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Central Alberta Launches Plan to Drive Growth

Ten-year Plan for Central Alberta Rooted in Collaboration

A recently released 10-year destination management plan for central Alberta provides a far-reaching framework for partners to work together to realize the full tourism potential of the region.

Produced with input from hundreds of stakeholders, tourism operators and 11 community partners, Reaching Our Potential charts a shared path forward for tourism in central Alberta.

“The timing is right for this,” says Liz Taylor, executive director of Tourism Red Deer and member of the Central Alberta Destination Management Plan (DMP) steering committee. “Our partners recognize that if we don’t make headway on collaboration, central Alberta will fall behind other regions in the province.”

A Destination with Potential

The central Alberta region spans 31,000 square kilometres in the heart of the province and is within a three-hour drive for 85 per cent of Albertans.

Home to about six per cent of the province’s population, it features boreal forest, parkland, foothills and mountains, 88 parks and protected areas, lush farmland, prime recreational lakes, a rich historic and cultural tradition, and the urban charms of Red Deer.

In 2012, about eight million person visits were recorded in central Alberta – about 24 per cent of total visits to Alberta – accounting for 16 per cent of visitor spending in the province.

Planning for the Future

Early discussions began in 2014 about how to develop, market and manage Central Alberta as a distinct tourist destination. “Our partners had worked on smaller collaborative projects before and seen the benefits,” says Taylor. “We started talking about how to apply that approach to the whole region.”

A steering committee was established with representatives from the central Alberta communities of Lacombe, Olds, Ponoka, Sylvan Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Innisfail, Blackfalds, Red Deer and the counties of Red Deer, Clearwater and Lacombe. Many area tourism operators were engaged and Alberta Culture and Tourism sat as an advisory member.

Eventually, Stantec was hired to do research, an inventory of attractions, amenities and services, and to facilitate stakeholder interviews, workshops and online public engagement.

Competitive advantages, target markets and unique tourism resources were identified, and strategies determined on how the destination could reach out to and compel its target markets to visit.

In October 2015, a draft of the plan was rolled out to 100 stakeholders for input, with a final version released in January 2016.

“We spent a lot time at the beginning of the process talking, clarifying what we wanted to do and setting strong guiding principles,” says Taylor. “I think it paid off to take the time upfront to build trust and make sure we were all on the same page.”

Setting Objectives and Priorities

The plan sets forth a vision, clear outcomes and 10 strategic priorities with over 120 action items for destination development, management and marketing.

Each priority identifies a potential leader, supporting partners, timing and level of importance. Examples include development of new campgrounds, creation of an agri-culinary farmers’ market attraction, enhanced training for front-line tourism staff and the development of a central Alberta brand and storytelling framework.

The group opted not to go with a pay-to-play model with a formal organization leading the process, choosing instead to leave decision-making at the grassroots.

“We want each community to look at the plan, see how they can fit into it and decide how they will participate and where they will invest,” explains Taylor.

While some steps will be easy, others will require more study and new strategic alliances. The expectation is that projects will be undertaken simultaneously with different partner clusters over the next 10 years.

Next Steps: Wide Engagement

Details of the plan will now be widely shared across the region and made accessible to everyone.

Steering committee members will take it to their respective municipal councils to advocate for its adoption as a formal planning tool.

Efforts will be made to enhance networking opportunities to inspire the collaboration needed to make the plan work, as well as finding ways to encourage and support participation by smaller communities.

“Our challenge is to get people to own the plan and make sure they know how to use it for the benefit of their own communities and businesses, and for the region as a whole,” says Taylor.

To learn more about the Central Alberta Destination Management Plan, contact Liz Taylor at  or download the plan.

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