marketing tourism towards the primary goal of delivering
positive social impact versus a sole focus on economic indicators. I'm
confident that 4VI will be a true lighthouse example of systems innovation.”
Everett says he knows this is just the
first step in what will be a long transformation, but in his nearly 40 years of
working in tourism, he says he has never been more excited and enthusiastic.
One of the top priorities – the one
he says “keeps him up at night” – is finding money. 4VI is funded by
contracts it has with local communities and government agencies - for example
to provide consulting, marketing, research and other services. For this year
Everett says the organization has a budget of CAN$6.5 million, including
several multi-year contracts that give it a good foundation on which to build.
As the social enterprise activities
pick up, Everett says he aims to invest about three-quarters of the organization’s
profits into social responsibility activities.
“Our plans used to be focused on growth and profitability.
Now the elements we are contracted to deliver are wholly about destination
stewardship,” he says.
The first projects currently
underway include an ocean debris clean-up effort and the creation of a
responsible tourism institute. Also in the plans – discussions about the impact
of all those cruise ships.
“It’s definitely a pretty
polarizing topic," Everett says. "What we want to be a part of is some healthy discussions on
what’s best for the communities, the businesses and the planet."