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As anyone who has visited or worked in Banff, Jasper, or Canmore over a summer long weekend can attest, summer in the Rockies is a very busy time for tourism.  

For most of our industry the peak summer months drive the success of tourism operators across the province, as travellers come from all over the world to experience our rich natural landscapes, vibrant cities, rural communities and world-class festivals. But, once the leaves fall from the trees and the weather gets colder, many operators either shut down for winter or significantly scale back their operations.  

With summer visitors long gone and a dusting of fresh snow on the ground, I can’t help but wonder: what would it take to eliminate seasonality in Alberta?  

Would those travellers who visit us in the peak months from June to September expand their horizons and explore Alberta in the winter? Or do we need to appeal to an entirely different demographic of traveller – those driven by a desire to get off the beaten path and experience something entirely new – even if it’s twenty below zero or colder?

It can be done – Look at Tofino’s strategy to flatten the demand curve 

In addition to Tofino’s overwhelming popularity as a summer beach destination and in particular for those keen to hit the waves and get out on the water, many travellers are visiting this small Vancouver Island peninsula when weather takes a turn for the worst.  

In fact, many accommodations in the area are now promoting winter storm watching packages, so visitors can get up close and personal with the west coast’s wild weather and participate in “Tofino’s favourite spectator sport.” 

Sample of Pacific Sand's website promoting storm watching: Source: Pacific Sand's website

The tourism operators in this region understand that high-value travellers are seeking unique experiences they can’t find anywhere else. Many of these travellers want to get off the beaten track and are drawn by the promise of fewer crowds and wide-open spaces.  

Tofino is building a new winter brand, combining rugged nature-based experiences with the luxury service and accommodations that visitors have come to expect. 

Alberta’s incredible advantage: consistent Winter 

So, what will it take for Alberta to become a truly well-known winter destination?   

Alberta is a great destination for aurora-viewing and other cold weather activities because we have a relatively reliable winter season.  But we currently lack enough all-season resorts, as well as upscale aurora viewing experiences that would accelerate our reputation of becoming a high-demand winter destination.  These are just two product experiences but relative to B.C. and Northwest Territories this is a gap that we need to close. 

To do this, we must convene public and private investment to bring new signature developments to life – developments that will define the future of the region and entice visitors to travel to Alberta’s destinations, year-round. Luxury boutique accommodation, aurora-viewing, spa and wellness, and cultural and Indigenous experiences represent massive opportunities for the next bold entrepreneurs who understand and act on this potential. 

Snow scene with a couple soaking in an outdoor hot pool in the woods. Kananaskis Nordic Spa at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. Canadian Rockies.
According to Virtuoso 2022 Travel Trends, 21 per cent of global travellers are currently travelling for health and wellness driven reasons.

Alberta has an incredible opportunity to enhance its identity as a year-round destination. We benefit from largely consistent winter seasons, but weather is only one key ingredient.  

We need to accelerate our development strategy to design jaw-dropping experiences that “pencil in” for investors but also compel travelers that are looking for these unique winter experiences. Taking the opportunity to identify and analyze the winter product success stories across Canada can help determine how they can also be brought to life here, so that we fast-track our reputation to becoming a winter destination unlike any other destination in Canada.  

Albertans are big dreamers. We’re independent, competitive, emotional, and not afraid to go against the grain. In fact, we go that way naturally. We have a wild streak handed down by generations before us. Albertans have a distinct attitude, and we get things done.  

Our ability to find the warmth in nature’s darkest season presents us with an incredible opportunity to grow our visitor economy, beyond peak summer months, and achieve our goal of doubling its size by 2035. 

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