Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tourism B.C.'s Black Monday

Maybe, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be the athletic and creative success that VANOC is promising.

But all bets are off about any sort of economic windfall.

Oh, sure, the powers that be in Victoria can say nobody could have predicted "this" recession. "This" recession being the worst economic trouble since 1929. If they didn't see "a" recession coming down the slope, they weren't following the headlines since 2007 when the sub-prime mortgage meltdown reared its ugly head south of the 49th parallel.

The latest bad news is the most telling indicator in recent months of how dismal the economic forecast is for the Games themselves. The British Columbia government on Aug. 17 fired Rod Harris, the head of Tourism B.C. Deputy minister Lori Wanamaker took over.

According to its 2008 summary compensation table, Tourism B.C. paid Harris $380,506 in the last fiscal year.

The 15-member board that oversaw the Crown corporation was also turfed. In its place will be a five-to-nine member advisory group. And, by the way, it will no longer be a Crown corporation as of April 1, 2010.

Part of this story was told under a government news release headlined "B.C. strengthens and aligns tourism promotion."

It didn't list the 15 directors who are gone. They are: Museologist Bill Barkley, Whistler Blackcomb president Dave Brownlie, Best Western Inn at Penticton managing partner Colin Campbell, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies general manager Andrew Cohen, North Island College tourism department chair Harley Elias, Accent Inns founding president Terry Farmer, Hells Gate Airtram owner Debbie McKinney, London Drugs chief financial officer Laird Miller, Hupacasath First Nation chief Judith Sayers, Links Investments principal Michael Smith, Prince Rupert Port Authority business development and marketing head Shaun Stevenson, Capilano Suspension Bridge owner Nancy Stibbard, Lexlaur Properties president Allen Tozer, Discovery Club and Oak Bay Beach Hotel owner Kevin Walker and former Vancouver Canucks' president Chris Zimmerman.

Something either went horribly wrong inside Tourism B.C. or the Liberal government found a convenient scapegoat. This comes less than six months to go before the biggest tourism promotion in the province's history.

I reported on Aug. 12 that neither the Canadian Tourism Commission nor Tourism B.C. had any records related to attendance or spectator ticket purchases by out-of-province visitors for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In the same story, VANOC CEO John Furlong claimed the Games would eventually sell-out, but he did not have any ticket sales numbers or dollar figures to back-up his statements when he was asked by me on Aug. 7. If the news really was good, Furlong would have the statistics tattooed on his brain and the entire staff of the media relations department at Campus 2010 would be beating the drum loudly and rapidly.

Based on VANOC disclosures in quarterly reports, the Games have surpassed the halfway point in ticket sales revenue. That's as good as it gets.

By the way, I'm writing from Seattle where I'm taking a short break. That's why I missed the Canada Line debut and the Hockey Canada jersey reveal. The latter was no surprise -- save, perhaps, for the nifty official supplier deal cut with VANOC.

I have been looking for any hint that the next Winter Olympics are scheduled to occur in the next big city to the north. So far, nary a hint.

When I return north via Interstate 5, I expect to see the same "Best Place on Earth" British Columbia propaganda sign that fails to mention the province is hosting the next Winter Olympics.

I covered Torino 2006 and was not the only one surprised by the lack of Olympic fever in Milan, about a 90 minute train ride away. That lack of regional activation was something that Tourism B.C. was supposed to avoid for Vancouver 2010.

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