November 13, 2018 – Ty Speer – President and CEO, Vancouver Tourism

After an extensive global search, Tourism Vancouver named Ty Speer president and CEO in 2014. The Atlanta native took the reins from Rick Antonson, who helmed the 115-year-old organization for two decades. Speer’s previous position was deputy CEO of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, and prior to that he held a key role with the London 2012 Olympic organizing committee managing all client partnerships and various commercial relationships. He has also held senior positions with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and Octagon (formerly Advantage International). As president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, Speer generates demand for Vancouver as an internationally recognized meetings and leisure travel destination.

Transcript of the Talk

Thanks everyone for the opportunity to come talk to you today. I’ll put a little bit of context around our industry. It is growing, but what you might not know is that in BC, tourism is actually the second largest industry across the entire province. So, oil and gas, depending on the day, is the largest industry in the province. It might not be if the price of oil goes down. You guys know very well things move, but assuming that stays static we are a little bit of a understated industry and that we’re the second biggest in the province and when we ask people we hear things like forestry and mining and technology and other sectors that perhaps on some level are a bit more historical or in some cases like technology may be a bit sexier now, but our industry is actually delivering over $7 billion worth of GDP value to the province. Locally, we’re about a $4.5 billion industry contributing to about 70,000 jobs here in Vancouver. And one of the things I like most about the opportunity to work in tourism is while we have a thousand businesses that are directly connected to tourism, we have an enormous number of businesses that aren’t tourism businesses, but they absolutely rely on what we do. We’re the extra 10% of those visitors eating in a restaurant or buying wine or shopping at a department store or taking public transport. So, we contribute a lot across the industry. So, I’m really happy about what we’re able to do and on that basis, I hope you’ll allow us to continue to grow. I think it’s important that we continue to grow and continue to contribute to our economy.

What I wanted to share today, though is a little bit about where we are, but perhaps more importantly about where we’re going. We are lucky to have had five consecutive years of record growth. When I got here in 2014, we finished the year with about 8.9 million visitors. We’ll finish 2018 with nearly 10.8 million visitors for almost another 2 million visitors of the last five years and most of my colleagues around the world that run city tourism and city marketing organizations look at that and say, “that sounds pretty terrific. How did you do that? I’d really like to have some of that.” So, we are on a roll and we’re an organization and more importantly a destination with a lot of positivity around the world and a lot of momentum around the world.

But we’ve begun to see over the last year or so some challenges in maintaining that growth. So, we took a step back about 12 months ago. We said “What is the world going to look like in the future? What is the world going to look like in particular in 2030?” We just picked the date 12 years out into the future and we conducted a piece of work that we call Tourism 2030.

So, we took a look at the future. We said in 2030 what might the world look like and how might we paint a picture that helps us guide our business, helps us give guidance to our industry members, helps us have conversations with government about what might be important? So, this is really the grounding statement of our project which we call Tourism 2030. It’s a future looking initiative. It’s about understanding a range of different scenarios about what the future might look like to help us plan. And we had some interesting consultants that work with us and I always like to borrow the head of one of the companies that help give us advice because it’s a real catch all to everything that we do in this project and he said he’s a futurist, right? So, he does future planning for a living and he said, “the only thing that we know about the future and the only thing that our future scenario planning will tell us is that we’re wrong.” We will not be right with our future planning. The question isn’t whether we’ll be right, the question is how wrong will we be? So, we’re trying to not be too wrong. So, we did the thing that any good organization would do. We did it on a basis of a range of different scenarios? So, we played the odds. We played out some options. We ultimately decided, and I want to talk a little bit about that because it guides what we do in our future and takes us into what we’re doing a little bit more in the present day.

So, when we ask ourselves a question, “what might the world look like in the next 12 years?” And we talked a lot with our members. So, we have as was mentioned about a thousand businesses that are members of Tourism Vancouver. Tourism Vancouver is a not-for-profit organization, we’re a private company. We’re not controlled around by government or the Crown. We’re aa private company, we’re a not-for-profit, and we’re membership-based so ultimately we are responsible to really to two things, one board members and two the destination where we’re given license to run our industry and we talk a lot with our members about what they thought the world might look like in the next 12 years and not surprisingly as you get with lots of questions like this. We got interesting descriptions of the present with a little bit of flavoring of the future. So, people could cast their minds out a year or two or three and say, “oh well it might be like this”. But when you try and push out 10 or 12 years in the future, it’s very difficult for people to conceptualize and it’s not surprising. So, the way I always like to have this conversation is if you want to go out 12 years in the future and say what might the world of like what happens if you go 12 years back? So, we did this work in 2017 largely, some of the 2018 so go back to 2005 and 2006 and we think about the things that either we’re taking advantage of in our destination or taken advantage of to sell the market destination. so, you look at things like, and we were talking about this earlier, you look at things like the Canada Line didn’t exist. The new Convention Center didn’t exist. YVR was a fraction of the airport is now, it’s a genuine Asia Pacific Gateway now, but it wasn’t in 2005 and we talk about we talk about how do we stimulate and motivate people around the world to be aware of Vancouver, to come to Vancouver to take advantage of what we do. We use things like this.

The iPhone was launched in 2007. The iPad was launched in 2010. Facebook was a marginal thing off to the side of the desk and 2005, now it’s a dominating marketing social connecting engine. Twitter didn’t even exist in 2005. So, it is very difficult to figure out what the world might look like in an industry like ours in 12 years time. So, I’m not surprised. The good news for us is it that when we when we go to a global organization like the UNWTO, the world tourism organization, we rely on to sort of take a look at the genuine big picture for where our industry is going, we see incredible growth and lots of things on this this diagram, well here’s what matters.

From 2010 to 2030, global tourism is going to double. So, we’re talking about doubling of a global industry in 20 years. Probably not other industry on the planet that could reliably say that’s going to happen.

So annual growth is looking like about 7% around the world and there’s good reasons for it, but we move back there and we look and the foundation is unbelievably strong for industry. People are traveling. And the number one thing we need to know is that people are traveling now we just need to persuade them that this is the place that they need to travel to.

There are really three main things, three big things are driving travel. We have this thing called a traveling class. And traveling class is kind of a marketer’s word or if demographers’ word, but basically it means nothing more or less than there are more people in the world today that have the disposable income to get on a plane, get on train, get in their car and go on a trip. And this of course hasn’t always been the case, there’s been a whole range of people, hundreds of millions of people that simply couldn’t do this. They had to earn money to pay for their housing, pay for their food, pay for the kids schooling and had no money left over to travel, but now they do. One number that we like to call out, which is as always with China, the numbers are always staggering, but the Chinese middle class is going to produce 300 million outbound trips every year. 300 million people are going to take a trip from their home city to another place in China or to another country every single year. That’s roughly the population of my former home country. So that’s a lot of outbound travel.

Helping that and stimulating that, are big demographic changes. And there are two big ones that we look at. There’s the obvious one, which is the Baby Boomers are moving into periods in time where they have the two most important things for travel, which are time and money. So, these are these are people with available time, discretionary income, they’re an enormous group of people around the world, and they are absolutely driving traveling around the world. And coming in behind them, which is the second most important thing, is it looking at big groups of people traveling or the Millennials. And they’re a strange bunch. So, Millennials go from about 19 to say the early 30s and if you can reflect back on that what were you doing at age 19 and what you were doing in your mid-30s, that’s two very different groups of people, but the marketers bundle them up into one group, but they’re also enormous. They’re the next big scale group of people similar to the Baby Boomers and in the next five to ten years they’re going to be traveling, they’re going to traveling with the kids. They’re going to be traveling as families, they are going to be traveling as multi-generational trips. And that’s enormously important for tourism. And the last which we see here, of course in Vancouver as we’re seeing many markets around the world is the ability to get places very easily. So, the growth in air travel in particular around the world has been nothing short of staggered and we see this just down the road at YVR. They are a world leader in growth as well as being a world leader in service, but they’re indicative of what’s happening with airline travel around the world. There are more planes flying today than there ever have been. They’re better planes, they’re flying to more places, they are making it easier and easier for all of that traveling class to get to where they want to get to. So, you step back and you say, “this looks great. What’s the challenge here?” The challenge is this. If you work in the automotive sector or the packaged goods sector or even the telecommunication sector, you sell your services and you step in and say, “Who am I competing with? Well, I sell cars. I sell luxury cars. If I work for BMW, I’m probably competing against a Mercedes or an Audi. That’s who I worry about every day. And if I’m selling laundry detergent, I might worry about three or four brands.”

And our world we sit back and say we’re selling a city tourism experience. We have about 25,000 competitors. Not two or three we have about 25,000. I didn’t make that stat up actually, I’m going to borrow that stat from a writer who writes about travel in marketing in the New York Times and he said this is the dilemma for those people that are selling cities and countries. You have thousands and thousands of competitors. You have virtually unlimited choice. If you’re a traveler. Well, I don’t like what I see there. I have so many options. I’ll go somewhere else. So, our job is really stimulating and motivating people to come here and knowing that we have enormous competition. Thankfully, we have a great product to sell.

We started to ask our members, all of the tourism businesses and related industries that rely on tourism, what do you think’s going to matter in the next few years? And I won’t go through all of these, but here’s what they thought would help drive people to Vancouver. China is very important, the US market, Mexico, the ability to sell our wonderful blend of the urban and the outdoor, a lot of things that are quite predictable. They’re worried about some sort of an unexpected shock, so if we had another financial crisis, or a pandemic, or a terrorism incident, that sort of thing. Not so worried about things like the big story of the day, the legalization of marijuana, not too important. We didn’t think that matters in industry and so forth and so on.

Now this is what would matter in terms of what could we deliver. We’re a destination becoming more affluent We’re an enormous cruise destination. Being good marketers, hosting large events, which may come back to later in the discussion. They’re worried about hotels downtown. They’re excited about the growth of our airport. As with anything in Vancouver, they’re worried about the cost of housing. I don’t know why that’s on there. I’m not sure what we are necessarily doing with the cost of housing, but you survey pretty much anybody in Vancouver these days and they’ll be worried about the cost of housing. You can ask them about growing plants and they would tell you it’s going to change the cost of housing. So, it’s an interesting thing.

This is what our members were worried about and helped guide us into saying okay what might we take into account when we’re thinking about planning for future growth?

And as I said before we spread the lens of it wide, we looked at a range of different scenarios. We said well if the airport’s growth really drives us, we might have 14 million visitors. If our hotels don’t meet demand, we might have 12.8 and we analyzed all these, and we eventually settled on a growth factor of about 3 million visitors. So, we are planning, in 12 years time to have 13.4 million people come here. So that’s up on this year’s numbers of what we think will be about 10.7-10.8. It looks like a lot. It’s actually reasonably modest growth. So, I’ve slowed down a little bit, if that helps. We’re looking at growth of about 2% a year. So, in our market that’s slowing down from where we were, but nonetheless has its own challenges, which I’ll come to.

Where are they coming from? Largely these markets. And what was interesting in looking at the future is our analysis said that the international markets, and this chart includes Canada, but the international markets that really drive our visitors, aren’t going to change very much, which is always interesting when you look into the future and try to analyze to come up with three or four different cuts at it and then they tell you that the world’s going to actually look quite the same, so minor shifts in terms of a little bit fewer Canadians as a percentage of the whole largely picked up by few more Chinese Travelers, but top to bottom pretty consistent. Now this could always change. Airlines could put on new flights to new countries and really get our attention and we’ll turn and hopefully be responsive enough to do that. But largely, we’re going to see our visitors coming from Canada, the US, Australia, Japan, China, Mexico, Germany, and the UK. So, people ask me all the time, “you guys take your brand all over the world,” and the reality is we don’t. We look at seven International markets plus Canada and that’s really where we find our opportunity. That’s where they know us. That’s where the flight access is great. That’s where we’re best understood, the best travel Distribution Systems and that’s going to stay pretty consistent. So that was encouraging to us in that we know so, it’s about getting deeper not about trying to introduce the brand to somebody brand-new.

So, at the end of our study for the next 12 years, we looked about 7 or 8 things that are really going to matter in our world. Two percent annual growth 13.4 million visitors as I mentioned. Geographic markets are the same. We’re going to see more business travel. This was an interesting thing that we got through this report which is nothing more or less than the pace of office growth, office space real estate, coming from the US to Vancouver is being driven by new businesses setting up offices here. We Work, if you’re familiar with We Work dominating the sort of the acquisition of real estate in town most recently. But if you look at where they’re going, real estate, new businesses, new businesses inspiring business travel. That’s interesting. We don’t do that as a job. But these are the same people that are going to be sleeping in a hotel beds that we’re trying to sell to tourists so, we’ve got some demand issues and some supply issues that we need to think about.

How are we to bring people here this time of year? So anywhere from the middle of October to the middle of February, which I’ll come back to. Really, really vital for us to drive value.

We’re much more regional than we’ve ever been before, and I try and describe our patchwork setup of Tourism organizations and people kind of look at me like wow, who designed that? But if you think about local government our tourism organizations look a lot like local government. So, there are actually 13 organizations like mine in the Lower Mainland. We’re the biggest and the most well-funded but there’s a tourism Richmond, there’s a tourism Burnaby, there’s a tourism Surrey and White Rock and all down the line, Langley, North Shore…But the reality that we all deal with is the visitor doesn’t know that, and the visitor doesn’t care. The visitor of flies into Richmond and thinks they’re flying into Vancouver. They go to Grouse Mountain and think they’re visiting Grouse Mountain when they’re visiting the North Shore. They may go to Burnaby, but they’re all thinking about Vancouver. So, we share a common brand even though the organizational structures are very different. So, we need to take a step back as tourism bodies and say that’s all fine, that’s our structure, but we need to speak in the language that the consumer cares about. The consumer cares about Vancouver, and if you think about big cities like New York, which are good ones for us to take lessons from …”Where’d you go on your vacation?” “I went to New York.” “Oh great, where’d you stay?” “Brooklyn” “Oh great, what’d you do?” “Oh, I went to Harlem I went to the Bronx, and the Staten Island, I went to Manhattan” but in their mind, where did they go? So, we need to think we need to think and behave like one systemic organization, even though we’re technically different.

Our customers are trending up in terms of their income levels. That’s a lot about what it costs now to vacation here, and I’ll talk a bit about that with our hotel issues, but we are moving incrementally up the income spectrum and we see that with what hotels are charging as well as other things. Hotel development I’ll come back to. And the last one is our cruise industry which I’ll spend a bit more time on in a moment. We’ve got some future challenges that certainly sit within our 12-year window about what’s going to happen with our cruise industry. So, these things are really important guidance points for us and I’ve really packaged and came up with this concept of we are now dealing with the challenges of success. So, as I always tell my team and our members and my other tourism colleagues – The good news is that we’re successful, the bad news is that success sometimes presents challenges just as not having success. So how do we face up to these? Well there are three or four big ones. Not including technology *laughter*

We have some real capacity restraints. So, on the one hand, I’m actually quite comfortable slowing down our growth. It’s not in my nature. I like to build and grow that’s kind of how I’m hardwired in terms of the jobs that I’ve had, but moderating our growth makes a lot of sense for a couple of reasons. And hotels is probably the biggest one. So, in an industry, as I said, which has gained almost 2 million new visitors in the last five years, when we go back and look at our hotel supply, we’ve lost 2,000 hotel rooms in the last 15 years. So, we’ve all done economics 101. Well, a line going like that and a line going like that creates a problem and you step back and say how in the world can this happen? And is there anybody in the room that’s been involved in real estate in the last little while. Anybody been in the real estate business? You know why. If there’s land available in Vancouver and you can build housing on it, you’re going to do that. If that’s permissible you’re going to do that. And why wouldn’t you? I can’t tell anybody that has capital and land and the opportunity to build housing that they really should build a hotel because they will look at me like I am crazy because I’m telling them to do something that is going to be more capital intensive and higher risk. Like a business, but the consequence of that over a long period of time is that we are now becoming incredibly challenged in terms of how we offer up enough hotel rooms. One in terms of volume and enough hotel employees in terms of price range and quality and features to meet the needs of our visitors. And if our visitors continue to go north and our hotel rooms continue to go south, we will be in a real problem. So, we’ve lost a lot of quality. We’ve lost a lot of volume and we are now at a point where we have engaged with city government to say you need to put a stop to this.

You need to use tools available at your disposal to make sure that we are one, preserving hotel rooms that we have, and two, creating an environment for growth and we’re pleased it’s a first step, it’s a step that I describe as getting to the starting line, not running a race, but getting to the starting line. The city has passed a policy as of July last year, last summer, to start doing this. We’re now going to have to take a couple steps back and a couple steps forward with a brand-new council and mayor, but we’ve got real challenges and we will need an enormous amount of government support to make sure that we’re able do this. Because we believe at minimum, we need another 2,500 hotel rooms of the next 12 years. And I’ve said to my team, I’m a bit suspect that this is actually enough. So, if we continue to grow, I actually think we probably need more, so we’re asking government, as we will be asking the private sector, how can you prioritize hotel capacity? Because we’ve got a growing industry itself. And the last thing I want to do is wake up in a couple years’ time and say I’m sorry, you can’t come here, or if you want a 2-star hotel I’d be happy to charge you $500 or $600 for that room. That doesn’t represent our city in the way that we want to.

The other big challenge we have when you look at our industry over the next 12 years is that our cruise sector. We have the best cruise opportunity to go to Alaska anywhere. They are doing an amazing job. And in fact, over the next two years, our cruise sector is going to grow by 25% which is absolutely amazing. We compete with that big city down the road called Seattle. They have a terrific cruise sector as well and we are absolutely the two cities competing for one type of business. So at the moment, we’ve had a great year this year, we’ll have a great you next year, we’ll have a great year in 2020 and probably 2021, 2022, and 2023 will continue to trend really, really well but there comes a point not too far into the future, where we are going to be at significant risk, and I don’t know if too many people in here have experience with the cruise sector or up spending time thinking about it, but what’s happening with the cruise lines is they are building mega ships. They’re building mega ships and that’s great. Most of those mega ships go down the Caribbean and they just do laps around Caribbean, but that’s slowly radiating out. So, the ships that are actually going to become available in the 5 to 10-year window are being built today.

So, there are a long way away from actually being on the water, but anybody who’s been on the cruise ship knows they’re pretty significant engineering undertakings to build one of those things, but they’re going to hit in 2025 to 2035. We’ve got a couple of problems. Anybody want to nominate one of the biggest ones? The Lions Gate Bridge. Good, the message is getting out. So, the Lions Gate Bridge is a real problem and if you saw the Norwegian Bliss come through which happened in September, if anybody paid any attention that, the largest ship ever to come to Vancouver, about 4,000 people, they brought it in on a particular day in September at 4 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday morning, because that was the only time they could get the tides to work and they cleared with about a 1.5 meters. I happened to be up at 4 o’clock in the morning, I watched it come through and it was really quite staggering the way it came in. Really quite amazing, but our problem is we’d love to have that visit every week and be on a regular rotation as we all some other cruise lines, but it just can’t happen. Just can’t happen. There are talks that you can raise the Lions Gate Bridge, I’m very keen to meet the politician who wants to get behind that idea *laughter*. Every time I talk to the engineers they say, “all you have to do is raise the bridge” Well that might be true, all you have to do is convince somebody in Victoria to sign up to that idea which I don’t think is ever going to happen, so we need a new opportunity for cruises. And this is not this is not news. This is kind of in the mix for a while, but it is now coming to a point where if you want to have something available in the next ten years, that starts soon, that starts really soon.

New terminal infrastructure, new opportunities that take quite a lot of time politically, they take quite a lot of money and of course, they take quite a lot of time to build. So, this is a big issue for us. It’s a billion-dollar industry in our province and at the moment, it’s racing towards a fundamental constraint where if we’re lacking something new and different, we will be operating in the small to medium crew space and at risk of basically having are in our industry taken away by Seattle. So that’s a that’s an interesting challenge we’re all tuned to it, the port is attuned to it, the cruise sector is attuned to it. We just need to coalesce behind a plan. Now, Tsawwassen is an interesting option, and many people have thrown it out to us and so, we shall see.

The good news is on the other side of the spectrum, we have control over the customer. So I mentioned earlier, our customers are getting a little more selective, they’re getting a little bit more wealthy, they’re looking for new and different things to do and we’re amazingly well-positioned to reach these customers, whether it’s the ever increasing size of the baby boomer group that’s coming to visit here, or introducing our destination to younger people, Generation X and the Millennials that are coming through, we we serve up a destination that has what they want. We have amazingly welcoming destination. We have a destination with great cultural and ethnic diversity, great food. Clearly, we have the outdoors and a natural beauty. So, we are we are absolutely in a great position to do this, and this is an area where thankfully you don’t have to worry about somebody building infrastructure. We don’t have to worry about politicians making spending decisions. We don’t have to worry about developers necessarily building hotels. We can simply speak to these customers in ways that they want to be spoken to them and we’re finding great success doing it.

And along the way, and this is where it does get a little bit more challenging. We have to continue to make sure that we’re refreshing the visitor experience and in a world where we look at hotels and cruises where we have constraints on our supply and constraints on our capacity. The other thing that we’ve seen here is one of our industries big challenges is the pipeline of new opportunity, new product, new experience has been very, very limited. I’ve been in my job for 4 and half years now, we have not launched, the private sector has to do this, but the private sector has not launched a new significant tourism experience of any scale in our market. The most significant thing that’s launched probably the last four years, which would really have to stretch to call it anything to do with Vancouver’s probably the Sea to Sky Gondola up the highway. It’s kind of hard for me to claim that as a Vancouver experience. It’s a liiiiiittle bit out of town. So, we’ve got to do a job as our company of selling the story of our success to those people that invest into it. We’ve had some great investment in our industry, but it’s been businesses buying existing businesses. We need to get the private sector really sold on the strength of our industry. So, they said I want to put Capital into developing new products and experiences in their Vancouver. This is absolutely vital to our ability to continue to refresh the story to have the new exciting thing, to give the compelling opportunity to people to come see us.

The last couple things I’ll touch on lest we worry that we have too many challenges in front of us and not enough hope. We’ve got lots of things to be hopeful and grateful for. The number one thing is that the people that live here like our industry, they respect our industry. They want our industry to be successful and most importantly they value what we do. And for people who do my job, these are the stats you want to see. And we got these through some survey work that we did locally. And to know that we have 97% of our survey respondents saying it was important or very important to our economy and our community and it has a positive impact on our residence is absolutely vital and what I watch, and part of my job as I say to my staff, but part of my job is to be is to be nervous and paranoid. I think that’s part of what a CEO has to do is that you have to be worried about what’s around the corner. And I look at cities around the world, you may have experienced these yourself, but three of four cities really get highlighted regularly as having problems with tourism and their huge global brands, so Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam would be three that immediately come to mind. These are cities where there is real tension between the tourism sector and the locals. To the point where in Vancouver I’m asking the city to do everything you can to help us build hotels. In Barcelona, local governments passed a moratorium on hotel development, no more. That’s it. We don’t want any more visitors. We’re not building any more hotels. If you stay away, that is okay with us. For somebody who represents a thousand tourism businesses, that is terrible. It’s terrifying. But the good news for me is this is behind our industry. So, I’m thrilled about this and our job now as an organization and as an industry and all of our member businesses is to keep those numbers where they are. Do the right thing, behave well, be part of the community, and make sure that we continue to earn the respect of the people that live here.

This changes our role of course, we’ve long been a sales and marketing organization. We’re now doing much more about trying to manage and really influence the product side. So, this is back to the new experiences, the new hotels being part of a future cruise discussion, spending a lot more time with government. I didn’t take on that that’s responsibility when I signed on to this job, but that’s now in front of me so, that’s why we’re really making sure that from a supply management point of view, what we’re doing on the demand side, which is a lot of people who want to come here have the right things when they get here. They have a choice with their hotels, they have new things to do, they have a welcoming community. If they’re taking a cruise, they have a great cruise experience, perhaps at a brand-new facility at some point in the next 10 or 15 years, and that they have great staff that do an amazing job at each and every tourism business that they need.

So, the last thing that we’ve done is to wrap all this up in the destination brand. So, I mentioned earlier that part of our challenge is we represent Metro Vancouver, but we don’t represent everything in Vancouver. One of the things that we share is the brand. We share this with Richmond, we share this Surrey, Burnaby. Brands live here, and brands live here. So, we’ve articulated a destination brand which we think makes a lot of sense and we’ve gone taken that out to market.

And this is how we just go ahead. We are a place that is about having a different perspective. We are a place that it is about allowing people to connect with something new and different, whether that’s connecting the urban to the outdoor, Canadian to Chinese or South Asian, connecting business people and the world that we live in of selling conventions, and helping them understand that in our city you can choose to reflect an exercise, the passion that is meaningful to you. An nobody’s going to judge you. This is a city that allows you to behave in the way that you want to behave. And one of the things that always comes to mind when I look at this, and it’s a quite a personal one for me, I made my first trip to Vancouver in 2008, I came here for three or four-day business meeting. I stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront. I’d like to get a little bit of exercise when I can, so I went for a run around Stanley Park, I had some great food, I met some really interesting people. And it took me about 24 hours, and I said to myself, I was living in London at the time, I said to myself, god I could really live here. This is just a great place. I could really live here. This is what gets fed back to us all the time and it’s really embodied in this notion of where the brand will be. This is a place for visitors, it’s for you. It’s not a place to come tick off the must do list. It’s a place to just come and experience what we have. We have something very, very special here in Vancouver and our job is to make sure that we enable our visitors to experience the specialness of city.

So, the industry is growing. It’s exciting. It should be exciting. It’s contributing massively to what’s happening here as well as around the province. We’re going to just take our foot off the gas just a touch so, we can get our house in order. Getting our house in order is going to be a lot about making sure that we have all those key ingredients that we can really deliver up to our visitors in the best possible way, but it is an exciting time to be in tourism. I’m thrilled and lucky to be doing the job that I’m doing. I have a great team behind me. I have a great group of about 200 plus volunteers that contribute their time every single day even on days like today which are low business days for us, even in the rain that comes through the next couple of months. They do an amazing job and may be a couple of them in the audience I think here. And I’m grateful for their support. But we have a special, special place to share with the world. And we’re trying to do everything you can to make sure we invite people to come here, enjoy, and as we say go away saying great things about us, during their visit and after. I’m very happy to take any questions that you have about the industry and what we’re doing and what we’re up to and I really, really appreciate the opportunity to speak to everybody today. Thank you very much.

Q & A

Question: When are you going to work with the governments to get our parochial taxi company working together as Metro instead of having people stand in line for half an hour to get over to the suspension bridge and there’s a cab from North Shore sitting there who can’t pick up a person?

Answer: I think everybody heard the question. Number one. I totally agree. Absolutely, 100% totally agree. Our position on this, which is a same position. we took with the last government with Minister Fassbender, as it is with the current Transport Minister. We think two things need to happen. We think the taxi industry absolutely must be modernized and they have to remove the artificial geographic barriers that don’t allow people to pick up. They also have to allow for increased supply. So, on the taxi side, it’s get rid of the barriers and add for supply and we’re also big proponents of ride sharing, and we think both need to happen at the same time. And where we see this hit quite often and it comes straight back to us, we, as I mentioned, one of our core jobs is to sell Vancouver to the convention and meeting and conference world literally around the world. And whenever a big event is on here, whether it’s a convention, sporting among another things, we have a taxi disaster, and we get direct complaints back from our customers, couldn’t get a taxi, what’s wrong with you people? Five taxis drove by me and they’re all empty. Why didn’t they pick me up? So, it’s a big problem. We have expressed our view multiple times to government, most recently two weeks ago. So, we are 100% with you. We don’t have a government yet that has made this a priority. They’re talking about next Autumn with work apparently happening now that may result in some decisions in the fall sitting of the legislature next year. At the moment though I don’t have enormous confidence yet. But anything that anybody wants to do put pressure on the government you are standing with us, and we’re standing with you.

Question: Has the cruise industry looked at other options for a port such as Tsawwassen or something? Yeah, I think as ships are getting larger, they have to look at other options.

Answer: I think it’s well accepted that it will take a different site to deal with larger ships, that’s the part that doesn’t take the analysis. The analysis comes in to where? How much money?, Who’s taking the lead? The port is a federal entity. So, you’re talking about, as we often see here, you’re talking about ultimately what would be at minimum two levels or perhaps three levels of government reaching an agreement on a solution and we know that has its own complexity, but I think everybody accepts that. I think that the Port would say, as well, that there’s a ton of life, decades of life still left in Canada Place. So, it’s not as though it’s get rid of one, get a new one. It’s really how do you bring two on stream in the best possible way.

Question: I read somewhere recently that Canada has fallen from 10th in the world as a world destination to 17 and the federal government was exercised about this. Are you equally concerned?

Answer: So, Canada’s place as a country to visit has dropped over the last 20 years from 10 to 17. Its actually sliding back in the other direction. Yeah, that’s a concern of ours for sure. So, depending on where we are in the world, we’re trying to sell Vancouver. We use more or less of the Canada brand. So, sometimes the Canada brand means a lot, sometimes it doesn’t, but we want a strong Canada brand, we want Canada to be in demand around the world. And so, it’s definitely a concern of ours for sure. The good news is that the pendulum is now coming back. So, we are still a long way away from being a top ten city. That’s probably not a critical goal at the moment, because there are some new cities that have come into the top ten and weren’t there when that stat was reported. But as long as we’re trending back in the right direction, that’s what we want to see. And that is what’s happening. So, in 2018 we’ll see over 20 million visitors to Canada, which is the first time I’ve seen that number quite a long time. So, it’s going in the right direction. But yes, the federal government is concerned about it. Actually, the federal Minister is here next week seeking views and input on what the federal government can do to help the industry. So that’s a good sign.

Question: Over the years. You’ve lost docking capacity. Any way you can get it back?

Answer: No. So, can we get docking capacity back for cruise ships? No, I think that’s gone by the wayside. That is without my tourism hat on, that’s actually being very productively deployed for the port and their position as Canada’s most significant and growing port so that’s being used very, very well. And because it’s on the same side of the Lions Gate bridge, as Canada place, it’s actually not ultimately the solution that we need something that allows us to deal with the larger vessels.

Question: Can you explain the logo – VAN – COU – VER? What’s behind that? *laughter*

Answer: Sure, we built that in a couple of different ways. So that’s what we would call a vertical version of that. But this the central icon in the logo is really reflective of the perspective that we have here that we want to share with people and that symbol is a compass style symbol. So that gives us a bit of a bit of direction. It works for us physically with north and south and the mountains and the city just as it does work with us from a storytelling point of view in terms of come here and share the way that we see the world which is what we want to explain. We do have a we do have a horizontal version as well, so we use it in a couple of different ways.

Question: Does Aboriginal tourism play a role in Vancouver? Is there a role going forward?

Answer: Yeah, that’s a great question, it’s a really topical one too. The best way I can describe it is at the moment, it’s very, very unclear. But what we do get back from some of the survey work that we do with visitors is they’re intrigued by the idea of Aboriginal tourism and Aboriginal experiences. What we don’t see as much here, and they’re a little bit harder to connect at the moment, is things that are real and authentic. So, if you go farther into BC where there’s a greater prevalence of traditional lifestyles those beget more traditional authentic experiences. What we want to ultimately see happen here is what is what is the manifestation of an indigenous experience in an urban context? That’s a very different thing at the moment. We don’t have a lot of that. We’re not in the product creation business, but we have prioritized that as an area that we want to spend some time with those that that can be on that issue. We think it’s a potential opportunity for us to kind of break away a little bit, be unique, but we don’t really have the product yet. We’d like to see something come through that for sure.

Question: You mentioned the loss of hotel rooms and what that’s going to look like in the future at the current rate of growth. Where does the shared economy like Airbnb, VRBO where they fit into your plans?

Answer: Yeah. So, the question was where does the sharing economy and Airbnb and VRBO fit into our thinking. Over the last three or four years, we think that the decline in hotels has largely been balanced up with increased supply of largely Airbnb, they’re about 80% of the market in that group. So that’s kind of an okay. That’s kind of helped keep the boat level, but in the past eight months the City of Vancouver now and other areas, but the city of Vancouver has regulated home sharing, so you now have to buy a license and abide by the terms of the regulation so that that went live on the first of September, so we’ve seen supply drop. A lot of people that had Airbnb properties couldn’t comply, didn’t want to apply, didn’t want to buy a license, whatever. So, we’re seeing that supply drop, and so now that supply is going to be, I think constrained just a little bit just by personal choice of hosts. We’ll probably know with a little bit more certainly what it looks like but it’s going to find a level. So, it helps us, but it’s probably not something that we’d be able to rely on sponging up that that demand so, it’s good, it’s important, it’s now regulated and taxed which was our preference, but it’s not going to be growing at the rate that it was previously and therefore not taking some of that demand.

Question: Obviously, you liaise with the commercial sector. You haven’t mentioned much about non-profit sector that does festivals and things like that. Could you speak to that?

Answer: Yeah, I can speak about a range of things including events because I know I’m missing one particular event that I need to make comments on. So, we have shifted gears a lot in the time that I’ve been here in terms of where we see events as part of the tourism industry. Events are one of the great opportunities to stimulate demand when you want to. So, events are not automatically fixed in time, they can be moved around, or they can be created, or they can be built up. So, we’ve spent a lot of money trying to help create growth in the event sector everything from the Wine Festival, Comedy Festival, Lunar New Year. We’re a founding partner in Sport Hosting Vancouver. Sport Hosting Vancouver is Vancouver’s essentially equivalent to a sports commission, which we don’t currently have in a formal structure ourselves. So ourselves, city government, BC PavCo, the Hotel Association, the PNE are all partners in Sport Hosting Vancouver and we brought two ice skating events, we helped the marathon grow, we’ve acquired the world juniors, which will be here next month, and to get in the one piece I promised to mention today, because it starts on Sunday, the first NCAA basketball tournament to come to Canada is going to take place down at the Convention Centre starting on Sunday and we brought that in here as well. So, we’re big believers in the event business. We think it’s one of the things that we can use in the times of your times of the year when tourists of automatically come here. So, that October to March window we’ve heavily invested in that window to sort of give people a new reason to think about coming here and come see something that is that is one time. It’s must see. If you don’t see it now, you’ll never see it again and a good example of that coming up on Sunday with some terrific basketball, both men and women for six days at the Convention Centre.

Question: You mentioned about the Aboriginal experience. Unfortunately, a fair amount of that is in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. People wander off the cruise ships and it’s actually not that far to the DTES. So, my first question is do you provide feedback to the provincial government from a tourist point of view because I don’t think a lot of people would be very impressed with Vancouver if they wind up there. And my second question is that most people that come here also don’t just come to Vancouver, but they want to go up to Whistler, they want to go to Revelstoke, they want to go to the Okanagan, so what kind of coordination do you have with the other tourist groups in the province?

Answer: Two great questions. So, first question is how do we deal with the Downtown East Side and the impression that creates on tourism? We’re very, very sensitive to that because it’s not just the DTES. We see it obviously moving up from Gastown through to Canada Place Way, where is kind of our epicenter of the businesses. We do provide feedback, not so much provincially, but we do to the city. We’ve been supportive of a range of different initiatives, to be fair, at the margin. We’re not going to try as an industry to solve homelessness and mental illness and drug addictions, that’s way beyond our scope, but we do let the city know regularly that this is a visitor issue, it’s a safety issue, and it’s a reputation issue for the industry for sure. It’s hugely complicated and obviously if it wasn’t it would have been solved, but it is a concern for us and we worry about what is says to our visitors for sure. We give guidance to our visitors, our volunteers do, our Visitor Center does, we do it online of how to navigate, and obviously don’t want people to be at risk. That’s the most important thing. And obviously there is some risk in that part of the city. And at the same time, we are presenting ourselves as a global city, and any global city that wants to be considered in that space has that issue. We’re not even remotely unique which is not to excuse the issue, that’s going to come up if you want to be in a global city, you’re at risk of seeing. The second question was how do we coordinate with other tourism organizations in the context of people that come here that want a Vancouver experience and something else, and the answer is, I think we are an incredibly connected ecosystem of tourism partners. We totally understand that if somebody’s coming to BC for a week and we might get three or four days of their time and they might have another three or four or five or longer they’re going to go somewhere else. We have probably about 200 of our 1000 members or from businesses not in Vancouver and we actively promote them because they’re members. We are very, very well-connected and do a huge amount of collaborative work with Destination BC, the provincial organization, Tourism Richmond, Tourism Victoria, Tourism Whistler. We do a huge amount of work, in fact we represent Tourism Whistler’s interests in China for a range of communications campaigns. So, we are actually an industry that cooperates really, really well, even though technically we kind of, I want to steal Whistler’s days and they want to steal my days. But, we actually we collaborate really, really well. There’s probably the opportunity to do more, but we spend a lot of time working together to maximize the greater good.

Question: I think probably that Vancouver from the outside looking in is considered to be a relatively safe city. We see shootings pretty regularly when we’re living here. What about security? What are you talking about in terms of giving the people who come a feeling of safety in a world that is seemingly becoming much less so.

Answer: The feedback that we get, and we promote this carefully, and I’ll come back to that, but the feedback that we regularly get, we get most specifically when we’re out selling convention type visits. So, to bring large groups of people here, you have a convention owner or manager or in some cases a corporation that has a duty of care to all their visitors and most of the feedback that we get is that the safety consideration of this city and the security considerations of the city is actually reason they chose us. There’s a reason they chose us. We are rated incredibly high for that. And in fact, it’s a live piece of business, I don’t know where to go. But we were recently contacted by a major technology convention who has a long history of having their event in San Francisco every year for all the reasons to do with Silicon Valley and all that and they said, “we’re worried about safety, can we talk to you” and so we actually have great regard around the world for that and we hear that back from our regular leisure travelers as well. We’re mindful of it. We do have a certain number of things that we talked to the city about, but we’re as compared to some other parts of the world we’re in a very, very, very good place and we want to keep it that way. Of course we do.

Question: I’ve noticed that the signage in Vancouver has become less English and more foreign languages. And is there a rule that one has to follow when people come in here? This is basically an English country and I worry about the influence that we seem to be exporting through signage.

Answer: I think we would have a different position about English being the official language obviously with French in the country. Our view on how we would support signage, we don’t tend to create signage, the city tends to do signs and the private sector businesses do, but our view on that is really simple. We want to make the experience for the visitor as easy as it can possibly be and if somebody has come in here from another country, China being our largest inbound market that doesn’t have English as a primary tongue, we want to make it easy for them to have a good experience and if they don’t have great command of English, I think as an industry, we need to make sure that we’re providing information to them in the language that they prefer which is Mandarin. So, I don’t think you’ll ever see it supplant English, English is the primary language of all of our visitors whether they’re from Germany or Mexico or Japan, but we do want to make sure that we’re servicing well in the language and from a customs point of view to make sure that people have a good experience for sure.

Question: In your projections have you taken into account the volatile nature of energy and the transition that everybody is pushing to go from fossil fuels into renewables particularly as it applies to transportation – cruise ships and airlines.

Answer: So, the question was in our projections have we taken into account that the significant changes coming through the energy sector and how those might impact I suppose modes of transport is the question. Specifically, no, I think it’s probably the easiest answer. I think what we do know is that the airline sector and the cruise sector in particular are investing enormous amounts of money trying to figure out what their future looks like. That if I take the airline sector in particular there is kind of an inherent risk in the airline sector that if they continue to be one of the largest contributors to climate change, which they are in a world where T-word down south the border notwithstanding, the world gets on board. It says look we’ve got to stay together and do something about this. You don’t want to be an outlier, but you don’t be an outlier industry to that. That is a risk to your industry, it’s a risk your company, it’s a risk to your shareholders. So, I think you see more and more the airline sector trying to figure out from a fuel point of view, from up from an engineering point of view, and a construction point of view, how do we build significantly more efficiency into our airlines. That trend is going to continue, and you’ll see some airlines now which are testing alternative fuels so using plant-based fuels as a means of powering airlines is an interesting thing that’s happening. You see the cruise sector trying to do some similar things. We have a great feature down at Canada Place where it’s one of the few major cruise terminals that has full ship to shore power. So, when a cruise ship comes into Vancouver, they turn off their engines and they plug straight into the grid which is terrific. And the amount of carbon that that keeps out of the environment is amazing compared to other cruise terminals. You’ve got Norwegian Ferry Maker is now building enormous passenger ferries that are battery powered. So, these things are happening they’re on the early edge of coming through, but I think you’ll see a lot of technological change because it’s in the it’s in the vested interest of big ships and big planes to make sure they’re not outliers to what’s going on.


Leave a Reply