Photo from Left to right: West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP John Weston, President of Tourism Whistler Barrett Fisher and Stuart McLaughlin, president of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. Photo by Cathryn Atkinson
An unprecedented five-hour gathering of British Columbian tourism industry leaders and federal and provincial politicians had a distinctively Sea to Sky flavour.
The meeting was called to discuss some of the most crucial current issues in Canadian Tourism. On the table were Open Skies policies to support easier air travel, tax rebates for visitors, worker visas, legal impediments to travel for those convicted of minor offences in the U.S. and funding for the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC).
Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, Stuart McLaughlin, president of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP John Weston organized the round table, which took place at Gleneagles Country Club in West Vancouver on Jan. 17.
"Stuart and Barrett have independently urged me to try and get more federal focus on an industry that is of enormous significance to British Columbia," Weston said in an interview during a break in the meeting.
"One of the biggest challenges has been to get everyone in the room. If you can do that, even on a preliminary basis, then you can establish a working group. And if you move quickly enough (and get) some recommendations out there before people start changing positions, then you have a chance of really getting some change."
Guests included Michele Mackenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission, David Byng, B.C.'s deputy minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, Richmond Centre MLA and airport advocate Rob Howard, Gord Johnson, regional vice-president of Delta Hotels, and Steve Sammut, executive vice-president of Rocky Mountaineer.
Joining them by phone were federal bureaucrats from the Prime Minister's Office, federal tourism minister Maxime Bernier's office, federal international trade minister Ed Fast's office, and B.C. Senator Nancy Greene-Raine.
Weston added that the round table has been one of his most important projects as an MP. "This meeting is one of the most significant things that we've done and it was urged on us by people in the tourism business. I've seen some really good concrete results... where we've taken good ideas from people in the industry, moved them to the ministers and the ministers have responded," he said.
When asked if this meeting was unique or if others are taking part in other Canadian provinces, McLaughlin said: "We don't know what is going on in the rest of Canada. There's a cohesiveness (in B.C.) in the tourism industry that has developed into something stronger over the last two or three years, and there are a lot of people working in partnership to advance issues that are important to our industry," he said.
"What we find is that a lot of these issues are federal issues."
Fisher said that on the federal side, this is the first roundtable discussion to take place. "(Weston) got us in front of the BC caucus of federal MPs to talk about key issues, where as a result of that we saw (immigration) minister Jason Kenney involved and saw some progress around Mexican visas, around inadmissibility to Canada if someone's got a misdemeanor or driving under the influence charge," she said.
"We've seen some progress... and now we're taking the next step. What are some of the issues we still need to work on? Air access is clearly a critical issue. The traction we saw in Mexican visas, can we duplicate that in other markets? Looking at HST and GST rebates, are there opportunities to streamline?"
McLaughlin said there was considerable consensus and commitment, and the next step is to develop recommendations from the notes taken at the meeting.
"I'll be looking forward to taking those recommendation from Stuart and Barrett and then moving them on to the government side and the respective ministers. We now have a process in place," Weston said.
The timeline had not yet been set, Fisher said.
"It's premature to talk about the specifics that we came up with because we need to take them away, summarize them, make sure we've got consensus (and) provide the actions to progress them in a positive manner," she said.
McLaughlin added: "We do see there is an opportunity because there is momentum on enough of these issues that has been building, and we sense a receptiveness and openness to re-examining the issues."