The pandemic has accelerated many things in tourism for destination organizations. Topics that are top of mind for CEOs include: community, relevance, sustainability, regeneration, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The Destinations International advocacy team released its Canadian tourism lexicon this week, and the words ‘region,’ ‘government,’ ‘indigenous,’ and ‘collective,’ not only made the list but immediately landed top-ten positions. Already on the list, ‘community’ vaulted from twelfth to fourth place.

Take heed, for sure. The lexicon reflects concepts and dialogues that are driving change in the industry.

On the destination and product development fronts, it’s a little harder to pick out initiatives that have been able to not just move forward but actually flourish in these difficult conditions. Outdoor asset building in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, stands out, as does the alignment and branding work in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois.

Add to that list the esports initiative that was launched by the Waterloo Region Sport Hosting Office. Esports describes the world of competitive, organized video gaming. 

For background, know that Explore Waterloo Region, an hour west of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, has been working on its sport hosting capability for the better part of seven years. A collective group — the regional tourism office, RTO4, the Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, and the municipalities of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge — identified sport hosting as a potential competitive strength.

In 2015, they together set to work to build a sport hosting office that would serve the three cities and leverage the opportunity and influx of resources that come with hosting. The objective was to be the third most successful sport hosting destination in the province, second only to Toronto and Ottawa, within 10 years.

So what to do during the pandemic, when almost all sport has ground to a complete stop?

The Sport Hosting Office in Waterloo Region looked to the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau in North Carolina. Dennis Edwards, president and CEO, and Loren Gold, executive vice president, had spent the better part of a decade building one of the East Coast's most successful and cooperatively-built esports destinations.

With insights from Raleigh and access to the consultation team that helped drive Raleigh’s success, Waterloo Region was able not only to establish its Sport Hosting Office during the pandemic but actually managed to launch the official Waterloo Regional Esports Commission. 

In the fall, it announced the inaugural chairperson, Jeremy Dueck, manager of the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. Dueck has a masters degree in sport industry management from Georgetown University; his thesis centered on esports. 

They also hosted their first in a series of esports conferences and a series of clinics in partnership with local universities, schools, and Sport Canada.

Quite an accomplishment in two years of rolling lockdowns, cancellations and uncertainty.

Allister Scorgie is the Director of Sport Hosting at Explore Waterloo Region. Ed Tomasi is the Co-founder and Managing Partner at Subnation Media, an esports powerhouse.