The trick with tourism is finding ways to part visitors from their dollars.
“And you’re not doing a great job,” consultant Atif Kubursi told a gathering on Tuesday at Quality Inn North Hill to unveil a new study on the economic impact of tourism in Red Deer.
Kubursi, president of Econometric Research Limited, said the study prepared by his firm shows there are a number of areas where Red Deer is not taking full advantage of potential tourism markets.
One weakness is in the amount of money generated through accommodation. Only about 11 per cent of the $258 million spent by visitors in the Red Deer region in 2008 — the last year full statistics are available — went towards accommodation, compared with a provincial average around 25 per cent, said Kubursi, who is also an economics professor at Ontario’s McMaster University.
That’s a sign that too many visitors to the area are just day trippers who are not staying the night.
Kubursi said the region has a limited “menu” of the kinds of events and attractions that draw tourists. “You could make your menu richer and more diversified,” he said. “This is a gap.”
Also, too many of the area’s visitors are single adults visiting family and friends. While the community doesn’t want to lose those visitors — and should try to make sure they stay and spend more money — larger groups and families must also be given a reason to visit.
The statistics show that the region draws most of its visitors from Alberta — 1.8 million of the nearly two million visitors came from within this province. Another 140,730 came from within Canada, 18,104 from overseas and 21,939 journeyed from the U.S.
The small number of visitors from south of the border offers another tourism market that has not come close to being tapped fully.
Kubursi recommended that those working to boost tourism do a gap analysis to see where more could be done. Look at other communities and see where they have succeeded, he recommended.
Tourism Red Deer executive director Liz Taylor said the data collected will serve as a benchmark to measure the success of future tourism initiatives. Some of the information has already proven helpful in the preparation of a draft marketing plan.
“We really took a lot of the information from the impact study and we were able to weave it into our marketing plan,” she said. That plan looks at everything from the potential to draw people through Red Deer College programs to strategies on building the city’s convention and meeting business, to raising the profile of local events such as music festivals.
Taylor agrees that Red Deer has not always gotten its message out to potential visitors — but that is changing.
“We have to be very clear about what it is we have to offer and we have to communicate that to consumers. We have to give them a reason to come to Red Deer.”
Moe Rehemtulla, branch director for this region for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation, said the study will help the community identify gaps in its tourism approach and develop marketing plans to fill those holes.
For instance, the study showed the low numbers of U.S. visitors. “Is there a market there? Maybe you need to look at that a little more.”
The data can also be used to determine where visitors are coming from and how to get the best bang for your tourism advertising dollar.