A comprehensive and in-depth Destination Management Plan (DMP) was introduced to nearly 80 various community stakeholders last week as the proposed foundation for a regional tourism plan in Central Alberta.
Realizing Our Potential – Central Alberta’s Tourism Destination Management Plan could be adopted as the official 10-year plan to boost tourism in Central Alberta. It was broken down into a number of categories that included planning strategies, a destination analysis and a plan to begin moving forward in this industry.
The presentation was carried by Justin Ellis, a consultant with Stantec and Dr. Eugene Thomilson, a senior advisor with Left Coast Insights – Tourism Development Consulting and assistant professor, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University.
“We need to understand how everything fits together for things to work properly. We weren’t going to just go in and develop a marketing plan – we needed to have something that would work for all of the stakeholders – something that everyone could be a part of,” Thomilson said.
“We want collaboration, cooperation and participation by all of the stakeholders in the process.”
The DMP covers a region from Clearwater County west of Rocky Mountain House, east into Lacombe County near Buffalo Lake. The plan extends from the Olds region north to Ponoka.
The main goal of the plan is to develop a unified, adaptable and branded image of Central Alberta where tourism could thrive. The plan explored the possibilities of tourism that come from natural geography, historical resources, utilizing tourism hubs to connect surrounding municipalities and more.
According to the DMP, the region provides access to six main categories of tourism: nature, adventure and ecotourism, agriculture and culinary tourism, festivals, events and sport tourism, Aboriginal tourism, cultural, heritage and arts tourism and business events.
“There is a lot of potential for our visitors. We discovered that there are 88 different provincial parks and protected areas in the region. We want to look at potential barriers to tourism development or expansion, as well as how some of how our environmentally significant areas can also be an attraction,” explained Ellis.
“Almost 30 per cent of the region is what’s called an environmentally significant area, of different classes from internationally to provincially significant. That’s a good news story, in terms of being able to market, sell and develop experiences. It’s also something we need to be very mindful of as a tourism industry when we are going forward in developing new opportunities.”
Ellis said there is a high focus on sustainability in tourism, so the region would be careful to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area without sacrificing the integrity of the area.
The environmentally significant areas in the region would be protected and preserved, while allowing a place for people to explore Alberta’s beauty.
“Though it has many of the similar assets as Banff, southern Alberta and more, we believe that this region itself has the potential to differentiate its image by being uncomplicated, uncrowded and unspoiled,” Ellis said.
“In terms of tourism there can be challenges. We want to ensure that the region and tourism in the region is positively embraced by its host communities. We hope that it becomes a major driver and diversification tool in our economy,” he said.
“In terms of how it is delivered, we want the industry players to become champions of this plan and its implementation and that they move forward in a unified, innovative and collaborative way.”
In developing a unified brand for regional tourism, Ellis explained each municipality has a role to play. A recommendation was made to utilize the 11 partner communities under the categories of gateways (Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House and Olds), hubs (Sylvan Lake, Lacombe, Sundre, Nordegg, Innisfail) and tourism service centres (Blackfalds and Ponoka). These designations would help communities identify their role in regional tourism, and plan for future development that accents their role in the DMP.
A proposed idea to drive tourism through lesser-travelled areas uses what are known as ‘themed touring routes’. These routes utilize existing roads to drive people through a particular area of tourism interest. For example, a tour of the West Country through Forestry Trunk Road or an Artisan and Rodeo tour utilizing Hwys. 2, 53, 20, 11 and 22.
These themed tourism routes would be promoted regionally to promote a wider exploration of Central Alberta by visitors. The themes utilize the major tourism categories as previously mentioned and are customized to recognize the individuality of the municipalities and what they have to offer.
“By 2025, we will have transformed Central Alberta into a must-experience destination that is authentic, memorable and sustainable. In terms of growth and diversification, by 2025, we will have increased year-round visitation from our markets, both short-haul and long-haul, we will have increased direct and indirect economic contributions to our regional and local economies, and we will have attracted an increase in private sector investment and encouraged local and public investment,” said Ellis.
“Central Alberta brings together all of the diverse and authentic experiences for which Alberta is known, within a region that is uncrowded, unspoiled, welcoming and ready to be explored.”
The document explored strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats regarding the region’s tourism, with suggestions for each category. It has been introduced to major community leaders and stakeholders in hopes of receiving feedback, being adapted and then adopted.