Alberta tourism and hospitality industry buoyed by domestic travellers

·4 min read
The Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Tourism Calgary says most of the city's visitors this year have been from Alberta and other regions across Canada. (Derek Leung/Getty Images - image credit)
The Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Tourism Calgary says most of the city's visitors this year have been from Alberta and other regions across Canada. (Derek Leung/Getty Images - image credit)

Several members of Alberta's hospitality industry say they are experiencing a rise in activity this summer fuelled by travellers from within Alberta and other parts of Canada.

Pandemic restrictions on international travel forced many Canadians to look closer to home for their travel plans, but institutions have also shifted their approach to appeal more to domestic visitors.

According to Tourism Calgary's Vice President of Marketing Jeff Hessel, most visitors to Calgary this summer have come from within a four- to six-hour drive of the city and other locations within the country.

Appeal to domestic clientele

Shameer Suleman, president of Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce, owns the Bayshore Inn Resort, Waterton Glacier Suites and their associated restaurants. Suleman says his businesses usually cater to Americans who, along with other international travellers, typically form around 70 to 80 per cent of his client base.

Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce recently partnered with Travel Alberta to advertise in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario to attract more domestic visitors. Suleman says his restaurants needed to adjust to accommodate their Canadian clientele.

Genevieive Normand/CBC
Genevieive Normand/CBC

"Canadians and Americans eat very differently. What they like is is very different. Portion sizes are different, cuts of meat or different types of food are different, which we learned on the fly."

Local support essential  

Travel Drumheller has been marketing the region as a go-to destination for Albertans and their neighbours.

"Our job is to market Drumheller and region, and we have worked very hard on things like our digital marketing to do very targeted marketing predominantly in Alberta but also into B.C.," said Executive Director Julia Fielding.

Fielding believes Drumheller's hospitality industry has done better than most during the pandemic and continues to thrive this summer.

"Our hotel occupancy has been up literally every month this year compared to 2019 and earlier. So we're very excited actually about this year."

Submitted by the Royal Tyrrell Museum
Submitted by the Royal Tyrrell Museum

Fielding says pandemic mitigation measures, like the Royal Tyrrell Museum switching to a timed entry system, actually helped the region by encouraging visitors to spend more time in the area.

"What that has meant is that people know that they have to be at the Royal Tyrrell museum for maybe for two o'clock. And so they're still coming out to Drumheller for the day and they are looking at other things to do either before they go to the museum or afterwards,'" she said.

Fielding says the region has also made an effort to advertise its other offerings, like the badlands, electric bike rentals and a new brewery.

Dominic Terry, communications manager at Heritage Park in Calgary, says they are very close to meeting 2019 visitor numbers, with around 70 per cent of visitors coming from within Alberta.

Terry says the park has seen the most growth in its private events as people begin to host more gatherings. He says the park will host more than 1,000 private events this year, which exceeds pre-pandemic numbers.

"More weddings, more barbecues, more private events, more birthday parties. We're seeing that on a level that we haven't seen in a number of years, even pre-pandemic," said Terry.

International expansion on the horizon

Tourism Calgary typically focuses on regional and domestic visitors, according to Hessel, so they were in a good position when pandemic restrictions limited international travel.

Hessel says he's been "pleasantly surprised" at the number of international visitors Calgary has seen this year from countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and India.

The organization will target the United States and other international markets in the near future. However, Hessel says it will take a while for those numbers to reach pre-pandemic levels.

"It probably will be at least until 2024, 2025 when we started seeing those numbers be on par with what we saw prior to the pandemic."

Transitional year for Waterton

Suleman says this year is a transitional one for Waterton as Canadians begin looking more internationally for vacation, and there may still be trepidation for many U.S. visitors to come to Canada.

"I think that Canadians have supported national parks especially in Alberta over the last couple of years, and they're itching to get out."

He also says specific challenges like the Chief Mountain Border Crossing — which connects the towns of Babb, Mont., and Pincher Creek, Alta. — remaining closed and fears around delays at Canadian airports hinder the area's ability to attract international visitors.

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