By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News
Rural tourism initiatives will receive $10 million in the next two years to develop experiences in the regions outside of Alberta’s most popular destinations.
The funding will focus on environmentally-sustainable attractions and work to increase visibility for “lesser-known” tourism destinations which have been marked with high growth potential. Government of Alberta statistics report that only 30 per cent of tourism spending is taking place outside of the Canadian Rockies and the large urban centres of Calgary and Edmonton.
The Province has identified the funding as an action step to, “grow the tourism industry to a $20-billion opportunity over the next 10 years and developing rural tourism is a key contributor to realizing that goal.”
CEO of Travel Alberta, David Goldstein, said the investment in rural tourism will, “drive economic development, support cultural preservation and create year-round employment opportunities for young people.”
Travel Alberta told SSN, “an example of a local project that received funding in fiscal year 2022-23 is the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre. Travel Alberta also partners with Tourism Lethbridge to support their marketing and development of tourism in the region.”
Noting the unique offerings and agricultural contributions of Lethbridge County, Tourism Lethbridge launched a self-guided driving food tour in 2022 to showcase farmers and producers in Lethbridge County, and market the diverse offerings from producers within Lethbridge County and Canada’s Premier Food Corridor.
Although Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and the Canadian Rockies remain popular “bucket-list” destinations for international and domestic tourists alike, of the six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Alberta, four are within a two hour drive from Lethbridge. These sites include Writing on Stone Provincial Park, and Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump which are around an hour from Lethbridge. The funding will support marketing efforts for these destinations and as traffic increases, so too will traffic to nearby rural communities and businesses.
Two of these World Heritage Sites nearby are critical sites of Indigenous history and knowledge keeping. According to the Province’s announcement, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta, Shae Bird, applauded the funding.
“Investments like this support Indigenous entrepreneurs who offer amazing tourism experiences that showcase the stories, wisdom and diversity of Indigenous cultures in less-visited areas of the province. More importantly, these partnerships help support the economic and cultural revitalization of our Indigenous communities and offer a chance for Canadians to connect with Indigenous Peoples as part of their own reconciliation journeys.”
Budget 2023 includes a 14 per cent increase to Travel Alberta’s funding over 2022, and saw funding awarded to 166 projects in over 70 communities in Alberta, of which 70 per cent of funds were spent in smaller urban and rural areas.