Perfect pitch: Destination Greater Victoria leads the charge in promoting our region as Canada’s best place to visit.
Q&A with Destination Greater Victoria
Tourism is among Greater Victoria’s key economic drivers, generating $2.3 billion in annual impact pre-COVID and driving $1.4 billion in new revenue from visitors each year. Prior to COVID almost 40 per cent of working Greater Victorians were directly or indirectly linked to the tourism industry for employment.
The pandemic had a devastating effect on tourism, and as the sector navigated a period of turbulence and uncertainty, its chief advocate and official destination marketing organization was hard at work on ideas and strategies to support recovery.
Helmed by CEO Paul Nursey, Destination Greater Victoria (DGV) is a member-based association that works in partnership with about 950 business members and municipalities in the region to promote Greater Victoria to a national and international market.
Early in the pandemic, DGV formed Greater Victoria Tourism Rescue and Recovery Task Force to support its members as they faced the challenges of closed borders and an economic lockdown. DGV also participated in the Rising Economy Taskforce convened by SIPP in April of 2020.
Nursey tells us it’s hard to fully assess recovery yet as the Visitor Economy only reopened in March of 2022 after the Omicron wave subsided, however, he notes, Destination Greater Victoria is pacing at roughly a 90% recovery in terms of total revenue when compared to 2019 Year to Date.
“Some sectors such as accommodation are at or above 2019 numbers,” he says, “however, we do have to recognize that their structural costs have increased significantly since 2019, and other sub segments of the visitor economy such as those who rely on Asian inbound source markets (which remain closed) are still pivoting and trying to get by. Recovery remains uneven.”
Before the pandemic, DGV put its focus on the broader visitor economy, which includes leisure travelers and conference and meetings delegates, business travelers, event-specific visitors, and temporary residents like students and contract workers. From 2020 onward, it has built upon that focus while encouraging more local interaction with local attractions, marketing its member businesses to Vancouver Island, B.C. and the rest of Canada in an effort to boost domestic tourism.
DGV also identified its responsibility to nurture and promote sustainable tourism, building on the success of its IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism Conference, which returned to an in-person event in 2022. IMPACT is fast becoming internationally known as a key forum to learn about sustainability and regenerative tourism developments, and share insights and experiences.
In 2020, DGV was certified Carbon Friendly by climate advisory company Offsetters and in early 2021 achieved carbon neutrality, making it the only major North American destination organization to become a certified Carbon Neutral operation.
As the industry continues its economic recovery it is eager to return to the halcyon days of record-breaking visitor numbers. Paul Nursey provides his perspective on how tourism affects the region, and what he hopes will be our economic future.
Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?
Destination Greater Victoria (then known by its previous operating name “Tourism Victoria”) was one of the first associations to join SIPP when it was founded, as part of a region-wide effort to create a collaborative economic development organization. We believe there is tremendous value in a diversified economy in Greater Victoria – an economy we’re proud to play a large role in helping nurture.
What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?
As above, a diversified economy. Any region that relies only on one or two sectors is prone to either cyclical or industry/sector specific economic ups and downs.
Having a tapestry of economic sectors all contributing, in their own unique way to the overall vibrancy of the region is critical. This is where I see SIPP having a central role in helping to diversify our region’s economy.
What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?
In our business it is often said that a great place to live is a great place to visit or hold a conference. This is also true for businesses of all types considering locating in Greater Victoria or the South Island.
What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?
The Visitor Economy is coming back quickly and effectively from our deepest existential crisis ever created by COVID-19, even as it was essentially legislated shut for a prolonged period due to necessary health restrictions.
We were ready for recovery and are now leading Canada across most major tourism related metrics. This is a big feat considering that we live on an island. Destination Greater Victoria has been completely retooled, with a modern business model and approach and we are excited about prospects.
What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?
That we aren’t your grandparents’ tourism board. The marketing to promote our region is highly focused, data driven and targets high yield and high value customers. We have what is widely regarded as the most effective meetings and conference sales team in Canada, even if many cities have much larger teams. There is a lot to be proud of.
What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?
Our organization and our industry are rapidly moving to be highly focused on environmental sustainability and regenerative tourism which essentially leaves the place that we operate in better than we found it. Destination Greater Victoria is carbon neutral, so is the Victoria Conference Centre. Our challenge is to be the most environmentally sustainable destination in North America. This is an important task for many reasons, but it will not be easy given that our industry is mature. Therefore, we are working on this very hard through our sustainability committee and other means.
What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?
To be flexible and adaptable. Also, to trust your skills and experience. Past shockwaves to travel such as the Asian financial crisis in 1997, 9/11, SARS in 2003, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2006 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 allowed me personally to dig deep, be prepared to not only weather the storm but to absolutely be ready and prepared to lead Greater Victoria’s Visitor Economy back out of this challenge.
When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?
A very positive one where a vibrant economy, environment and community are healthy, balanced and thriving.