Convention centre project the opposite of the fast ferries

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Smith Munro

I have a suggestion for those who attempt to draw comparisons between the expansion of the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre and British Columbia‘s infamous fast ferries.

Please venture down to the Vancouver waterfront and stand by the construction site where there are nearly 400 construction workers today and where there will be 700 shortly.

Then consider that, with a year and a half left to go before the expansion is open, there are already more than two dozen international organizations booked to use the facility. Then cast your eyes to the North Shore where the fast ferries have been sitting idle for years because there is no demand for them.

Unlike the convention centre expansion, they were not built with the customer in mind. It is mischievous in the extreme to make spurious comparisons, and we in the tourism industry cannot stand by and see the perception of this great expansion project damaged by false comparisons.

The decision to expand the VCEC was based on a well-thought-out plan assembled by business people with strong professional advisers. Market studies were done and international convention organizers — the customers — were consulted on what type of building would appeal most to them.

This was not a case of “build it and they will come,” but rather one of doing our homework on what will draw the business and then designing and building to meet those demands.

While the costs have escalated, as with all construction projects today, the business case remains solid — and the demonstrated benefits will be province wide.

David Podmore, as the new chair responsible for the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre, successfully established a fixed-price contract with PCL to complete the expansion, and to do so by March 15, 2009. That is news that I welcome as not only the operator of a Vancouver hotel, but as chair of Tourism Vancouver, a $90-million investment partner in the project.

Over the coming years, the expanded convention centre will attract hundreds of conventions and hundreds of thousands of convention delegates. They are the cornerstone to a multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

Everyone benefits from conventions — whether they work in retail stores or hotels; drive taxis or work in public transportation; run tour companies; are employed by attractions; or are part of our bustling restaurant scene and our wine industry, or just residents who like to see foreigners topping up our provincial and federal tax coffers.

The incremental tax revenues that the federal and provincial governments will receive related to the expansion project are significant. In fact, this is one “infrastructure project” that actually has a financial return on investment for government: They (actually we, as taxpayers) get our money back, plus the dividends of job creation and economic growth.

While dozens of large international organizations have already committed to use the expanded VCEC, aggressive sales and marketing activities will ensure that dozens more are added to the booking calendar shortly. The world wants to meet in Vancouver, and with expansion we can now accommodate more of their needs.

2010 will see world media attention focused on the VCEC and its spectacular location and structure, ensuring even greater business profile. The International Congress and Convention Association recognized Vancouver as North America‘s No. 1 city for holding international meetings in 2006.

Tourism Vancouver’s sales offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, both headquarters for many international convention decision-makers, are abuzz with new inquires, leads and prospects — and we are constantly submitting highly competitive “bids” on behalf of Vancouver’s tourism industry, the VCEC and our hotel community. Several major convention “wins” will be announced shortly, and added to our confirmed list of VCEC bookings.

To those who would misconstrue the convention centre expansion by comparing it with the fast ferry fiasco, I can only say this: The expansion of the VCEC will be worth every penny invested in it, and every British Columbian will point to the beautiful facility with great pride — for decades.

Tourism Vancouver is proud to have initiated the convention centre expansion committee in 1999, and we are proud to be a partner in what promises to be an icon for B.C. and an economic engine that will benefit the entire province.

Smith Munro is the chairman of Tourism Vancouver.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

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