Travel Alberta

Canmore DMO Knows How to Go Beyond

Canmore used to be an undiscovered gem known to visitors for hiking and skiing. Today it is a thriving destination for authentic mountain lifestyle renowned for healthy living, remarkable dining, unique shopping, vibrant arts and culture and – yes – world-class mountain sports.

Its journey from former mining town to vibrant tourism destination is a story of vision, collaboration and big thinking. At the heart of the town’s most recent transformation is Canmore Business and Tourism (CBT), a gutsy and creative driver of economic health throughout Canmore and Kananaskis.

History and Growth

The seeds of CBT were planted in 1998, when a tourism task force led to the formation of a not-for-profit destination marketing organization. Later, Tourism Canmore broadened its mandate and became Tourism Canmore Kananaskis.

In 2011, the organization was rebuilt, merging with the local economic development organization to become Canmore Business and Tourism, a holistic economic management organization.

“We saw the opportunity to pull everyone together and build the economy and tourism hand-in-hand,” says Andrew Nickerson, CBT’s president and CEO.

Since its remake in 2011, CBT has tripled its budget and marketing spend. As a result, web traffic has increased exponentially and in 2015, Canmore reached a new record of overnight visitors.

“The big difference is being highly strategic in who we are targeting and in focusing on future product development,” says Nickerson.

Beginning with a New Brand

The new organization began by investigating how Canmore is differently perceived by residents and visitors. Mountain sports are a huge draw, but residents knew the town excelled on other fronts, too.

That led in 2012 to a new brand with the tagline Go Beyond.

“Go Beyond really describes who we are,” says Nickerson. “It’s not just good food, but remarkable dining experiences. It’s not just retail, but locally owned boutique shops. It’s not just sports, but Olympic athletes and training facilities.”

Nickerson says CBT has been able to achieve great results because of a very strong vision, a commitment to collaboration and a passion for thinking big. Two examples illustrate the point.

Welcoming the World

One of the challenges for Canmore is to entice people to turn off the highway and experience what the town has to offer. With that in mind, Canmore bid to host the 2014 Canada’s West Marketplace so that travel trade representatives could experience first-hand what Canmore was all about.

“We really had no business making a bid,” laughs Nickerson. “We didn’t have a convention centre and we had only one hotel with anything close to the required space.”

But the audacious move paid off and Canmore put its trademark creativity to work. Meetings were held at the Coast Hotel, which “went beyond” to set up a tent in the parking lot to cater lunches. Indoor/outdoor evening parties were held at Elevation Place and the Canmore Nordic Centre with skiing, mountain biking and climbing.

“Hosting Canada’s West Marketplace was a big feather in our cap,” says Barb Scott, VP of business development for Waymarker Hospitality. “CBT really opened a lot of eyes about what we have to offer and the trickle-down effect has been amazing.”

Where Canmore used to get a mixed response from the travel trade, it’s since seen thousands of room nights in firm leads.

Go Big or Go Home

Three years ago, CBT sat down with culinary operators to ask them what they needed. They said a food festival to showcase their talents.

Within a few months, a 10-day extravaganza involving almost 50 businesses was organized for April 2014. Canmore Uncorked won the Collaborative Tourism Award that year at the Alto Awards. In 2015, the festival grew to 13 days and won Event of the Year at the Canadian Tourism Awards.

“Most places would have started small with a weekend event to test the waters,” say Nickerson. “We had such faith in our dining scene we went as big as we could. The only thing limiting us is our imagination.”

Aaron Parker, general manager of Murrieta’s Bar & Grill in Canmore, says CBT’s support for the culinary sector doesn’t stop with the festival. “They are regularly setting up progressive dinners so tour operators can sample our restaurants. That has led to lots of new group business.”

Working with Travel Alberta

Nickerson says CBT looks to Travel Alberta for advice, research and contacts as well as support from departments like media and sales. And it’s making more effective use of resources like the Cooperative Marketing Investment Program.

“We like to push the envelope and the Travel Alberta team is great to bounce off ideas and create ways to do things differently. Although we are a big destination, we are not a big budget DMO. Without our great relationship with Travel Alberta, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

This is the second in a 12-part series on Alberta tourism success stories.

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