A regional tourism group promoting the West Country should be formed and backed up by a website to lure more visitors, says a recent report.
The Reeve’s Economic Summit: Tourism was unveiled earlier this month and involves an overview of the challenges facing the industry and how to meet them.
“The perception of the area needs to change from an industrial oil and gas area to a desirable tourism destination,” says the 15-page report.
The paper is the third of a four being prepared by county staffers, Reeve Pat Alexander and two councillors. Versions focusing on oil and gas, and forestry are already out. The fourth on agriculture will come out in September.
Recommendations from the tourism paper include creating an intermunicipal committee with representatives from Clearwater County, and the Town of Rocky Mountain House and the Village of Caroline. It would include an economic development task force, which would include tourism initiatives among its work.
Clearwater County chief administrative officer Ron Leaf said the need for more regional co-ordination has been a common thread in the first three papers.
“That’s one of the key points that struck me,” said Leaf.
Efforts should also continue to lobby the province for more enforcement in the West Country. Random camping and speeding drivers on the David Thompson Highway are among issues that were raised by those interviewed for the report, which included municipal representatives and councillors and other stakeholders.
About six million people — five million of them Albertans — visited Central Alberta in 2010, the last year the province has statistics available. The province considers the region as an area north of Edmonton to Calgary (excluding those two cities) from the eastern border of the province to the Banff Park boundary.
The report recommends that tourism efforts focus on both those who come with their own quads, trailers, tents and food “do-it-yourself tourists” and those who are looking for a place to stay and want to experience an event or attraction.
Those looking for attractions or events are currently under-served in the region.
That do-it-yourselfers are an important target clientele is backed up by data from the “Where Adventure Begins” website, which shows campsites and quad trails are the most requested searches.
Also suggested is that a single, unified brand be developed for the region, improving available recreation information and maps, develop a one-stop shop for tourism in the area, create more annual events, such as adventure races or outdoor festivals, create a signature resort in Nordegg and do more to advertise the area internationally.
It also proposed that the province be lobbied to allow more development opportunities that would provide needed services for tourists.
Diversifying the economy is important to the sustainability of the region, the report says.
Among the challenges facing the tourism industry is the need to provide affordable accommodation for workers, who are often lower paid than other sectors.
Leaf said the difficulty in finding accommodation has even been an issue among recent town hall hires. The strength of the local oil and gas and forestry industries has lured many new workers to the area and rental spots are in short supply.