In recent years, Edmonton’s reputation as the premier festival city in Canada was touted in travel guides and spread across the Internet, thanks to travel writers and bloggers. Is that momentum still going strong?
Grant McCurdy, general manager of Doubletree by Hilton™ West Edmonton, notes, “The overall Edmonton market is down 10 percent, but there are 600 new [Hilton] rooms coming on board this year. We have remained strong, building on community relationships and being flexible to the needs of the consumer. In Edmonton, both occupancy and rates are down due to lessened demand, especially in the corporate sectors. Edmonton is the supply and service sector for the oil industry. When prices are down and production slows down, all business is affected.”
Regardless of what the economy is doing, Doubletree by Hilton West Edmonton continues to provide outstanding service and remains very much in demand, as is evidenced by its four recent awards: Employer of Choice for the second consecutive year; Leader of the Year, recognizing general manager Grant McCurdy; the CARE Cup, which recognizes hotels that create a rewarding experience for guests; and Hilton’s highest global recognition, the Connie Award, acknowledging the top Hilton Worldwide hotel for exceptional products and outstanding service.
“We are incredibly proud to be honoured with four awards recognizing our commitment to culture, leadership and guest experiences,” says McCurdy.
McCurdy describes the city as one of the things that keeps Edmonton’s tourism sector thriving: “Edmonton offers all the attributes of an urban centre with the wilderness at our back door,” and that is something that Maggie Davison, vice president, Edmonton Tourism, can agree with.
“Edmonton is one of the youngest and fastest-growing cities, in the fastest-growing province in Canada.
In just two years, the city of Edmonton gained 60,000 new residents, and the city population is expected to double by 2050,” says Davison. “Throughout the recession, tourism has continued to be a support to the economy. Edmonton has some great opportunities for tourism growth, including direct flights, new visitor attractions (like Rogers Place and the Royal Alberta Museum) and a low dollar. Canada is also known as a safe travel destination, which resonates with travellers because many other competing destinations struggle with safety concerns.”
Davison has seen slight a rise in tourism in Edmonton. (It is important to note that McCurdy and Davison are assessing different markets – the corporate-driven accommodation sector and the broader market, made up of tourists who are here to visit families and take in non-corporate events.)
“The Edmonton region saw 8.5 million visitors in 2014 (up 12 per cent from 2013) and $1.9 billion in visitor spending in 2014 (up 5 per cent from 2013),” reports Davison. “Tourism supports 45,000 people that are employed in accommodation and food services in the Edmonton region, the average length of stay per overnight visitor is 3.1 nights, and 14.6 nights is the average length of stay in the Edmonton region for overseas visitors. In 2016, Destination Canada reported that Canadian tourism arrivals hit a 14-year high, welcoming 19,979,334 travellers—the highest number since 2002 and the second highest ever. In further positive news for tourism growth, Statistics Canada announced recently that more and more international visitors are choosing Canada in 2017. This, in addition to expected increases in travel across the country for those wanting to participate in celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, provides an opportunity to boost tourism nation-wide.”
She notes the importance of these numbers.
“Tourism is an incredibly important and key industry when considering the need to diversify our economy. More than just a business sector, it’s an economic driver that crosses multiple industries and supports growth in Edmonton, and Alberta, in a myriad of ways: 19,000 tourism operators, 127,000 tourism jobs, and $8 billion in visitor expenditures (stats via Travel Alberta’s 2014-15 annual report).
“With our abundant natural resources and diverse economy, Edmonton is the city for people to make their dreams a reality. Have an idea? Taking a risk is the most Edmonton thing you can do. It’s a statement we believe so strongly in that the phrase now appears on the side of a downtown building (10150 100 Street). At Edmonton Tourism, we believe in this statement, positioning our city as a vibrant and exciting urban centre—one with unlimited potential for entrepreneurs. We focus on brand-aligned destination marketing and a complete range of supporting programs and services that are accessible to our stakeholders, festivals, events, hotels, attractions, restaurants and activity companies located in Edmonton to encourage tourism operators and business, which supports and drives visitation. From culinary and shopping, to outdoor activities and major events, Edmonton has it all. There’s no shortage of things for visitors to see and do.”
Soon, there will be even more things to see and do for residents and guests.
“The federal government just announced $47.8 million in funding for Fort Edmonton Park with plans for an expansion of the Indigenous Peoples Experience, new midway rides and upgraded visitor services utilities among the highlights,” says Davison. “And of course, there is West Edmonton Mall, still the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America, with an estimated 31 million visitors annually. We want Edmonton to be a destination 52 weeks of the year to highlight all the great things going on. We don’t just tell our visitors there’s a lot to see and do – we inspire them to immerse themselves in experiences that will leave a lasting impression.”
Speaking of lasting impressions, Rogers Place in ICE District, one of the newest and most sought-after tourist destinations in Alberta, continues its runaway success.
“In our first six months of operations, Rogers Place has welcomed over 1.5 million guests for everything from hockey and concerts to a gala held in Ford Hall. Our incredible Live Entertainment Team went after an extremely aggressive opening schedule and I think it’s paid off in spades, as is evidenced not only by the number of visitors, both locally and from across North America, but also by the calibre of concerts and events that are now taking notice of Rogers Place,” says Andrea Goss, manager, corporate & Rogers Place communications.
“Edmonton has always had unique gems and local hotspots to showcase, but Rogers Place has quickly become a destination for people, not just within neighbouring provinces or in Canada, but around the world, too! We’ve had visitors from as far as Germany and Australia who, without knowing much about the city, were excited to see Edmonton’s new downtown arena and the Edmonton Oilers. In addition, we’re noticing that guests are spending more time before and after events in the downtown core, including overnight stays at a number of neighbouring hotels.”
Goss expects this trend to continue.
“As ICE District begins to shift from construction to operation, it will become the epicentre of excitement in Edmonton. Visitors may come for a hockey game or their favourite artist, but they will be able to take in festivals and outdoor activities in the public plaza. They’ll be able to walk from their cozy room at the J.W. Marriott to some of Edmonton’s finest restaurants and retail shops. It’s about bringing the downtown core to life and creating a connectivity for locals and visitors alike.”