Tourism group says Edmontonians play key role in promoting city to the world

Explore Edmonton operates the Edmonton Convention Centre in the downtown core and the Expo Centre on the former Northlands grounds.  (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)
Explore Edmonton operates the Edmonton Convention Centre in the downtown core and the Expo Centre on the former Northlands grounds. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton's tourism, marketing and events authority, Explore Edmonton, wants the city's residents to learn how to boast better.

Traci Bednard, president and CEO of Explore Edmonton, says Edmontonians should recognize and be proud of what the city has to offer.

"We're so humble and so sometimes we take things for granted," Bednard said in an interview with CBC News this week.

Explore Edmonton brings international and national sporting and cultural events to the city, while also coordinating conventions and hosting local festivals.

Bednard also points to the plethora of theatre, art, festivals and a nationally recognized restaurant and dining scene as big selling points.

Explore Edmonton runs the Edmonton Convention Centre, which is located downtown, and the Expo Centre on the former Northlands property at 75th Street and 118th Avenue.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

The group helped bring the FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifier to the Expo Centre this fall, a needed reprieve after ongoing struggles related to COVID-19 pandemic.

"January and February, those were not easy months for us — we lost all convention traffic — we didn't have a lot of visitation," Bednard said.

The non-profit has a broader scope now than when it took over tourism and marketing promotion nearly three years ago.

It also runs events that used to be under the Northlands banner such as K-Days, Farmfair, Pro Rodeo and the Urban Farm.

K-Days drew in 760,000 people over 10 days — with a blend of traditional events with gaming and creative arts, Bednard said.

Explore Edmonton said in 2022 so far, events have generated a total economic impact of $82 million, with K-Days bringing in $22.9 million.

Budget request

Explore employs 550 people and with the expanded scope, is requesting $18 million from the City of Edmonton, for next year.

This is up from $11.7 million it's currently earmarked to get, in the city's 2023 operating budget.

Explore generates $47 million a year through revenues and is projected to spend more than the $58.7 million in the budget.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said the funding request is likely a legitimate one for the group to continue operating and economically recover from the pandemic.

"If council can't approve that, I think that we have to understand that there's going to be… from my understanding, some impact on what they can deliver," Hamilton said in an interview this week.

Hamilton is optimistic about the role Explore Edmonton has in working with international trade and investment groups like Edmonton Global.

"They're not just touching tourism, they're talking to our different economic sectors, they're talking to government, different levels of government and bringing that together," Hamilton said.

Foreign trade and investment 

Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global, said tourism is key in attracting investment and a talented pool of employees and residents.

"Explore Edmonton continues to bring high quality business events to the region," Bruce said in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

Edmonton Global worked with Explore to host the Canadian Hydrogen Convention at the convention centre in April, the largest hydrogen convention in North America. Bruce noted the event will be hosted again in 2023 in the spring.

"Events like these are key for bringing in international delegations and gaining international attention," he said.

Modern tourism wing

Explore Edmonton is the modern tourism wing of the former Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, an entity that had been around for more than a quarter century.

An audit released in late 2019 called on the group to clarify what it does, after city councillors asked for more accountability and transparency.

The entity had operated several divisions of economic development, including Innovate Edmonton, Startup Edmonton, Edmonton Tourism, the Edmonton Convention Centre and the EXPO Centre.

The EEDC dissolved in early 2020 after several senior executives stepped down and more than 1,000 employees were temporarily laid off because the centres were shut during the beginning of the pandemic.