For the first time in nearly three years, Tourism Calgary has a business plan.
Calgary’s destination marketing organization announced the strategy on Feb. 16 to members of the tourism industry, City of Calgary officials, and members of Calgary City Council.
Among the areas of focus for the areas of focus for the next three-years will be strengthening Calgary’s reputation through branding, becoming a year-round event city, elevating the city as a top convention destination, and further building community and collaboration amongst partners.
“Well, basically, we’re back,” said Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary.
“We were constantly in what I would call the midst of the crisis and then into recovery, and this is the first really great sign that we’re moving out of recovery like the bold people we are, into the future.”
The new strategy, said Ady, is meant to support the more than 970 Calgary businesses that rely on Tourism Calgary to bring visitors to the city.
In terms of the tourism industry itself, Calgary is on track to return to 2019 levels of visitation by 2024. With that, there’s the opportunity to grow from a projected $2.1 billion in tourism revenue in 2024 to $2.7 billion by 2027.
Ady said the planned opening of the BMO Centre Expansion in 2024 was a generational opportunity to increase and advance the visitor economy in Calgary.
That expansion project plays a large part in turning Calgary into a Tier 1 convention city.
“That puts us up there with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver—kind of moves into the big kids’ table on this one,” Ady said.
Plans for the coming year involve Tourism Calgary aligning convention marketing and sales plans with partners like the Calgary Stampede, and increasing industry awareness of the upcoming convention space.
Going into 2024 and 2025, the organization said that they want to optimize the return on investment from efforts to draw conventions to the city.
Tourism Calgary is also directing part of its strategy toward supporting convention delegates, especially those that will be attending the June 2025 Rotary International Convention. That event is expected to draw between 20,000 to 40,000 visitors to the city, from more than 100 nations.
Importantly for the city’s tourism industry, those convention travellers represent both high volumes of people visiting the city, and also high levels of spending.
Gualtieri said that the addition of events like the Special Olympics and Scottie’s Tournament of Hearts to the Chinook Blast mix does more than just expand the offerings to locals.
“They also bring a lot of tourists, where we get to actually incorporate the arts and the culture of our city as well,” she said.
Leisure travel continued focus, and international visitors wanted
The strategy isn’t completely moving away from domestic travellers. That travel is expected to represent 78 per cent of the total Canadian tourism industry spend in 2023.
“It will be critical to continue to promote Calgary as a destination of choice regionally and domestically, where our largest volume of travellers come from,” wrote Tourism Calgary in their strategy.
Ady said that leisure travel in particular is back nationally, but the international leisure travel portion of the industry has been slower to recover.
Key markets for 2023 will continue to be locations within an eight-hour drive of the city, like parts of B.C., central Alberta, Saskatchewan, and parts of U.S. states like Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
“There’s going to be a lot of emphasis from a strategic perspective by ourselves, travel Alberta and Destination Canada, on the U.S,” Ady said.
“We’re going to be looking at Mexico because that’s the market that’s been the most resilient in the comeback so far… and New York, California, Texas—they tend to be the places where we get the most visitors from, so we’re very much hoping for a restoration of that traffic.”
Priority markets for Tourism Calgary for 2023, outside of the United States, are Germany, Switzerland, Australia and the U.K.
France, the Netherlands, and Japan will be focuses later in 2023 and into 2024, while South Korea and China will become priority markets in 2025.
ROI from past visitation, tour operator viability post-pandemic, ease of air access, and ease of doing business with those markets are all cited as reasons these markets were selected.
“The reason they’re important to our market is, although they only represent about 25 per cent of the visitors that come to Calgary, they represent 75 pre cent of the spend,” said Ady.
Creating a year-round eventful city
One of the goals for Tourism Calgary is to attract between one and two large signature events to the city each year. Alongside that, they plan to attract anchor events in the shoulder and winter seasons, and then assist local events by connecting them with other events and conventions.
“We’re going to, in 2024, have the Special Olympics in Calgary, which we’re pretty excited about. There’s this dream of Commonwealth Games perhaps coming, and we’re also in the mix right now for the North American Indigenous Games,” Ady said.
“There’s lots of really great opportunities out there that the team is working on, and putting us in a bid placement so that we can actually go and access them.”
Ady said that one of the reputations Calgary has is a city that is friendly but also being great hosts. That’s something that Tourism Calgary is going to leverage as a brand.
Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer spoke to LWC about the eventful city strategy, during the launch of another major event that is due to take place in May.
“When you think of what has just happened in the city, even just recently with the Nitro RX event, what we’re witnessing is a pretty awesome diversification in terms of the kinds of offerings that we have as a city,” he said.
Plans to draw more events to the city include hosting tours in 2024 and 2025 with international event partners, leverage the Special Olympics to build awareness of the city’s capacity to have events and to expand the reach of Chinook Blast.
Chinook Blast wrapped up with eyes on future growth
Within the strategy document, the plan for Chinook Blast is to build the festival’s reputation and importance, with the possibility of breaking off the festival post 2025 into its own entity separate from Tourism Calgary.
“There are four major groups that come together to bring it, and we’re going to see as time goes on,” said Franca Gualtieri, Executive Director, Chinook Blast.
“We’re going to evaluate and see if it ends up becoming an entity on its own, but I think it needs a little help before that.”
Part of that means getting increased corporate sponsorship of the festival, and continuing to draw in partner organizations.
Despite the polar vortex in week one of the 2023 Chinook Blast, the festival saw good turnout numbers, which then became record turnout numbers for weeks two and three after the weather warmed up, said Gualtieri.
“One of my counters on Steven Avenue, said that there was 18,000 people downtown on a Saturday evening, so I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Other pillar partners reported record-breaking attendance, including the inaugural Nitro RX event at the Calgary Stampede’s GMC Stadium, which was the highest attendance for rally cross races in North American history.