In a bid to pull its industry together and behind the establishment of Destination B.C., the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. may have created fissures amid its membership.
In a “call to action” sent to the organization’s members Wednesday, the association board asked its constituents to let government and opposition parties know the industry is behind the tourism marketing initiative that is to replace Tourism B.C.
In the same letter, the association appears to take a swipe at three industry veterans for speaking out against Destination B.C.
Calling their comments in the media “irresponsible” and “destructive to the credibility of tourism in B.C.,” the association urged members to contact former Tourism B.C. CEO Rod Harris, Accent Inns founder Terry Farmer and Nimmo Bay Resort owner Craig Murray to express concern over their comments. It also provided email addresses.
“We feel they need to be accountable to the industry for their actions,” the letter said.
All three men have been critical of Destination B.C. — which will be formally created on April 1 and have an initial budget of $48.87 million — arguing it will not be far enough removed from government to effectively operate. They favour an industry-led approach.
The three and others were quoted in a Jan. 1 edition of Business in Vancouver, under the headline Destination B.C. a sham, critics say. All three were taken aback by the tourism association’s response to the criticism.
Harris said he was shocked, and said the emails he has received have backed him in the disbelief at the tactics the association has used.
“They are all surprised that we should not have freedom of speech or association ... it looks like TIABC are not only trying to muzzle us, but trying to restrict our ability to communicate with whatever political party that we choose,” he said.
Harris said he doesn’t quarrel with the assertion Destination B.C. is a first step, but he maintains that any organization “that has its business plan and all the elements — strategies, tactics, objectives and goals — dictated by government is not an industry-run organization.”
Murray, a former board member, said the “call to action” may be the best thing to happen to the industry.
“This shows people in the industry how fractured TIABC is. It showed their bullying tactics,” he said. “Anyone who calls members to take three guys, who are known to have the interests of the industry at heart, to task ... well, you can’t fake stupid.”
Farmer, who said he understood some of the association’s ire, admitted he was upset at the way it presented its concern.
“For TIABC, this is their main accomplishment — Destination B.C. — and I assume a couple of their members were hurt that someone dared to criticize. But I wasn’t really criticizing them. I was criticizing the structure.”
Farmer said he appreciated the industry negotiating committee that worked with government to come up with Destination B.C. spent countless hours on the process. He believes their hands were probably tied when it came to the governance structure.
“They couldn’t let the whole thing go down the drain because of that, so they tried to achieve what they could,” he said, noting it’s a better model than what they’ve had since Tourism B.C. was dissolved in 2009.
Lana Denoni, chairwoman of the TIABC board, said the idea behind the letter and call to action was to stimulate open dialogue.
She said everyone is entitled to free speech, but noted over the 18 months the industry and government were working on the framework for the new organization they didn’t hear from any of the three men.
“There were many occasions for this kind of questioning of the model, to me this [criticism in the press] is the cart after the horse. We feel our members needed to know we are moving forward and we don’t really see that this [criticism] is helpful in the process.”
Denoni said she has great respect for all three men and said the tourism association “is not trying to get anyone to turn on them.” When asked if she thought it might further fracture the industry, Denoni said she hoped not.
“Everyone is passionate about the industry and everyone needs to talk, but tourism people need to talk to one another,” she said.
Farmer said in the flood of email he has received he has not been criticized by association members and he hopes it will not drive a wedge between factions within the industry.
“I believe people will rise above it. The industry is still in the doldrums and we have to work together to work it out,” he said.
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