New Tourism Industry Association faces daunting challenges

Last week in Nanaimo, the membership of the Council of Tourism Associations of BC (COTA) made a series of landmark decisions which changed the organization to the Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC). That might not sound like much of a change, but it represents the tourism industry re-engaging behind our professional association.

Last week in Nanaimo, the membership of the Council of Tourism Associations of BC (COTA) made a series of landmark decisions which changed the organization to the Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC). That might not sound like much of a change, but it represents the tourism industry re-engaging behind our professional association.

COTA was founded in 1994 as an association of tourism industry associations. I think it’s safe to say that the principal goal of this organization was realized with the creation of Tourism BC in 1997 as an arm’s-length provincial marketing agency with secure long-term funding. COTA’s direction grew diffuse over the following decade, and the organization, for reasons I won’t go into here, grew disengaged with the associations that had founded it and even more disengaged with individual tourism businesses throughout the province. Bluntly, the model no longer seemed to be working. With the announcement of HST and the dissolution of Tourism BC in August 2009, set against a trend of dropping consumer demand and the looming Olympics, the industry reacted in shock and anger, but COTA found itself unable to unify the provincial industry and make meaningful response.

In 2010 COTA recognized the inherent flaws in the original model, and turned back to its membership for direction. They listened to each of the disparate groups that make up the industry. In time the board suggested a radically different version of COTA under a new name. Sweeping changes were made under the broad categories of membership, governance, policy development, communications, business model, and government relations. This long process culminated in a “reset” process being laid before the membership last week.

There may have been keen debate around the specifics of change, but the need for change was broadly recognized. The Hon. Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, spoke to the membership the evening before the vote, reiterating the need for a strong industry association to help steer government policy.

While COTA may have been perceived as exclusive and small, perhaps not representing all elements of a very diverse industry, TIABC is on track to draw a membership that truly represents the province’s 18,000 tourism-related businesses and unifies this industry behind common advocacy goals.

So, what does this mean today for community DMOs and their members? My friend Dan Stefanson is Executive Director of Tourism Abbotsford, and Chair of the BC Destination Marketing Organization Association. For the past couple of years he’s set aside these professional commitments to serve as COTA director, and now as a director of TIABC.

“The past year has been very challenging,” Dan says, “and as rewarding as it’s been I won’t deny that it hasn’t been without its frustrations. But we’ve listened and found consensus. I’m confident that it will become apparent over the coming months that TIABC is the right model for the industry. We’ve listened to our members and set three very specific advocacy goals. The first is to increase air access into British Columbia, and the second is securing an enhanced model for the provincial DMO before the end of this current year. The third is to diligently represent the industry’s interest during the HST referendum and any potential HST mitigation. These are vital, top-of-mind issues for all BC tourism businesses and associations.”

With a new Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation ready and seemingly very enthusiastic to bring positive change to the business of tourism in British Columbia, the timing for this was right. Yes, many things have gone wrong or come undone over the past couple of years, but there’s no better time than today to begin to put things

right.