Abbotsford Tourism director Dan Stefanson prepares to depart

Moving on after 10 years with the agency that operates Tradex at Abbotsford Airport.

Tourism Abbotsford executive director Dan Stefanson is leaving Abbotsford.

Tourism Abbotsford executive director Dan Stefanson is leaving Abbotsford.

The first employee of Tradex after the city purchased the trade centre at Abbotsford Airport more than a decade ago is moving on.

Dan Stefanson has been the executive director of Tourism Abbotsford – which operates Tradex – since 2003. He leaves later this month to take a job with Consumer Protection B.C. in Victoria.

“When I first arrived, the facility was struggling,” he said. Previously, the B.C. Pavilion Corporation had owned the centre since its construction in 1991.

He said one of the keys to Tradex’s success was its business model.

“Although we’re a non-profit, we were directed to run it as a business,” he explained.

Tourism Abbotsford has a long-term agreement with the city for destination and visitor services, which authorizes the organization as the official destination marketing organization for the city, Stefanson said.

For that, the city annually pays $70,000 to Tourism Abbotsford.

Tradex runs a small profit each year, and those funds are put back into the community, in endeavours such as trail development on Sumas Mountain, Relay for Life and $20,000 to local BMX facilities. These projects are identified as those that would lead to incremental tourism revenue and overnight stays, said Stefanson.

Since Tradex does not need to generate a profit, it is able to compete with other similar venues on price.

“[Abbotsford] benefits from the spin-offs – the hotels, food and car rentals” and more, he said.

Tradex has earned a positive reputation, said Stefanson. One of the first successes he recalls is when Abbotsford beat out Montreal and Calgary to host the U18 national volleyball championships in 2006. They were able to cram 18 courts into the building.

“It was the first time we punched above our weight.”

The experience impressed the organizers, and there has been a western or national championship annually at Tradex ever since.

Another linchpin for Tradex’s success is the relationship between Tourism Abbotsford and the city, said Stefanson.

“Our relationship with the city has been the envy of my peers. The spirit of cooperation and partnership has been here from day one. The city trusted us enough to hand us the keys to this building,” he noted.

But recently, while Tradex has been racking up accolades and positive news, the Abbotsford Centre (AC) across town has struggled.

“The situation with [AC] is a bit interesting. The costs to build were so significant … and there’s been a hyper focus on what’s wrong with the venue and not with what’s done right,” said Stefanson. “They’re coming off three sold-out shows.

“I’m not saying they’re successful, but Tradex was unsuccessful for the first decade before it hit its stride. I think the best is yet to come there.”

The community must come to see AC as an “opportunity and asset.”

Stefanson’s last day is May 23, and he’s pleased with the state of the organization as he prepares to depart.

“Tourism Abbotsford is in a good place. There’s a clear mandate and financials. The organization won’t miss a beat with my departure.”