Transforming Surrey, BC: A Rising Canadian Tourism Destination

Surrey, British Columbia, is quietly transforming itself into a rising star among Canadian tourist destinations. According to the 2021 Tourism Sentiment Index, Surrey has now earned the status of being the 12th most beloved destination in Canada, showcasing an uptick in its reputation. Discover Surrey, the local tourism promotion agency, has been instrumental in orchestrating this remarkable shift and monitoring it through the Tourism Sentiment Index.

While it might be often perceived as a suburb of the iconic Vancouver, Surrey is steadily forging its unique identity as a tourist hub. Nestled between the Fraser River and the U.S. border, it’s on track to become British Columbia’s largest city by 2030. Its burgeoning reputation is underpinned by a range of integrated campaigns designed to captivate visitors with local experiences that evoke positive sentiments.

Metro Vancouver is renowned for its diverse cultural groups, and Surrey is no exception. The city’s cultural mosaic draws from the traditional territories of the Salish Peoples, along with significant communities hailing from Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Oceania. To showcase this rich diversity, Surrey has been hosting the Fusion Festival annually since 2008, a vibrant celebration of food, music, and culture. Other focused experiences such as Diwali Fest, rodeos, and beachfront live theatre offer a diverse array of attractions to suit every taste.

Ange Chew, who took up the role of Executive Director at Discover Surrey in July 2020, recognized that despite its eclectic range of attractions, Surrey was often perceived as a mere residential hub, overshadowed by its reputation as a haven for golf enthusiasts. Surrey boasts the highest number of golf courses in the Lower Mainland, making it British Columbia’s most densely populated golf region.

Nonetheless, Surrey’s scenic charm extends far beyond golf courses. The Green Timbers Urban Forest Park, a sprawling urban oasis with ten kilometers of nature trails, provides a glimpse into the city’s natural beauty.

Chew has harnessed sentiment data to address these perception challenges and to drive tourism promotion initiatives. The Tourism Sentiment Index offers invaluable insights for creating a roadmap to overcome these misconceptions and catapult Surrey into the tourism spotlight. It’s a tool that provides empirical data to support claims about Surrey’s attractions, thus helping to challenge stereotypes that might hinder the city’s progress.

Chew’s approach, driven by sentiment data, led to the launch of an innovative program aimed at enhancing positive sentiment and showcasing one of Surrey’s most potent assets: the Surrey Spice Trail. With a substantial South Asian population and over 750 restaurants in the city, Surrey has crafted a culinary trail to celebrate its diverse offerings.

The Surrey Spice Trail, launched in the summer of 2021, spotlights multicultural cuisine from the city’s six neighborhoods. This initiative gained momentum when acclaimed chef and television personality Vikram Vij joined by adding his restaurant, My Shanti, to the program. It began with the goal of involving 10% of local businesses and ensuring representation from each neighborhood, a milestone successfully achieved with 75 restaurants, cafes, and retailers now part of the trail.

Discover Surrey utilized a mix of promotional strategies, from paid advertising to earned media and social media, alongside an interactive website, ensuring easy access to the trail for visitors. The results have been promising, and each campaign, guided by the sentiment data, consistently raised the positivity scores. The sentiment data is a potent tool for Chew, who shares it with the city council, Discover Surrey’s board, and local businesses via an industry newsletter.

Chew’s efforts to enlighten consumers about Surrey’s diverse leisure offerings and to highlight local businesses have significantly boosted the tourism industry. Surrey is now experiencing a steady influx of regional travelers, with visitors coming from British Columbia, Alberta (a neighboring province), and Washington state (just across the U.S. border). Accommodation rates have returned to 2019 levels, and visitors are choosing to stay in Surrey for several days while Vancouver’s international travel remains largely dormant.

In March, the Tourism Sentiment Index announced the 50 most beloved Canadian destinations, based on 2021 sentiment data, with Surrey securing the impressive 12th spot. This achievement was even entered into the parliamentary record, further confirming Surrey’s ascent as a cherished Canadian tourist destination.

Surrey, BC, has made significant strides in establishing itself as a prominent Canadian tourism destination. By leveraging sentiment data and designing innovative campaigns, Discover Surrey has reshaped perceptions and elevated the city’s reputation. As the city continues to evolve and redefine its identity, the future looks bright for Surrey as a must-visit destination for travelers seeking diverse cultural experiences, natural beauty, and culinary delights.

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