Alberta Tourism Diversification Election Issue 2019

The bigger the summer vacation, the harder the fall

Tourism in Alberta is an important industry. Mostly we like tourism because we pride ourselves in our “western hospitality” and we are very proud of our natural treasures, the mountains and wilderness in particular. Tourism is often touted as one of the pillars of economic diversification. But competition is fierce internationally and Alberta doesn’t have much of a plan to develop new products.

Canada’s tourism revenue is about $22 billion. Alberta’s $8 billion is about 1/3 of the total. Alberta hosts about 35 million visits annually. Albertans like to stay at home so about 31 million of the visits are us. The rest are national or international visitors. The tourism industry likes international visitors because they represent 40% of visitor spending.

Alberta has about 19,000 tourism businesses that employ 127,000 employees. Growth in tourism has been quite slow but steady, in the past decade. The current target is to reach $10 billion in tourism spending by 2020 – but it seems a bit of a mirage.

A piece of “tourism” revenue is accommodation spending for oil crews and business visitors, which is lumped into tourism. The downturn in energy has eroded business and crew traffic –  thus the tourism numbers have been static for the past few years and are only now inching upward.

Canada’s 150th birthday was celebrated by free passes to our National Parks. This along with a cheaper Canadian dollar, improved our attractiveness. Each year Banff hosts about 4 million visitors and Jasper about 2.5 million. This year visitation was up about 7%. Mountain parks hoteliers were happy, room rates went up 14% and occupancy was 85%.

As we get into election season we can expect to hear the ‘diversify the economy’ drums begin to beat.  Severely Normal Albertans should be wary of promises to grow tourism unless:

  • We can find ways to make our wilderness more accessible to people,
  • Investors are allowed to develop more tourism attractions and facilities.