Earlier this year, Tourism Vancouver Island became a social enterprise called 4VI that supports communities, businesses, culture and the environment. A social enterprise is an income-generating enterprise that identifies a social benefit and directs its income towards it; in the tourism industry, this is a whole new way of doing business.
Even before the pandemic, something felt “off” at the Regional Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) formerly known as Vancouver Island Tourism. The 60-year-old Canadian organization had moved away from destination marketing as other organizations took on that role and focused more on destination development, destination development planning and destination stewardship. He had also thought about how he could better serve the local tourist community through the lens of his philosophy that “a great place to live is a great place to visit”.
And then, COVID-19 swept the country. This has been accompanied by a series of travel restrictions – and in August 2021, a massive influx of domestic travelers visited Vancouver Island, putting great pressure on local communities.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen not just businesses, but also residents asking, ‘How can tourism help make this a better place to live?'” said Anthony Everettpresident and CEO of the organization.
It’s an issue that many destinations – and the tourism industry as a whole – have grappled with in recent years: “It has become increasingly clear that the tourism sector will need to adapt and innovate more than ever in response to growing pressures on issues like climate change and equity,” said Jeremy SamsonCEO of The Travel Foundation and president of the Coalition for the Future of Tourism. “Old entrenched systems simply don’t work anymore if the goal is for tourism to deliver results far beyond annual growth in arrivals.”
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At a conference in April this year, Everett announced how Tourism Vancouver Island was evolving in response to this new tourism ecosystem: instead of a DMO, it’s now a social enterprise called
4VI which supports four pillars of social responsibility: communities, businesses, culture and the environment. A social enterprise is an income-generating enterprise that identifies a social benefit and directs its income towards that good; in the tourism industry, this is a whole new way of operating for a DMO.
“With the move to 4VI, the organization can directly contribute to what it values, giving it more opportunities to create the conditions to create a deep and lasting positive impact on its destination – essentially becoming more ethical, resilient and looking to the future,” said Jillian Dickensco-founder and president of Travel Trade Consulting bannikin. Dickens grew up on Vancouver Island.
Further demonstrating its commitment to sustainable tourism, 4VI was recently awarded the Responsible Tourism Instituteit is Biosphere
certificate and became a signatory to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism.
4VI will still manage marketing projects in its region and carry out consultancy work, but these efforts will be closely focused on the conscientious travel values of the organization. “We make it clear that we are a business; but when we operate our business, all of our revenue is going to be reinvested into social responsibility efforts and/or the organizations to carry them out,” Everett said.
In its first year as a social enterprise, 4VI plans to invest in United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, life under water
— an urgent issue for a destination surrounded and dependent on the ocean. But, Everett said, this is just the beginning of many new opportunities to look inward and focus on initiatives that positively impact Vancouver Island. 4VI’s shift in this direction has opened up partnership opportunities not only with local and regional organizations, but also with international entities that position the tourism industry as a partner in supporting sustainable development in the communities it impacts. .
“The dream was for us to change and help with social responsibility here,” Everett said, “and now people are coming to us and wanting to form meaningful partnerships that I’m excited about; but I’m also a little humbled by it.
The international attention is, in large part, due to the fact that 4VI completely upended the traditional DMO model. “It’s a feat, because there are very few shining examples of this in the world, in our industry – especially at the DMO level,” Dickens said.
Sampson, who was present at the conference when Everett made the 4VI announcement, hopes it could signal a broader movement within the tourism industry.
“The recognition that tourism is a means to an end such that social impact is already beginning to impact how DMOs, and even some businesses, measure success through new KPIs,” said he declared. “I expect these to become even more common as travellers, investors, governments and employees begin to demand more transparency and nuance about the impact of reports – both positive and negative. .”
Everett acknowledges that 4VI has a lot of work to do in the months and years ahead as it navigates the tourism space as a social enterprise. But it’s work that, at its heart, really benefits not just travel-related businesses on Vancouver Island, but the people who call it home.
“Where we’ve seen the greatest impact for us is focusing on the social responsibility of the travel industry on Vancouver Island,” he said. “Our mission now is that it is a force for good forever.”