In March 2020, Victoria International Airport along with airports around the world saw something unprecedented – passenger numbers dropped to nearly zero with little warning, as COVID spread around the world, a pandemic was declared and public health measures restricting travel were implemented.
In business, it’s common for leaders to make plans for changes in revenue or customers numbers of plus or minus 15 to 25 per cent, but the airport saw a 98 per cent drop in traffic nearly instantly. Despite that, the airport managed to never lay off a single employee, and it has emerged on from the uncertainty debt-free.
The man at the helm during this challenging time was president and CEO Geoff Dickson, and after 12 years of growth and challenges, he has announced the time has come for him to retire in September.
“You’re nostalgic, you’re hopeful, you’re optimistic, but there is a degree of sadness too,” said Dickson. “I had a good look at where I was in life, how long I’ve been CEO, and then where we are coming out of the pandemic and entering into a new growth and investment cycle with respect to our master plan. I felt it was a good time to make that change and transition, before the major capital projects get started.”
Dickson came to the airport after 12 years working for an airline and another 12 years with BC Ferries, which brought him back to his hometown of Victoria.
During his tenure, the airport enjoyed a period of strong growth – one of the fastest-growing airports in Canada before the pandemic – with plenty of capital projects which have proven successful. But if you ask him what work he is most proud of, he doesn’t hesitate to say it was working with such a great team of people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets.
“The men and women who work and have worked at the airport and the kind of energy and passion they bring to the job every day are amazing,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of evolving this airport to a point where everyone feels pretty proud of it.”
He is also proud of the shift to local coffee shops, restaurants and retailers occupying commercial space in the terminal, and the airport’s overall track record of sustainability.
“One of the things I really enjoy and see every day is the 9.3 km multi-use path we built around the airport. I can remember talking to the board when I first joined and they were kind of saying they didn’t hire me to build walking paths, but I said it was an important way for the airport to give back to the community and humanize us a bit more. I get so energized seeing people out on the trail riding their bikes and exercising. It’s such a nice feeling.”
And while it only represented two years of his career, the pandemic and its impact on his job is impossible to ignore.
He jokes that if he knew he would have to navigate a pandemic when he first applied for the job he might not have followed through and accepted it, but he said the challenge breathed new energy into him and his attitude toward the work.
As he looks toward the pending sunset on his more than three-decade-long career, Dickson said he is looking forward to spending more time with family, travelling, and his hobbies of golf, hiking, and cross-country skiing.
But he is also looking forward to watching the airport continue on its path of success, as outlined by its recently completed strategic plan, which paints a picture of substantial, but measured, growth between now and 2042.