Province to absorb Tourism B.C. into ministry 

Industry insiders shocked over surprise announcement

On the eve of the biggest marketing opportunity of its life, the 2010 Olympics, the province has taken the surprising first step of dismantling Tourism B.C.

On Monday, the government dismissed Rod Harris, Tourism B.C.'s long-standing president and CEO, as well as its board of directors, effectively paving the way for complete integration of the organization into the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts by April.

It's a move that caught industry insiders off guard.

"Certainly everybody is in total shock and surprise," said Jim Storie, chair of the board for the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C.

"Tourism British Columbia was an agency that's won international awards for its effectiveness. It's part of a model that the rest of the world has looked at. What that does is that more or less sets the benchmark for what we're looking at in this new organization.

"I think we're going to hold the government up to at least achieve what was being achieved by an industry-led organization and Crown corporation."

Monday's announcement, added Storie, has some of its members, which includes Whistler Blackcomb and Tourism Whistler, concerned about what the change may mean to the tourism industry in the province.

Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher interrupted her holidays to come into the office to talk to tourism partners and the provincial government about the move.

In addition to echoing Storie's comments that Tourism B.C. built a solid platform for strategic marketing, she also spoke of the need to work closely with the government to grow tourism in the years to come, particularly with the 2010 Games on the horizon and all the opportunities associated with it.

"We want to make sure that the tourism industry maximizes that and really leverages it and so we really see the future of tourism as a very, very big opportunity and we need to make sure that we are well aligned with the Ministry of Tourism, and that they are reflecting the interests of industry."

Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger explained the decision as an economic move to cut administrative costs and consolidate tourism operations.

"While Tourism B.C. has served British Columbia well, in these difficult economic times it is critical that we maximize every tourism dollar for marketing B.C. to the world," he said.

Tourism B.C. has been the marketing arm of the province since it was created in 1997.

Deputy Tourism Minister Lori Wanamaker replaced Harris this week. She is now Tourism B.C.'s interim president and chief executive officer.

The board will be replaced with a new minister's "advisory council" of five to nine people.

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