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Rural tourism funding aims to introduce visitors to new, lesser-known Alberta destinations

Increasing awareness of lesser-known tourism destinations
Westerner Days is one of the events that attracts visitors to the Red Deer region. (File photo by Advocate staff)

Provincial funding to develop environmentally sustainable year-round experiences in regions outside of Alberta’s most popular destinations is much appreciated by Tourism Red Deer.

On Tuesday the province announced that the 2023 budget includes $10 million over two years for Travel Alberta to increase awareness of and visitation to lesser-known tourism destinations across Alberta that have a high potential for growth.

“We’re excited to see the government and Travel Alberta’s commitment to rural communities like Red Deer and central Alberta,” says Rene Rondeau, executive director for Tourism Red Deer.

“The opportunities are huge, especially where we are located in Red Deer and central Alberta. Between Edmonton and Calgary, we have access to a lot of people and a lot of visitors coming in from those markets, as well as flying in from other markets.”

Rondeau said Tourism Red Deer has been working with Travel Alberta on an Olds to Lacombe Tourism Development Zone study which will help identify what is missing, and expansion possibilities. The results of the study will be unveiled in a month or two.

READ MORE: Preservation vs. Playground: What Banff has learned from a century of tourism

Travel Alberta’s Tourism Investment Program provides $15 million in annual funding to support tourism operators. In 2022-23, Travel Alberta funded 166 projects across 73 communities. About 75 per cent of the projects, and 70 per cent of the funding, were in smaller urban and rural areas of the province.

“Rural communities and tourism operators are key to the success of our visitor economy, welcoming visitors from across the world to experience Alberta’s unique spirit. This investment in rural tourism will drive economic development, support cultural preservation and create year-round employment opportunities for young people,” said Travel Alberta CEO David Goldstein, in a statement.

About 30 per cent of tourism spending is already occurring outside of the Canadian Rockies and Edmonton and Calgary regions.

READ MORE: Report highlights fiscal burden of visitation on Banff, Canmore + Jasper

The province says it is taking action to grow the tourism industry to a $20-billion opportunity over the next 10 years. Developing rural tourism is a key contributor to realizing that goal.

“From our unique small towns to the unsung corners of the foothills, to back country trails and rangelands, there are plenty of world-class attractions and hidden gems to discover across Alberta,” said Forestry, Parks and Tourism Minister Todd Loewen.

The government’s five-year Economic Development in Rural Alberta Plan, which will guide sustainable growth and diversification in Alberta’s rural economy, also provides the strategic direction to build capacity for marketing and promoting rural and Indigenous tourism.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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