Updated July 30, 2020, 3:02 pm
The Sea to Sky Gondola is one of British Columbia’s most iconic attractions, the crowning glory of the city of Squamish, B.C., drawing visitors from around the world.
Guests ride the gondola’s cable cars 885m to the summit taking in sweeping views of Howe Sound—glimmering coastal waters, majestic mountainscapes, cloud-kissed treetops—you’re surrounded by the vast, awe-inspiring bounty of the Pacific Northwest. It’s the kind of experience that connects people with nature—a way to feel more connected and more alive.
On August 10, 2019 a vandal deliberately cut the main gondola cable, sending the popular attraction crashing to the ground. The bewildering event caused $10 million in property damage and forced the company to shut down operations for the season and lay off 75 seasonal staff.
It was a disconcerting incident that raised a lot of questions, and could understandably stir up fears about rider safety. Even so, there was an enormous outpouring of support from the community. Both businesses and fans of the attraction from all over sent well wishes, rallied in support, with many sharing their personal stories and photos of the attraction, which spurred the Sea to Sky Gondola Moments Facebook page and the affectionate hashtag #SeatoSkyGondolaLove. The page reads: “Over the last few days, we’ve received a huge amount of support regarding the incident at the Sea to Sky Gondola. We’d like to channel this energy into a positive momentum. Let’s celebrate the Sea to Sky Gondola, our community, our businesses and our people.”
As the organization began the recovery process, they shared their Journey to Rebuild every step of the way. Christy Allan, Director of Marketing, Sales & Guest Services at the Sea to Sky Gondola, says, “We were open and transparent in our journey back to recover and brought everyone for the ride.”
Six months later, the much-loved attraction reopened on Valentine’s Day 2020 to a record number of visitors. The much anticipated opening celebration was a glorious, gratitude-filled day.
The importance of the customer experience
The rally behind the attraction is an example of how brand loyalty can help a company weather crisis. Brand loyalty happens when people associate positive feelings and experiences with an organization and is a result of how organizations play a positive role in consumers’ lives, which for the Sea to Sky Gondola, is both the intrinsic nature of their operations as well as the core messages behind the company.
Unfortunately, the opening was short-lived. Only 33 days after the reopening ceremony, on March 18, the popular attraction was forced to shut down for the second time in seven months, this time due to COVID-19.
Allan recalls the moment: “We had this incredible reopening, everybody was back to enjoy— seniors, families— the whole community was back enjoying. Then COVID-19 hit, it was unbelievable…but as the days went on and we’re watching companies close down, entire industries shut down, it was this outpouring of support from the community that kept us going…it came back to what is the safest thing for our staff and guests. Safety is the number one priority, right through the whole organization and to the guests.”
Business in Canada is evolving rapidly and navigating operations during COVID-19 can be precarious. With international travel at a standstill, border closures, grounded flights, and an aversion to travel during a global pandemic, the tourism and attraction industry faces an uphill battle.
Closing for a second time was a double whammy that could bring even the world’s biggest brands and companies to their knees. But for the Sea to Sky Gondola, the resounding question throughout the second closure was: “How do we continue to give back to the community? [We] realize the importance of paying it forward and giving back to the community that supported us,” says Allan. “Like everyone else, you go from group events, weddings, gatherings, now everything has come to a halt, so it’s really about bringing back the local experience.”
They organized events such as Cinema Under the Stars for the community to gather and experience the attraction in a new way.
Why brand loyalty matters
Brand loyalty doesn’t just happen. It is a brand’s ability to connect with their community and consumers. Addressing emerging needs and frustrations is what sets brands apart, especially when it comes to managing and surviving a crisis.
A lot can happen in one year, as we know. The Sea to Sky Gondola has since reopened for the second time as of May 22, 2020— the first part of a two-phased reopening—just shy of the year mark since the cable cut incident. Though it’s not quite business as usual due to physical distancing rules reducing its operational capacity significantly, you can’t help but admire the organization’s tenacity and their willingness to keep on going. Their ability to adapt, share in a social responsibility, and give back has only strengthened their relationships and allyship, further demonstrating that we are all in this together.
To learn more about the Sea to Sky Gondola, experience the attraction and read up about their updated protocols, please visit their website at https://www.seatoskygondola.com/.
The Sea to Sky Gondola is located on the unceded traditional territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations.
The vandalism incident is under investigation by Squamish RCMP.