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Vancouver’s FlyOver Canada sold to American owners

Francesco Aquilini helped finance the successful tourist attraction’s $16 million launch in 2013
Forty under 40 alumni Stephen Geddes and Andrew Strang are principals at Soaring Attractions LP, which sold FlyOver Canada | BIV archives

Vancouver tourist attraction FlyOver Canada now has an American owner.

The multi-sensory experience at Canada Place, which gives guests a simulation of a flight across Canada, has been sold to a division of Phoenix-based travel and events company Viad Corp. (NYSE:VVI) for an undisclosed amount, the companies announced December 29.

Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini helped create FlyOver Canada in 2013, when he bankrolled and became a principal of owner Soaring Attractions LP, along with entrepreneurs Andrew Strang and Stephen Geddes.

Soaring Attractions invested $16 million to create FlyOver Canada, which was, at the time, the biggest privately funded tourist attraction since a different group of investors pumped $22 million into the now-closed Storyeum in 2004.

The money financed construction of a new 60-seat theatre and a 20-metre diameter screen. It also covered production costs for exhibits.

“We think it’s a great investment,” Aquilini told BIV at the time.

“About eight million tourists come to Vancouver every year, and this is just one more thing for them to do.”

Success followed and hundreds of thousands of visitors experienced the attraction, which has technology that thrusts guests forward in their seats as they are engaged with visual, auditory, olfactory and other sensations.

Soaring Attractions principals then decided to invest US$20 million to create a similar experience – Flyover America – at Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America, Strang told Business in Vancouver in 2015.

Strang and Geddes, who are both past Business in Vancouver 40 Under 40 recipients, will remain as principals of Soaring Attractions, which still owns FlyOver America.

So, in a curious twist, a U.S.-based company will own FlyOver Canada while a Canadian company will own FlyOver America.

“We just purchased FlyOver Canada and the rights to expand that brand throughout Canada if we so choose,” Viad Travel & Recreation Group’s vice-president of marketing, Mark Hendrikse, told BIV on December 30.

“[Soaring Attractions has] maintained their ownership of FlyOver America and they may choose to expand that in the U.S. if they so choose in the future.”

Operations at FlyOver Canada’s Canada Place theatre will largely remain unchanged.

Strang and Geddes will have contracts with Viad to stay on as managers, Hendrikse said. So will many others who work at FlyOver Canada.

“The only changes will be in some of the support functions, such as accounting, finance, sales and marketing,” he said.

“We will achieve some synergies with the larger departments within Viad Travel & Recreation.”

Viad Corp. has two main divisions.

One is a trade show business, which is largely based in Las Vegas.

Its Travel & Recreation Group has U.S. operations but many executives are based in Alberta, where many of its attractions are based.

For example, the group owns the historic Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park as well as other historic hotel lodges. It also operates cruises and sightseeing boat tours such as one near Banff at Lake Minnewanka. It also owns the Glacier Skywalk at the Columbia Icefield.

“We’re all about getting people out into these beautiful, natural, iconic environments and providing interpretive information to help their experience,” Hendrikse said.

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