July 23, 2024

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Q and A: Travel Alberta CEO on post-pandemic tourism

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The visitor economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions have forced the tourism industry to pivot its attention to local travellers.

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As Alberta’s tourism industry begins to rebound as travel restrictions ease, Postmedia spoke with David Goldstein, Travel Alberta’s CEO, about how the industry has changed and the benefits of hosting “big ticket” events.

Goldstein said a full pre-pandemic tourism industry recovery is expected by 2023-24.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Is there more reliance on local travellers now than in the past? How did the marketing efforts change?

Definitely over the last few years there’s been a focus on trying to stimulate travel from Albertans and Canadians because the borders have been closed. So, really it’s the only market we had and the marketing techniques are interesting because Travel Alberta rarely, if ever, did marketing in Alberta. We were normally focused on external markets, so we had a staged approach that focused on Albertans and then last summer we started targeting British Columbians, Ontarians and Quebeckers and then of course the fourth wave hit, so we sort of had to readjust.

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The good news and the bad news is that Alberta travel has been relatively robust even throughout the pandemic. Albertans last summer used this opportunity to explore their own province and in fact, many destinations in smaller communities throughout the province that they might not have spent time in under normal circumstances.

What does Alberta have that are the biggest draws for visitors?

Everybody immediately thinks about the Rockies, which is sort of the global icon, but I think what has happened is this has provided us an opportunity to really dig in and create a broader sense of the province. In Southern Alberta, the sort of dinosaur parkway, the badlands, right down into Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Dinosaur Provincial Park and campground bookings were never stronger.

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While those travellers don’t spend as much, we really saw a nice rebound in southern Alberta, parts of central Alberta, right through Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, those parts of the province and even into parts of northern Alberta. It’s allowed Albertans to do a little more exploring around Alberta and it’s given the travel industry an opportunity to think more broadly about who the future customer could be down the road, when the international travellers start to return.

What is the current state of Alberta’s tourism industry right now and how does it differ from pre-pandemic years?

There’s still a struggle. Some operators will not recover, some are still trying to recover and it’s really because the most profitable travellers are the U.S., international travellers who are just starting to come back.

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We’ve had labour shortages which have been difficult on the industry, so trying to recruit people to come back to the travel and tourism sector is a huge priority. There will be challenges but the interesting thing that we’re seeing, at least initially from those who are travelling from other parts of Canada or from the United States, is people rebooking travel that they had cancelled because of COVID, especially now that the federal government has announced the removal of the pre-testing requirements at the border. That’s extremely helpful for our American clientele who may have booked vacations or business travel to Alberta and have had to cancel.

With the IIHF World Junior Championships being held in Edmonton this August, how large of an impact do you anticipate this to have on the visitor economy?

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The reality is those are the types of events in the business we call citywide events, or big-ticket events, that tend to drive a lot of hotel room nights, and it’s not only good for the hotels where they booked, but it creates compression demand for the rest of the hotels in the city. So, really, really important.

I was just in Lethbridge when the Brier was taking place there and I was out in the parking lot counting all of the out-of-province license plates and it was incredible. Those types of events really help drive — a lot of Albertans will like to go to the World Juniors — but they’re really good at driving visitation from outside the province.

City officials are really pushing the province to commit to help Edmonton host games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup. How important is that event, and how big a loss would it be if Vancouver was picked over Edmonton?

Obviously a big event like FIFA is not just about the hotel rooms that it draws for the event itself, but it really helps put a city like Edmonton on the international stage. So, these are important opportunities, but at the same token it’s as critically important to make sure there’s a dozen or so of those medium-sized events that are in the pipeline because that’s what’s going to keep business moving forward on a long-term basis. But there’s no doubt that big events like that provide a nice halo impact for the destination.

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