For the first time in five years, the tourism industry in Victoria is poised for an upturn, just as the man who navigated Tourism Victoria through its most tumultuous years is stepping down.
But don’t let that coincidence fool you.
Chief executive officer Rob Gialloreto, who will assume the same position with Consumer Protection B.C. this summer, leaves behind a more cohesive tourism industry and stronger Victoria brand than when he took the helm in 2008.
“Victoria’s actually come out looking pretty good, considering the global picture,” said Brian White, director of Royal Roads University’s school of tourism and hospitality management. “What Rob has done is he kept people with him. People are quite worried about his leaving.”
Gialloreto said the decision to resign was difficult, but he’s particularly proud of the culture he leaves behind with a “deep pool of talent” at Tourism Victoria.
“When the recession hit, it hit everybody,” he said. “So the role for us changed a little bit, which was to keep our industry together and members focused on their core business.”
The impact of the 2008 global recession meant the torrent of international travellers to the Island dried up. Around the same time, the provincial government axed Crown corporation Tourism B.C. along with the steady, reliable funding it had been providing to tourism boards across the province.
“We used to have $500,000 (annually) from the province and then that went to zero,” Gialloreto said.
Last fall, Premier Christy Clark remedied the lack of a provincial tourism board by creating Destination B.C., a Crown corp Gialloreto has high hopes for.
“When you blow something up, it’s going to take awhile to rebuild it,” he said.
One of his biggest frustrations has been trying to convince the B.C. government to adopt a leveraging marketing model used by Alberta and other tourism boards across the world.
“Instead of (government) just pouring money into tourism, you leverage with (private) organizations and say, ‘We have $1 million to invest. If you put that on the table, we’ll have some power in the markets we need to be in,'” Gialloreto said.
White believes the tourism boss’s confidence and sense of humour have helped build bridges between often competitive industries.
But Tourism Victoria still faces the major challenge of getting major players – from hoteliers to restaurateurs to attraction owners – to work together for their mutual benefit, White said. “The collaboration needs to go far beyond what we’ve got.”
Gialloreto has also helped diversify Victoria’s brand, he said.
The traditional image of Victoria remains strong as a city of gardens, high tea and picturesque waterfronts, but many more tourists have come to see the Capital Region as a destination for outdoor activities and arts and culture, White added.
Gialloreto said his primary reason for leaving was to take on a new challenge, and he’s thankful he and his family are able to remain in a city he’s worked hard to promote.
“It’s not as common to find yourself moving from a place of strength to another place of strength, but Consumer Protection B.C. is very well respected, and I’m really attracted to the mandate,” he said. “Protecting consumers is a pretty awesome thing to be involved in.”
Gialloreto leaves Tourism Victoria June 28, and the board will begin the search for a new CEO shortly.