A new “summer slider ride” at Red Deer’s Canyon Ski Resort and more vacation cabins at Innisfail’s Discovery Wildlife Park are some of the new tourist attractions in central Alberta.
Travel Alberta was given an expanded mandate by the provincial government to make investments in tourism to “get us back to pre-COVID levels by 2024,” said CEO David Goldstein.
Some central Alberta attractions benefitted from this extra $20 million in Travel Alberta’s budget.
Goldstein said a new rollercoaster-like ride will be installed at Canyon Ski Resort to help make it a four-season attraction.
Also, Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail was given a matching grant to turn six vacation cabins into 17 cabins. “We had to turn a lot of people away last summer,” said Discovery Wildlife Park manager Serena Bos.
“We knew there was a more of a market for people who wanted to camp but didn’t have motor homes,” added Bos, who believes the 17 cabins will book up fast.
Among the other local tourism grant beneficiaries was the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, which received money to purchase some trail bikes and snowshoes for visitors who want more of an outdoors experience.
On Monday, Goldstein attended a Tourism Town Hall, co-hosted by Travel Alberta and Tourism Industry Association of Alberta, at the Harvest Centre in Westerner Park. It was part of a series of 10 town halls that are planned throughout the province to bringing together business, municipal government, and industry officials to collaborate on the sector’s growth and recovery.
“It’s the first time we’ve been able to do this in two years,” said Goldstein, who was thrilled to be meeting the 80 registrants face-to-face.
Tourism was big business in Alberta, pre-pandemic, bringing in $8.2 billion annually. This supported 69,000 jobs and 20,000 related businesses. And it also added $6.5 billion to Alberta’s gross domestic product.
Although international and U.S. tourism was practically nonexistent due to COVID during the last two summers, more Albertans and other Canadians explored this province, so things weren’t all bad, said Goldstein.
He estimates tourism revenues fell to $5.2 billion in 2021.
The challenge now is to revive revenues by keeping the interest of Albertans and other Canadians in this province, as well as by bringing back more out-of-country visitors, he added.
Advertisements touting Alberta’s rugged diversity are already being shown in Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, said Goldstein, who believes the lifting of COVID testing requirements for visitors entering the country will be a big help.
He’s hoping to soon see large-scale conferences happening again in the province, as well as big sporting events. Some are already happening, but Goldstein admitted most of these bookings are actually re-booking from events that were supposed to go ahead in 2020 and 2021 but had to be postponed.
Rene Rondeau, executive-director of Tourism Red Deer is pleased his group got some extra money to create video content to help market this city’s attractions on YouTube and social media. “We have the tools to go and showcase the region.”
Rondeau is particularly excited to see the various groups working together with private businesses to boost the industry.