The Council of Tourism Associations of BC (COTA) is hitting the "reset" button, changing its name and bylaws at its most recent BC Tourism Leaders' Summit.
The council has announced that it is changing its name to the Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC) in order to reflect a growing number of tourism businesses that have joined the association in recent years.
The organization now plans to grow its membership, change bylaws to increase the number of directors allowed to serve on the board, improve communications, "solidify" its business model and "take new steps" in government relations.
"I think they're looking at broadening their membership base so it is seen as a tourism industry organization or association, which would reflect private businesses from across BC," said Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher, who attended the summit.
"I think the thinking is they want to make sure as they broaden the membership that their governance and board of directors also reflects that member representation."
In the past, Fisher said, the council faced challenges trying to represent a number of issues on behalf of stakeholders throughout British Columbia. Under this new structure, with a broader membership base, the council also wants to narrow its focus to three particular issues: transportation, business policies, and having a thriving provincial tourism organization.
"I think that's a good thing," she said. "It's very difficult to get traction on a lot of things when you're a very small organization and not having the time to invest in each issue."
Stephen Regan, the president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of BC, said there's been a lot of interest among members to see businesses become directly engaged in tourism advocacy and issues.
"Our previous structure was the association of associations model," he said in an interview. "Businesses were connected indirectly through their associations. We found that while that is a fantastic way to quickly represent the industry and our issues, it meant we didn't have this direct connection to businesses."
Having businesses represented more clearly by the association also makes it easier to advocate for policy that can benefit tourism at the provincial level, Regan said.
"We have a credible voice to government when we have more business representatives," he said. "That lends a significant amount of credibility to the organization."
According to a news release, members provided "significant feedback" on ways to strengthen the organization's plan and endorsed recommendations from directors that are intended to help make the association the "voice of the tourism industry."
The summit also saw members re-elect four directors to continue their work as part of the reset: Lana Denoni, principal of Denoni $ales Marketing in Victoria; Dave Butler, director of sustainability with Canadian Mountain Holidays in Cranbrook; Dan Stefanson, executive director of Tourism Abbotsford and TradEx; and Ian Powell, managing director of the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria.
"We have a board of directors committed to a united voice for tourism that is respected by industry and government," Denoni said in a news release. "We are thrilled the membership overwhelmingly supported our reset plan, and that government provided an equally clear endorsement of its desire to work with a strong sector trade association."
Pat Bell, minister of jobs, tourism and innovation, announced at the conference his support for developing an "industry driven" approach to tourism marketing, as well as initiatives to enhance land tenure security, improve land use planning to mitigate conflicts and enhance tourism experiences.
The association calls tourism a "huge economic engine" for British Columbia, estimating that it generates $13 billion in revenue and 128,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, the price of gas continues to climb, a development that could impede people wanting to travel long distances to get here, either flying to B.C. or driving up the Sea to Sky Highway to get to Whistler.
Fisher said in an interview that if higher petrol costs equate to higher prices for airplane tickets or a full gas tank, that "absolutely is a potential barrier to tourism."
In the past, she said, Tourism Whistler has launched an "airline buy down program" in response to airlines introducing fuel surcharges to deal with higher gas prices. The program saw Tourism Whistler work with a number of suppliers of ground transportation and accommodation in an effort to pool funds towards bringing down the price of an airline ticket.
Fisher said the program was organized in "stronger economic times" when profit margins were higher and different suppliers were prepared to partake in such a program.
Today, however, we're facing a different economy and such a program, she said, might not work the same way, adding that Tourism Whistler is still looking at ways to attract visitors to Whistler.
"Certainly this sort of a program might not work the same way," Fisher said.
"But I think we will continue to always look at new and innovative ways to attract visitors to come and travel."