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Vancouver Tries to Change the Tourism Bureau Model by Thinking Green and Local

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Skift Take

By creating new networks between the bureau and local businesses—tourism and otherwise—the Vancouver “DMMO” is rewriting the rules of internal destination engagement.

— Greg Oates

In March 2013 during a press conference at the LEED-Platinum Vancouver Convention Centre, TED founder Chris Anderson explained why he decided to move his famous conference to Vancouver by turning his back to the crowd to point outside.

Vancouver is one of the most visually stunning and perfectly designed cities in the world. North America’s densest downtown core and largest urban park combine together in a harmonious Yin/Yang duality, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, English Bay, Coal Harbour and the cloud-swept Rocky Mountains.

But Anderson said he relocated TED from Long Beach, California to Vancouver for the event’s 30th anniversary as much for the Canadian city’s brains as its beauty. Vancouver’s top-5 ranking every year in the Mercer global livability standards; its culture of innovation, sustainability, openness and integration; and its close proximity to Whistler for TEDActive also helped seal the deal.

After acknowledging Vancouver’s natural beauty, Anderson summed up his decision, saying, “This is such an inspiring environment. We wanted for our 30th anniversary to move the dial, as is kind of in the DNA of the organization.”

Speaking with representatives from the Tourism Vancouver destination marketing organization (DMO), you can sense their drive to continue to nurture the city’s natural attributes and knowledge economy based on some innovative community collaboration models.

First DMO Tourism Energy Specialist

Gwendal Castellan is tourism energy specialist for Tourism Vancouver, and he’s unaware of any other DMO with someone in the same position. Even more unique, the local B.C. Hydro utility company is sponsoring Castellan’s job and required support services.

Part of Castellan’s role is ambassador for the DMO’s stake in Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which was developed around the time of the 2010 Winter Olympics as a roadmap toward becoming the world’s most sustainable city by 2020. His primary function is the sustainability liaison between the bureau and the city’s hospitality and tourism companies, who he helps to improve their sustainability mandates and bottom lines.

“We’re a membership-based organization with around 1,000 members from convention hotels down to walking tour operators,” he says. “They’re a very heterogeneous mix of businesses. The needs of all of those business types in terms of energy conservation and greening operations each have their own unique barriers to overcome to implement changes, so what I do is really help them in various ways depending on the size and scope of the business.”

Case in point. On January 1, the city of Vancouver required that all restaurants had to divert 100% of their organic waste from public collection. So Castellan appeared at numerous workshops to answer restaurant owners’ questions about the cost involved and how to make the necessary operational changes.

“I’m there to make it easier for them by identifying the incentives and resources that will help them make those changes, such as any grants they can access,” he says. “But oftentimes the barriers aren’t financial. It’s more like, ‘We don’t know where to start.’ Or, ‘We don’t know who the appropriate contractor is to do the work.’ So I can help them identify who the best people might be to work with and make those connections.”

As the axis hub of the DMO’s network for sustainable knowledge sharing among all of the tourism suppliers, Castellan is now bringing non-tourism companies into Tourism Vancouver’s membership base. He developed a Sustainable Supplier Program to expand the bureau’s Tourism Industry Services membership category, with companies such as low-impact lighting distributors, energy study engineers and waste haulers required for the new restaurant bylaw.

Castellan’s enthusiasm for Tourism Vancouver’s leadership role in community development is obvious when he describes his interactions with members, like at the restaurant workshop. He says, “It was amazing because we were able to tap into a lot of businesses that already have experience in separating organic waste and who can share their stories with the rest of the workshop.”

But how does all of this emphasis on sustainability drive tourism to Vancouver, at least beyond certain niche consumer source markets like eco-travelers? And are there any metrics to track or gauge that sort of impact?

Castellan says any evidence for any of that is anecdotal.

“It’s really an element of a much larger sort of package for the city,” he suggests. “Just by itself, it’s not a driver. It may not bring you to the city but it’s certainly going to contribute to your experience while you’re here, and your desire to come back.”

Last month, Skift reported on the new Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) and Oxford joint white paper examining the total impact and overall value of DMOs. Often overlooked, the tourism dollars that a DMO brings into a city that go toward tourism infrastructure upgrades, from attractions to public parks, also benefit local citizens.

As an example of Tourism Vancouver’s impact on its own community, Castellan is part of an advisory board for new citywide initiative to develop research revolving around how both local private citizens and business interact with the miles of waterways surrounding the city. The initiative is modeled around the New York Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and Castellan’s knowledge and extensive network of tourism entities is helping bring more people to the table.

We asked Castellan if that local impact is discussed much at Tourism Vancouver, which is still—like any DMO—primarily charged with attracting inbound visitors.

“Certainly, absolutely,” he replied. “That’s a real key element in the work I do based on the idea that it’s the local residents who are going to see ongoing benefits of an industry that treads lightly and tries to mitigate its impact on the local environment.”

The Rise of the DMMO

Dave Gazley is VP of meetings & conventions at Tourism Vancouver, and a new board member of DMAI. He explained to us that Castellan’s involvement as a DMO representative in local economic development illustrates a widespread trend expanding throughout tourism bureaus globally, which is highlighted in phase one of DMAI’s DestinationNEXT report launched last summer, and the DMAI/Oxford paper.

One of the lead architects of DestinationNEXT is Paul Ouimet, executive VP at InterVISTAS Consulting, based in Vancouver.

While Castellan’s energies are mostly directed toward Vancouver’s tourism suppliers, Gazley collaborates with Vancouver’s non-tourism businesses and organizations to help sell the destination to large meeting and convention groups within their sector worldwide.

For example, the International League of Dermatological Societies sent a request for proposal to Tourism Vancouver to host their annual conference. So Gazley’s office explored all of the dermatology companies and medical associations in Vancouver and B.C. to see how they could partner together to bolster their bid. Because of those efforts, the local area dermatologists rallied forces in support of the bureau, and Vancouver won the bid.

“To be successful today, you have to be integrated with your community on all different levels, and often we insert a second “M” into DMO to create DMMO—destination marketing and management organization,” explains Gazley. “So I think bureaus need to evolve into business brokers to some degree. That conference was brought about by two or three local dermatologists who really wanted their global professional community to come to Vancouver, while showcasing their best practices and skill sets here in Vancouver and B.C. and Canada to the world.”

Gazley adds that a lot of times you can’t even bid for an international congress unless you have a strong local community that wants to do business with that particular industry and wants to host them.

Which brings us back to TED. Hosting the conference delivers to Vancouver a new level of exposure for a new global audience, building on the city’s success as host destination for the 2010 Winter Olympics. For group business, a city would be hard pressed to come up with two better events to validate and promote its ability to host a large meeting or convention.

“We’ve tried to amplify that in terms of our branding of Vancouver, and how we position Vancouver, by explaining to congress planners that hosting TED is just a natural for us,” explains Gazley. “I think we’re fortunate that a lot of planners see us and say, ‘Hey, Vancouver is the home for TED. Well, it must be a cool city.’”

Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at go@skift.com.

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