While sitting at my computer in Gastown, I do a Google search for ‘Vancouver’ and the first result that comes up is a headline from CBC: ‘Feds’ oil spill response blasted by BC premier, Vancouver mayor’. There are four other links about the oil spill, nestled amongst links to Destination BC, Vancouver hotels, and other tourist sites, all of which are diminished by the oil spill headlines.
Reports say that about 2,800 litres were spilled into the waters of English Bay, but the amount is not necessarily the most important fact, nor is how much has been recovered. It’s the fact that regardless of quantity, this spill impacts the branding of Vancouver as a tourist destination, and could devalue every dollar invested in promoting BC as Super, Natural British Columbia. That’s important.
In addition to any direct effects, we need to be conscious of the indirect effects like the effects on perception. A study commissioned for the Louisiana Office of Tourism two months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, found that perception overshadowed actual impacts: a quarter of people thought that leisure activities (swamp tours, boating and hiking) were closed because of the spill, when in fact, this was not the case. This recent spill in Vancouver is nowhere near the catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it still makes headlines.
What do tourists hear about this spill? Will this impact their decision to visit later this summer? We can’t quantify the people who are contemplating a trip to BC, who then decide not to visit.
Moving commodities through the port of Vancouver brings both risks and benefits, but this spill is a reminder to question who benefits and who takes on the risks, and are those equal?