Tourism in Alberta: Year in Review
Tourism works for Alberta, and 2015 has proven to be a strong year for the province’s visitor economy. As the year draws to a close, here is a quick look at some key industry highlights from the past twelve months.
Overall, 2015 began with mixed signals for Alberta’s tourism industry. Low energy prices continued from 2014. Unseasonably warm weather impacted attendance at the ski resorts with 2.3 million total skier visits ultimately occurring in 2014-2015, down slightly from 2.5 million the previous year. Attendance at the three national parks rose in early 2015, with Banff welcoming 577,300 visitors through the end of March, an increase of 11.1% from the previous year.
Occupancy rates in the major cities declined slightly in early 2015, but improved significantly in Alberta’s resort areas.
Travel Alberta supported industry and engaged travellers in a variety of ways, including
- Launching SHiFT, Western Canada’s first experiential travel training program for industry
- Capturing social media advocates through a Tumblr/Yahoo Winterlust campaign
- Launching targeted marketing initiatives that engage travellers through social and mobile channels
- Expanding our library of photos available for partners’ use, especially user-generated content
Other industry highlights from the first three months included the following:
- The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TAIC) appointed Charlotte Bell as President and CEO
- The City of Medicine Hat launched a new story and brand
- 70,000 attended the Red Bull Crashed Ice finale in Edmonton
- Aspen Crossing won the Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Growing Rural Tourism Conference
- Eight Alberta spas made Canada’s Top 50 list
- Calgary was named host of the 2016 Juno Awards
- Falcon Crest Lodge was named one of Trip Advisor’s Top 25 hotels in Canada
Leading into summer, the second quarter saw strong tourism growth, particularly in the national parks. Banff and Jasper both reported double-digit increases in attendance. Meanwhile, Waterton Lakes National Park reported a remarkable 25% growth in visitation for the first half of 2015.
Both Calgary and Edmonton’s tourism industries continued to be impacted by the current economic climate. According to Tourism Calgary, for example, the number of hotel rooms sold in Calgary was down 2.8% through June.
At Travel Alberta, we were active in a variety of initiatives, including
- Helping promote Alberta to global tourism buyers at Rendez-vous Canada 2015
- Leading global marketing efforts and growing lead referrals to 1.1 million in 2014-15
- Inspiring and inviting potential travellers worldwide through Instagram and our other industry-leading social media channels
- Supporting industry partners across Alberta through co-operating marketing programs
Other industry-related highlights from the second quarter included the following:
- The Right Honourable Rachel Notley became the 17th Premier of Alberta, appointing David Eggen as Minister of Culture and Tourism
- Lake Louise made the 17 most beautiful Honeymoon Destinations List
- Edmonton made the list of National Geographic’s Best Summer Trips 2015
- The province’s tourism industry rallied Together for Tourism Week
- 749 Alberta businesses were named Trip Advisor Service of Excellence Award winners
A favourable exchange rate, growing U.S. economy and Travel Alberta’s global marketing strategy helped attract visitors this summer, resulting in a record season for many operators. Banff, Jasper and Waterton all experienced strong summers, with double-digit growth.
They weren’t alone. Royal Tyrrell Museum reported a 12.1% increase in visitation over last year, while the Canadian Badlands region reported significant increases for almost all major tourism attractions. Alberta’s museums and historic sights also reported a 23.7% increase in September visitation compared to last year.
During the first nine months of 2015, more than 12.8 million passengers passed through Calgary International Airport, a 2.1% increase compared to the same period in 2014. Edmonton International Airport also reported a 1.8% increase from the previous year.
More than 151,600 campsite reservations were booked in 2015, a 14% increase from last year. Also, Alberta’s restaurant sales hit a record in August.
Travel Alberta was active in variety of initiatives, including
- Launching a new Alberta Specialist Learning Program
- Helping develop 35 new and refreshed experiences during the last year through our Experience Development Program
- Releasing our 2015-2018 business and marketing plans
- Helping attract meetings, conventions, exhibitions and events to Alberta
Here are a few other highlights:
- Destination Canada appointed David Goldstein as President and CEO
- Alida Visbach, President and CEO of Heritage Park, was named the 2015 Alto Ambassador
- The Canadian Food Championships searched for Canada’s best cooks
- The six-day Tour of Alberta drew national attention
- The Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park celebrated its 75th anniversary
- The much-anticipated Philip J. Currie Museum opened to nearly 20,000 visitors in the first 40 days
- Brewster Travel Canada announced a $16 million investment to enhance the Banff Gondola
- Pomeroy Lodging announced a $26M revitalization plan of the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis
- Alberta Culture and Tourism launched the Tourism Entrepreneurship Program
Data is not yet available for the last quarter of 2015, but the trends driving the summer success appear, at this time, likely to continue.
Many winter experience operators, including ski resorts and others, are reporting strong bookings earlier than usual based on sales at the same time last year. The winter weather is forecast to be cooler than last year’s warm temperatures and November saw strong snowfall throughout the province.
At Travel Alberta, we’ve been helping mobilize Team Alberta by
- Working collaboratively with Destination Canada on U.S. re-entry efforts
- Working collaboratively with the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association to drive direct accommodations lead referrals
- Helping Alberta operators tap into the lucrative Asia market
- Celebrating excellence in tourism via the 2015 Alto Awards
- Promoting professional development at our annual conference
- Releasing the 2014 Annual Report “Together We’re Growing Tourism in Alberta”
- Helping connect Alberta tourism suppliers with global tourism buyers at Canada’s West Marketplace, including assisting 14 Alberta Operators with a scholarship to attend
Around the industry, highlights from the past months included
- The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau’s election as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister, and appointing several new ministers impacting tourism
- Two Alberta tourism businesses competed the CWM scholarship program
- Okotoks’ tourism campaign went viral, earning national and international attention, and the city won an award from the Chinook Country Tourist Association
- The federal government announced plans to lift visa requirements for Mexico
- The Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup kicked off on November 28
Many other highlights occurred throughout 2015. Tourism continues to demonstrate that it is a strong economic driver for our province. The industry generates $8 billion in tourism revenues and supports more than 127,000 jobs across the province, proof that tourism works for Alberta.