Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Edouard Fousset/Tourism Vancouver Island
Earlier this year, Tourism Vancouver Island evolved into a social enterprise called 4VI that supports communities,
businesses, culture and environment. A social enterprise is a revenue-generating business that identifies a social benefit and directs its revenues toward it; in the tourism industry, this is a completely new way to operate.
Even before the pandemic, something felt “off” at the regional destination
marketing organization (DMO) formerly known as Tourism Vancouver
Island. The 60-year-old Canadian
organization had been moving away from destination marketing as other
organizations took on that role and was more focused on destination development,
destination development planning and destination stewardship. It had also been
considering how it could better serve the local tourism community through the
lens of its philosophy that “a great place to live is a great place to visit.”
And then, COVID-19 swept across the country. With it came a series of travel
restrictions — and in August 2021, a massive influx of domestic travelers
visited Vancouver Island, putting a lot of pressure on local communities.
“Through the pandemic, we saw not only businesses but residents asking, ‘How can
tourism contribute to making this a great place to live?’” said Anthony
Everett, president and CEO of the organization.
It's a question a lot of destinations — and the tourism industry at large — have
been grappling with over the last few years: “It’s become increasingly clear
that the tourism sector will need to adapt and
more than ever before in response to rising pressures on issues like climate
change and equity,” said Jeremy Sampson, CEO at The Travel
Foundation and chair of the Future of
Tourism Coalition. “The old, entrenched
systems simply don’t work anymore if the goal is for tourism to deliver outcomes
far beyond year-on-year growth in arrival numbers.”
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At a conference in April of this year, Everett announced how Tourism Vancouver
Island was evolving in response to this new tourism ecosystem: Instead of a DMO,
it is now a social enterprise called
4VI that supports
four pillars of social responsibility: communities, businesses, culture and
environment. A social enterprise is a revenue-generating business that
identifies a social benefit and directs its revenues toward that good; in the
tourism industry, this is a completely new way for a DMO to operate.
“With 4VI’s move, the organization can directly contribute to what they value,
giving it more opportunity to foster the conditions to create a deep and
long-lasting positive impact on its destination — essentially becoming more
ethical, resilient and future-fit,” said Jillian Dickens, co-founder and
president of travel trade consultancy Bannikin. Dickens grew up on Vancouver Island.
Further demonstrating its commitment to sustainable tourism, 4VI recently
received the Responsible Tourism Institute’s Biosphere
certification and became a signatory to
the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in
4VI will still manage marketing projects within its region and do advisory work,
but these efforts will be tightly focused on the organization’s values of
conscientious travel. “We’re making it clear that we are a business; but when we
operate our business, all our revenue is going to be invested back into social
responsibility endeavors and/or organizations to carry those out,” Everett said.
In its first year as a social enterprise, 4VI plans to invest in UN Sustainable
Development Goal 14, Life Below
— an urgent issue for a destination surrounded by and dependent on the ocean.
But, Everett said, this is only the beginning of many new opportunities to turn
inward and focus on initiatives that positively impact Vancouver Island. 4VI’s
shift in this direction has unlocked partnership opportunities not only with
local and regional organizations but also international entities that position
the tourism industry as a partner for supporting sustainable development in the
“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 bit humbled by it.”
The international attention is, in large part, because 4VI has completely turned
the traditional DMO model upside-down. “This is a feat, as there are very few
shining-star examples of this worldwide, in our industry — especially at the DMO
level,” Dickens said.
Sampson, who was present at the conference when Everett made the 4VI
announcement, is hopeful this could signal a wider movement within the tourism
“The recognition that tourism is a means to an end such as social
is already starting to have an impact on how DMOs, and even some businesses,
measure success through new KPIs,” he said. “I expect to start seeing these
become even more commonplace as travelers, investors, governments and employees
start to demand more transparency and nuance on reporting impact — both positive
Everett acknowledges 4VI has a lot of work in the months and years ahead as it
navigates the tourism space as a social enterprise. But it’s work that, at its
heart, truly benefits not only travel-related businesses on Vancouver Island but
also the people who call it home.
“Where we saw the best impact for us is to focus on social responsibility for
the travel industry on Vancouver Island,” he said. “Our mission now is that it’s
a force for good forever.”
Published Jun 20, 2022 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.