Published On: Tuesday, 08 May 2018

BC Ferries: So Much More Than Suits From the South Island

BC Ferries: So Much More Than Suits From the South Island

VICTORIA - Media and much of the public were quick to laugh at BC Ferries “name that ship” contest when it was announced in 2015. But, after all the sarcastic suggestions (i.e. Spirit of Bad Wi-Fi) and headshaking over why the corporation would even consider a PR stunt that left them so vulnerable, something interesting happened.

The contest worked. In fact, it exceeded expectations. Not only did BC Ferries end up with great names for their vessels, the social media and marketing department was able to engage with consumers on a level that far surpassed its goals.

That story was one of many entertaining insights from BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins, who spoke to more than 80 people at The Chamber’s Business Leaders Luncheon on April 18.

Mark’s inspirational commentary on BC Ferries served as a reminder of why British Columbians, despite our grumbling, are generally proud of our world-class service.

There is still much work to do though. Challenges include convincing folks on small islands that their input is valued. Mark spoke about the perception in some places that the “suits from the South Island” were only interested in making decisions in the interest of the corporation, not communities.

“This is the feedback I’m getting from customers, and it’s clear they don’t trust us — that’s a problem,” he said, describing how the corporation has had to first prove it’s being honest before it can even begin to work with some communities.

To be clear, people feel safe taking the ferry. But can you imagine trying to sell your product to customers who, for generations, have grown up thinking it’s their birthright to mistrust your organization’s leaders?

To change that perception, Mark says BC Ferries has adopted an aspirational vision “to act in a way that earns the trust and becomes valued by the communities they serve.” The corporation’s new mission is to connect “customers and communities with people and places that are important in their lives.”

No mention of being a transportation service, because that’s not how people think about BC Ferries. It is simply our connection to people, to services and to the goods we need for a healthy regional and provincial economy.

BC Ferries is coming off a record year, having moved 21 million passengers in 2017 – the most ever. The corporation is moving to a new reservation system that will offer more convenience for customers. It makes sense to operate like an airline or train, rather than the current method of charging an extra fee just to guarantee a specific boarding.

Mark also confirmed that he is looking at the feasibility of a route connecting the West Shore with downtown Victoria. It’s very early, he cautioned, but doesn’t that sound exciting?

Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at,