Calgary tourist attractions feel pinch as visits to city dip 10.5% amid downturn, council hears

Calgary tourist attractions feel pinch as visits to city dip 10.5% amid downturn, council hears

Fewer tourists visited Calgary last year, leaving hotel rooms sitting empty and some local attractions a bit lonely.

Tourism Calgary reported 850,000 fewer visitors last year, down from 8.05 million in 2015 — a 10.5 per cent drop.

"Basically what you are seeing is a reflection of the decrease of the business traveller in Calgary, which is no surprise," said Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady.

She made the comments following a meeting at city hall where last year's tourism numbers were discussed and several organizations — including Heritage Park, the Calgary Zoo and the Telus Convention Centre — laid out the effect the struggling economy has had on their bottoms lines. 

"We've been talking about it for the last two years, but now we have numbers about what that drop off in business travellers looks like," Ady said.

Fewer people meant more empty hotel rooms, with occupancy dropping 5.5 percentage points to 58 per cent citywide.

But while business travel is down, the city saw a 7.8 per cent increase in U.S. visitors and a 12 per cent increase in international visitors.

And Banff hotels are looking almost sold out this summer, said Ady, so that should mean additional visitors for Calgary if people can't find hotel space in the mountain resort town.

"We still think in the fall — because business hasn't completely returned — we'll have some challenges, but we think we'll have a really solid spring-summer," said Ady.

Trouble at Heritage Park

Heritage Park brought in an extra $170,000 from parking fees last year, but they still had to cut $570,000 in employee salaries as attendance is down 3.5 per cent to 585,000 and banquet attendance down 12 per cent to 71,500.

Also hurting is the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, which saw a 14 per cent drop in delegates to 164,000 and 40 per cent fewer events.

Telus Spark, Calgary's science centre, bucked the trend and saw attendance rise by 15 per cent last year to 431,000 people.

Calgary Zoo looks to solar

The Calgary Zoo saw a slight dip in its attendance numbers to 1.32 million last year, but memberships jumped by 8,000 people to 77,000.

CEO Clement Lanthier says a major flood mitigation project will be completed later this year and the panda exhibit is under construction.

The zoo also wants to explore putting solar panels at the main parking lot near Deerfoot Trail and Memorial Drive to save on $800,000 a year in energy costs.

"I think that's one of the busiest — or the busiest — intersections in the province," said Lanthier. "They're going see that massive solar panel field that could remind everyone of our responsibility to think about sustainable energy in the future." 

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