On 20 June 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would be fulfilling his 2015 campaign promise to legalize cannabis for recreational use. With only 12.5 weeks to prepare before the law took effect, Vancouver Airport Authority knew it could not wait for government and enforcement agencies to organize and implement communications, particularly within the lens of an airport environment. For the health of its organization and the safety and security of travellers, the Airport Authority knew it would have to lead with a media relations-focused communication campaign.
Vancouver Airport Authority is a community-based, not-for-profit organization that manages Vancouver International Airport (YVR). A major tourist and commercial hub, YVR is Canada’s second busiest airport, connecting over 25 million annual passengers to 127 destinations worldwide. Possessing a stellar industry reputation—voted Best Airport in North America for the ninth consecutive year in 2018 at the Skytrax World Airport Awards—YVR’s business and reputation were at stake with the potential impact that legalization of cannabis (a previously banned narcotic) could have on its operations and strategic goals.
Through informal research, including outreach to airports in the U.S., Amsterdam and Uruguay, it quickly became evident there was no playbook or best practices to draw upon. We needed to take a lead position in our country, the only nation to legalize all three forms of cannabis possession, and demonstrate our ability to implement and communicate this groundbreaking legislation seamlessly and effectively into one of the most globally visible systems it would affect—cross-border travel.
We decided to issue a simple, direct, impactful and organizationally appropriate approach via the media to ensure that the two guiding strategic objectives of the organization were met through this uncharted territory: to maintain and enhance the speed and ease of the airport hub and to provide an outstanding customer experience. The stakes were also high from an external perspective as our ability to meet our organizational strategic objectives impacts 24,000 jobs directly and over 100,000 jobs across British Columbia. YVR contributes CDN$16.5 billion annually in total economic output to the province, through our operations, tourism and cargo.
Understanding this truly unique challenge, we seized the opportunity to become a communication pioneer and leader for the global community.