This growth is accompanied by supportive government policy, says Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination BC. “The government has committed to actively support economic growth by creating a vibrant and stable business environment and enhanced funding for tourism marketing and destination development throughout the province,” Walden explains. She cites competitive provincial corporate and personal income tax, and attractive incentives that allow travel businesses to reinvest for continued growth.
Flight Centre, started in Brisbane, Australia, in 1982, has both leisure and business travel brands, and its Canadian head office in Vancouver employs about 150 people. Richard Job, vice-president, commercial partnerships, of Flight Centre Americas, says Flight Centre is finding “when it comes to more complex bookings people go online to research, then call or go into one of our shops and have a conversation with an expert. It’s that kind of blended model we have in Flight Centre.”
Job cites Flight Centre’s recently opened megastores downtown and in Kitsilano: “They’re wide-open spaces. You’ve got lots of multimedia, touch-screen displays, maps on the wall, products around the office rather than the traditional bank of desks with the brochures behind. That’s the model going forward. That’s the sort of growth that we’re going to see in Vancouver.”
Vancouver-headquartered Expedia CruiseShipCenters, one of Canada’s largest and most successful franchise companies, is also feeling the blend. “We’re a tech-and-travel company growing rapidly and investing in Vancouver talent,” says president Matthew Eichhorst. “We have 160 employees in our Vancouver office; in 2016 alone we’ve hired 36 new employees.”
Expedia CruiseShipCenters plans to more than double its stores and reach 500 locations by 2020. Almost a year ago, the company moved into new premises in the Coal Harbour area of downtown, doubling the square footage. The new location allows “room to grow our team here – and we plan to do just that as the industry and our brand continue to expand,” says Eichhorst.
On board for business growth
With over 1.7 million guests since its founding in 1990, Rocky Mountaineer is similarly opening up its train-travel planning experience with airy new offices. With 650 full-time/seasonal employees, the company’s move to spacious, two-storey headquarters in downtown Vancouver will make the planning experience more inviting. Again, it’s the goal of combining company expertise with client ideas to put together personalized itineraries, explains Adam Charania, vice-president, human resources.
“There are multiple ways that people can access us,” says Charania. “They can come directly through our inside sales centre. They can go through the web. They can go through our travel partners. We try to provide many access points to people around the world.”
Expansion in Vancouver’s cruise market and flights through Vancouver International Airport means passenger numbers will just keep growing, Charania predicts. “Vancouver is seen as a safe place to travel, a friendly and beautiful place to travel.”
Pacific Rim connections
For more than 100 years, JTB International has been helping visitors from Japan with business and personal visits, not just to Vancouver but also to points around North America. For JTB (formerly the Japan Travel Bureau), Vancouver’s gateway makes it an ideal headquarters location, says president and CEO Tosh Tatezawa.
“Here the time difference with Japan, 16 hours ahead, is the minimum it can be from North America. And with the city being compact and close to the airport, from a travel logistics perspective, it is easy to co-ordinate everything.”
Along with other travel executives, Tatezawa notes customers are savvier and seeking JTB’s expertise to build and finalize their plans. “JTB started out as a group tour with tour conductors leading the people to the destinations, as before there was a much bigger language barrier. Recently, the typical client has become more what we call ‘FIT,’ or fully independent traveller.”
Vancouver’s growth as a cruise destination is also boosting JTB’s business. In 2008 JTB acquired Silkway Travel & Cruise, focused on China and Asia-Pacific tourism. Silkway’s head office is co-located with JTB.
With the significant presence by international and homegrown companies alike, and with leadership by organizations such as Destination BC and Tourism Vancouver, continued growth in travel centres would seem to be on Vancouver’s itinerary.
HQ Vancouver’s Conversation Series is produced in partnership with the Simon Fraser University Beedie School of Business.