Tourism in your own backyard

There are signs that Central Albertans are going to be seeing more of themselves this summer than usual. That could be due to the combined impact of the low 78-cent Canadian dollar compared with the U.S. dollar, and the slump in the Alberta economy.

There are signs that Central Albertans are going to be seeing more of themselves this summer than usual.

That could be due to the combined impact of the low 78-cent Canadian dollar compared with the U.S. dollar, and the slump in the Alberta economy.

Liz Taylor, executive director of Tourism Red Deer, said Friday that surveys are showing more Canadians are planning a “staycation” this year.

Visitors to the Visitor Information Centre located beside Hwy 2 near Heritage Ranch are up eight per cent between January and April over the same period last year. Visits to their website are also up eight per cent, she said.

More people are coming in looking for information, and looking for things to do.

“We’re not seeing the huge increases like the mountains are because people are going to flock to those first, but there’s certainly going to be a trickle down.”

While there’s been an increase in leisure travel, business travel still experiences challenges, Taylor said.

Red Deer hotels do really well with weekend leisure bookings such as by sports teams, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of week day business travel. “Business is still very cautious,” she said.

But the hotel industry is seeing people booking earlier than typical, maybe because they are treating their local travel as their main holiday, Taylor said.

Doug Bos, owner of Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, said while it’s been fairly slow this season so far, it’s hard to tell yet if it’s the economy or the weather.

“We haven’t had any rain but we haven’t had some great weather neither. Mother’s Day was cold and windy. … The long weekend was raining and cold.”

On a positive note, the animal park’s season pass sales are up by about 30 per cent although that could be because of a bigger focus on their online campaign. Bos said he is hoping that staycations will have an impact.

Meanwhile they are busy building a new campground that will open next year at the wildlife park. It will have 65 RV and 10 tenting stalls, power, washrooms, showers and a pond for trout fishing, he said.

Tourism Red Deer is launching a new program on Monday.

“While we know that people are staying closer to home and lots of communities are doing the be-a-tourist-in-your-own-backyard, we wanted to go the next step. … So we’re encouraging people from Red Deer to invite their friends and family from elsewhere in Canada to come visit Red Deer,” said Taylor.

The Be Our Guest program involves going online to where digital invitations can be sent out to family and friends. It includes a contest where the winner gets four Air Canada tickets to fly someone here from anywhere in Canada and show off Red Deer.

Tourism Red Deer is also distributing the Insider’s Guide to Red Deer to every home in the city for the first time.

The guide is a good resource for local people to use to entertain visiting friends or families, or if they are looking for things to do themselves, Taylor said.

It is a joint project of Tourism Red Deer, Air Canada, the Red Deer Airport and the Red Deer Advocate, she said.

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