Destination BC a sham, critics say

Travel industry claims it’s under-represented in “industry-led” marketing organization

Luxury Vancouver Island resort Nimmo Bay is co-owned by Craig Murray, who believes government continues to have too much power over tourism marketing

It’s turning out to be an extremely controversial tourism destination for the provincial government.

Tourism industry entrepreneurs, longtime local tourism marketers and others want Victoria to change how it plans to structure Destination BC to make the tourism marketing organization more industry driven.

The provincial government is expected to table a bill to create Destination BC later this month.

Critics expect the organization’s structure will make a sham of the BC Liberals’ claim that the organization is “industry-led” because the government will have far more control over how tourism marketing dollars are spent than it did under the former Tourism BC Crown corporation, which former Premier Gordon Campbell disbanded amid controversy in 2009.

“Giving a budget to a politician is like giving a teenaged boy a quart of whiskey and the keys to the family car,” Simon Fraser University marketing professor Lindsay Meredith told Business in Vancouver. “Something bad is going to happen.”

Campbell’s move to dissolve Tourism BC and bring tourism marketing under control of the province’s tourism ministry was so unpopular that Premier Christy Clark promised in her leadership campaign to return it to an industry-led approach.

Industry applauded that promise, believing that it would result in an organization similar to the former Tourism BC.

But Accent Inns founder and chairman Terry Farmer said that hasn’t happened. He appreciates that Clark is creating a new organization that will have its own board and believes Destination BC is better than the current arrangement under which all tourism marketing is done within the provincial tourism ministry.

But he wants Clark to make Destination BC more like Tourism BC.

Former Tourism BC CEO Rod Harris pointed out some key differences between his former tourism marketing body and the proposed Destination BC:

•Tourism BC had a 15-member board, 10 of which were industry appointed; Destination BC is expected to have a nine-member board that includes four directors from industry, less than half the board;

•Tourism BC was funded directly from the province’s hotel tax; under proposed government legislation Destination BC would be funded through an undetermined government formula; and

•Tourism BC could carry money over from one fiscal year to the next, strategically spending on appropriate marketing at appropriate times; Destination BC must spend all of its budget within a fiscal year ending March 31 or the money will revert to government’s general revenue fund.

Harris, who is now a destination marketing professor at Royal Roads University, said that he and others at the former Tourism BC were free to hire the best staff and could determine their salaries.

He recalled tourism minister Pat Bell saying at a news conference in November that Destination BC would be subject to the Public Service Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act.

That means government employees will be given first crack at Tourism BC jobs, and, given the current hiring freeze, could entirely staff the new organization, said Harris. He also noted that Bell will have more power over Destination BC than former ministers had over Tourism BC.

Tourism BC’s board could appoint its own chair, and it had authority over the organization’s CEO. Harris said it’s unclear how five of the nine Destination BC board members will be selected and how its board chair or CEO will be chosen.

“While the board theoretically will be charged with hiring the CEO, [Bell] will have the financial management and legal authority over the corporation,” Harris said. “Should the board and the minister not have a meeting of minds, in terms of the suitability of a candidate CEO, the minister’s power will prevail.”

Bell did not return requests for an interview by press time, but he sent a statement saying that he is proud that Destination BC was not created by politicians or bureaucrats. “It was designed by tourism industry members working in a task force struck within the Tourism Industry Association of BC [TIABC],” he said. “Destination BC is the direct result of their hard work to develop a provincial destination marketing organization created by the tourism industry for the tourism industry.

However, Craig Murray, Nimmo Bay resort co-owner and a former TIABC board member, believes government has too much power over tourism marketing.

“This industry needs direction from its own people and not from government. I don’t know of a private business in the province that has government on its marketing team or sitting in its boardroom making marketing decisions.” •

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