Tourism group wants to be an umbrella — at ‘30,000 feet’

Patti Balsillie wants all Yukon tourism industry peas collected into one collective pod. Balsillie, chief executive officer of the Tourism Industry…

Patti Balsillie wants all Yukon tourism industry peas collected into one collective pod.

Balsillie, chief executive officer of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, wants to retool the organization into an umbrella group representing the currently “splintered” whole of tourism associations in the territory.

 “The people that we’re trying to influence, being government, are getting many, many, many voices of tourism to influence policy and decision-making,” said Balsillie on Thursday.

“While we collaborate informally, it’s got no meat to it, it’s got no ownership.”

TIAY is one of about 24 tourist organizations that lobby government on tourism policy, said Balsillie.

That situation creates confusion for those hoping to invest in the industry, those looking for representation with government and for those trying to decipher what organizations operating in the sector want as a whole, she said.

“It gets splintered and splintered and splintered to the point where there isn’t a voice for tourism, there are many, many voices of tourism,” she said.

And that creates confusion among industry players.

Balsillie and TIAY officials have been working for several months on a proposal to recast the group as an umbrella organization at “the 30,000-foot level,” that would lobby governments on broad issues of tourism research, product development and marketing, she said.

The organization has been an informal gathering of the whole for decades, but the new proposal would see other groups become voting members of the board and help TIAY “steer the ship,” said Balsillie.

“They would become accountable, voting, active, steering people to TIAY — that’s brand new,” she said.

The project started through discussions TIAY had with its members and partners, and an introspective look at its evolving role through the years.

TIAY has been around since the 1960s, but started seeing the splintering of tourism groups in the 1980s, due to the emergence of “specialty interests” in the industry, said Balsillie.

At the group’s upcoming general meeting, to be held on October 28, the proposal will be voted on by the membership.

Presentations have already been made to several of the groups who will be voting and another presentation will precede Saturday’s vote, said Balsillie.

“The hope is that the membership will provide some feedback, and possibly they’ll say, with some tweaking and development, ‘Please continue this proposal,’” she said.

If that’s the case, TIAY will work over the winter developing new policies and bylaws to be put in power at a vote at a general meeting next April, she said.

The idea is already getting tacit support.

“I think it will make TIAY more representative of the entire tourism industry, rather than representing, perhaps, a too-restricted number of business types,” said Charles McLaren, vice-president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon and owner of Shadow Lake Expeditions.

“We’re going to agree in principle to see where it takes us,” he said of the proposal.

But Wilderness Tourism has had a “strong and coherent voice” lobbying the government in the past, and regardless of whether Balsillie’s proposal is endorsed or not, that voice will continue, said McLaren.

“Each member organization will still have its own, independent voice,” he said. “It’s not a proposal to eliminate and take over other organizations.”

Both Balsillie and McLaren agree on the impetus for the idea — that the Yukon government could be doing a lot more for tourism.

“While mining brings in large amounts of dollars, it’s often for fairly short time periods.

“Tourism is bringing in substantial amounts of money, and keeps going year after year,” said McLaren.

Tourism, as a department in the government, is always “the lowest hanging fruit,” said Balsillie.

The biggest problem is statistical research: little is known about our tourism industry to entice would-be investors to sink their money into developing the territory, she said.

“During the territorial election, how many times did you read about a platform from the leaders talking about how important tourism was, and all the work they are going to do?” she asked.

“None. They barely referenced it,” she said.

“It’s obscene.”