Cindy Ady, one of the longest serving CEOs in Tourism Calgary’s history, is stepping down after a decade in the role to focus on retirement.
Over the past 10 years, Ady stewarded the organization through a pair of the biggest crises in Calgary’s history—the 2013 floods and the global Covid-19 pandemic—but decided that with a slate of tourism related projects to be completed in 2024, now was the time to step-aside.
“I’ve had a really good 10 years. We’ve got an awful lot accomplished, and I think that the stage is now set for that next big step forward in the in the visitor economy,” she said.
“Lots of things are in place and ready, but I really believe now it’s my time to fade back and someone else’s time to come in and pull in a very energetic way. I want them to do all the right things, obviously, and I’ll be watching and a cheerleader and ambassador, but the time is, right.”
She said that despite having a career at Tourism Calgary being bookended by two major events, there were many successful years in between where the organization was able to make major strides in improving the tourism economy in the city.
Among those successes were growing the contribution of tourism to Calgary’s GDP by nearly 100 per cent, from $1.6 billion to $3.1 billion, creating long-term funding for the Calgary Hotel Association, working to attract top level events to Calgary like the Special Olympics Winter Games and numerous major conventions, and the creation of Calgary’s winter city festival, Chinook Blast.
“When my 10 years began, shortly thereafter we had a major flood in Calgary, which had a very big tourism event impact. It was right in front of Stampede and I got to see the city step up. In a few short weeks, after the devastation, to be able to throw a Calgary Stampede and to be able to go out and say we’re open,” Ady said.
“We made it through the pandemic, and we were able to come back to life and thrive again this year. So, now I know it’s time. Everything’s about to come to being that we planned and worked on, and I know that my energy level has been well spent. Now it’s time for new energy, and having been in politics and knowing when to exit there taught me that you should pay attention to that clock.”
No regrets about Olympics, excitement for what comes next
Timing, said Ady, is everything in tourism.
Reflecting on arguably the world’s largest tourism event, the Olympics, she said that while it would have been something Calgarians could have pulled off in style had they wanted it, the timing just wasn’t right.
“There’s always new opportunities, and that’s the thing, those things tend to reset,” she said.
“I was the ambassador for Alberta during the Vancouver games… and I just remember the energy in that city was just so fantastic. Would I have loved to seen it come back to Calgary? Sure, because the ’88 games were just such a high for the city. But it just wasn’t the right time for Calgary.”
She said that she’s always tried to stress the point that the tourism industry is a vulnerable industry, and that’s why it’s so important to get that timing right.
“For a while in Calgary we had so many business travellers during the week, they didn’t worry about having guests that week. Leisure was the thing that took us up a billion dollars this year, but leisure might sink this year. But group travel is going up, and how fortuitous that we’re opening a tier one convention centre this spring, and that we’ll be able to capitalize on that business,” Ady said.
“You always have to be watching the trends you always have to be thinking ahead.”
Challenges ahead, she said, include returning to being a preferred destination status for Chinese tourists and looking at getting guests from other nations post-pandemic.
Part of the legacy that Ady will be handing off to the next Tourism Calgary CEO will be the organization’s three-year business plan which aims to help turn Calgary’s tourism sector into a $2.7 billion industry by 2026, and a 10-year tourism sector plan.
“It’s a gift. I wish I would have had that document put in my hands when I got here,” she said.
“We’re not perfect. We don’t we don’t pretend to be perfect. But mostly what I would say to my successor, you got a 10-year roadmap. It’s a bright intelligent roadmap, use it… but here’s the here’s the big thing, you don’t walk alone in this space.
“If you don’t bring your partners along with you and get them to buy in and get them to see and appreciate why it’s good for them, you just won’t get there.”
Top talent sought internationally
The Tourism Calgary board of directors began the search for a new CEO, with the goal of attracting top international level talent to the city to oversee the next decade of growth in the tourism industry.
“From the moment she stepped into the role as CEO 10 years ago, Cindy’s leadership was defined by relentless energy, innovation and creativity,” said Mark Wilson, Chair for Tourism Calgary.
“The City of Calgary and millions of visitors have benefited from her vision and dedication.”
Among the projects nearing completion that Ady said would draw fierce international interest for the job, were the completion of the BMO Centre expansion, the work being done on “Calgary’s living room,” downtown Calgary, alongside other major tourism draws like WestJet making the Calgary International Airport their hub of operations.
“I think that many will look at the excitement of this opportunity, comparative to other places that might not have as many opportunities coming. There’s going to be a lot of talent looking at Calgary and going, ‘you know that’s going to be a great place to go and have a career,’” she said.
“I am looking at all the early indicators of who’s looking at the city right now trying to decide whether they bring their business here. We are being noticed. We personally at Tourism Calgary are run off our feet right now just trying to get up getting caught up with customers that want a look. I do think there’ll be a high degree of interest.”
Pekarsky & Co., winner of this year’s Calgary Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award, was selected by the board to perform the search for a new CEO.
Ady’s last day as CEO will officially be Dec. 31, followed by a role as interim CEO until the new CEO is selected.