SURREY, BC, CANADA
Surrey, Canada, is on pace to be the biggest city in British Columbia by 2030, bigger than its famous neighbor, Vancouver. As Surrey grows physically, Discover Surrey is finding new ways to help the city’s reputation grow positively, too. Discover Surrey relies on Tourism Sentiment Index to understand the progress it is making in fostering positive sentiment around distinct Surrey experiences through integrated campaigns. Off to a strong start, Surrey was the 12th most loved destination in Canada, according to 2021 sentiment data.
(Header image: Surrey Centre Square by Reg Natarajan)
The only Canadian city with a bigger population than Surrey in the province of British Columbia, is its neighbor, Vancouver. Surrey, which is also the third largest city by area in the province, lies between the Fraser River and the border with the United States. As part of the Metro Vancouver region, Surrey is often seen as a suburb of its popular neighbor, but the city’s reputation as a distinct tourism destination is on the rise as Discover Surrey uses campaigns finely tuned to local experiences to drive visitation. Tourism Sentiment Index allows Discover Surrey to track how those efforts result in positive sentiment.
Metro Vancouver counts many cultural groups among its residents. Surrey is on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Salish Peoples, and it is home to significant communities from Asia, as well as the Americas, Europe, Africa and Oceania. Tourism experiences in Surrey are often reflections of those cultures. Since 2008, the city has hosted the annual Fusion Festival to celebrate the food, music and culture of its residents. Visitors can also enjoy more focused experiences, like Diwali Fest, the rodeo and live theater on the beach.
Ange Chew joined Discover Surrey as Executive Director in July 2020. She has seen that, despite having diverse attractions, Surrey is often caught in the role of suburb and known as a place to live, not a place to do and see things, aside from playing golf. The city has the most golf courses in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia’s most densely populated region.
"But we also have the most municipal parks, so how do we leverage other assets like that to be a product we can sell? Where the sentiment is high, we say let’s leverage this interest and build products around that," Chew said. "Tourism Sentiment Index helps with creating a roadmap for how to overcome perceptions, like 'there’s not much to do in Surrey.' We can take that to our board and say this is what we need to do to move forward."
Chew also uses sentiment data to talk to city leaders about changing other perceptions, including the impact of Surrey often being named in news coverage about incidents of crime.
"The media mentions Surrey specifically, not just 'Metro Vancouver' or 'in the Lower Mainland' like they do when something happens in Burnaby or Richmond (other cities in Metro Vancouver region)," Chew said. "That’s a challenge for us. We can see when our sentiment goes down for specific incidents that happen in Surrey."
Through her work understanding sentiments around Surrey, Chew led Discover Surrey to launch a new program to put forward one of the city’s strongest experiences and to build positive sentiment: Surrey Spice Trail.
"We have such a large South Asian population in Surrey and 750 restaurants, so we thought about a culinary option," Chew said. “We realized we can own South Asian food, so we thought 'Let’s create this trail.'"
Surrey Spice Trail started in the summer of 2021 with a promotion to showcase the multicultural cuisine available across the city’s six neighborhoods. The program really took off when Vikram Vij, a well-known chef and television personality, added his Surrey restaurant, My Shanti, to the program.
"Having Vikram Vij come on first, the cachet of his persona helped get this off the ground,"Chew said. "We wanted to get 10% of the businesses involved and make sure we had restaurants in each of the six neighborhoods."
One year later, the goal has been achieved with 75 restaurants, cafes and retailers now on the trail. The growth has been supported by the success of Discover Surrey’s promotional tactics. They have used paid advertising, earned media, social media and an interactive website to ensure visitors can access the trail.
"We use Tourism Sentiment Index when we are in campaign mode," Chew said. "We look to see if what we’re doing bumps up our score."
It does, and she shares the sentiment data with the city council, Discover Surrey’s board, and local businesses through an industry newsletter.
At the outset, Discover Surrey saw a 25% increase in positive sentiment over the provincial average during the Spice Trail campaign. Chew says similar upticks occur with each tactic, including television coverage that provides a positive message about Surrey.
"With the coverage from Global TV, the perceptions of Surrey can change. They should, because the city has changed," Chew said. "This helps to contradict those perceptions about crime."
Discover Surrey’s efforts to give consumers a better idea of the city’s varied leisure experiences and the efforts of local businesses that deliver those experiences have boosted the tourism industry. The city is benefiting from regional travel with high numbers of visitors from British Columbia, the neighboring province of Alberta, and Washington state, just across the US border. Accommodation rates have returned to 2019 levels.
"They are choosing to stay in Surrey and spend a few days here, while there is still occupancy available in Vancouver," Chew said. "Vancouver relies on international travel, and that hasn’t come back."
Surrey’s positive reputation is also earning other attention. In March, Tourism Sentiment Index released the 50 most loved Canadian destinations, based on 2021 sentiment data. Surrey was 12th in the country. This accomplishment was entered in the parliamentary record when one of the city’s legislative representatives shared the news with the provincial government and congratulated Discover Surrey.
Green Timbers Urban Forest Park has 10 kilometers of nature trails, inside the city of Surrey.
Surrey’s Indian community celebrates Vaisakhi with a parade. Indian cuisine is one of the culinary traditions featured in the Surrey Spice Trail.
Source: BC NDP
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