Alberta might not have British Columbia’s moderate climate and ocean views or Ontario’s bustling population and internationally renowned Falls, but it has a beauty all of its own. There is endless jaw-dropping scenery and picture-perfect landscapes to be found across all 640,081 square kilometres of the province, which drew in, according to the latest available numbers from Statistics Canada, over 30 million tourists in 2016.
“Despite ongoing economic challenges in Alberta, tourism has been experiencing year-over-year growth,” says Royce Chwin, CEO of Travel Alberta. Established as a crown corporation in 2009, Travel Alberta promotes the province as a top tourism destination and provides marketing expertise and development support to Alberta-based businesses. They also provide support to the Government of Alberta with the development of tourism products, policy, advocacy, research, and visitor services.
As Alberta’s economy continues to recover, tourism remains an essential part in growing and diversifying our province. According to Chwin, more than one in 11 Albertans rely on the tourism industry for their livelihood, and that number is set to grow as visitors from across the globe continue to explore more of Western Canada. In 2016, tourism contributed more than $8.5 billion to our local economy, which supported 19,000 businesses and employed almost 130,000 Albertans. Although international travellers only make up 6 per cent of Alberta’s yearly tourists, they account for 25 per cent, a whopping $2 billion dollars, of our province’s annual revenue.
Alberta is perhaps best known for the Rocky Mountains, but the province’s landscape includes rolling prairies, boreal forests, rushing rivers, and otherworldly sandstone pillars, also referred to as hoodoos. While there may be over a hundred provincial parks and five national parks spread across the province, Alberta is much more than a natural oasis — it is home to one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. Edmonton, the youngest capital city in the country, has a metro population of over 1 million people, a rapidly expanding public transportation system, and a booming arts and culture industry. The Conference Board of Canada forecasted that overnight visits to Edmonton would increase by 2.9 per cent in 2018 and attributed the boost to the array of new attractions and events.
ICE District, a $2.5 billion sports and entertainment district, began with the completion of Rogers Place arena, the new home of the Edmonton Oilers. It is the first of many steps in a master plan to bring Edmonton’s downtown core on par with global hubs like Toronto, Hong Kong, and New York City. Once completed, it will span over 25 acres and feature a new grocery store, a public plaza inspired by Times Square, and the largest event space in the city.
But ICE District isn’t the only attraction that Edmonton has been developing. The doors to the relaunched Royal Alberta Museum opened last October. The $375.5-million downtown facility showcases an impressive collection of artifacts, both large and small, across five main galleries and halls. In addition to overhead biplanes, an iron lung, and an Albertaosaurus skeleton, visitors can observe a live Madagascar hissing cockroach, an ice age mammoth replica, and the Manitou Stone — a meteorite which holds spiritual significance for Indigenous people. There is even an area dubbed the “museum zone” which gives the public access to what is happening behind the scenes.
There is no denying that downtown Edmonton has an incredible hub for sports and entertainment, but there are gems scattered throughout the city and a multitude of local businesses and events to experience. The city’s booming culinary scene is made up of modern eateries, craft beer taprooms, innovative bistros, and internationally recognized bakeries.
“There are so many experiences that visitors can have in Edmonton, and tourism really shines a spotlight on all the wonderful things there are to do in a city,” says Courtney Higgins, social media engagement specialist for Explore Edmonton. Explore Edmonton is an online platform created by the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) to help Edmontonians and tourists alike explore all the city has to offer.
“Edmonton is a year-round travel experience for both the international and national market. Between the river valley and northern lights, our winter and summer festival seasons, all the great restaurants and local shops, there are more than enough reasons for people to stay longer and explore Edmonton.”
In addition to working with local businesses, like Poppy Barley and JACEK Chocolate Couture to develop experiences that are unique to Edmonton, EEDC has developed innovative initiatives to better the tourist experience.
“Keep a lookout for the Explore Edmonton street team,” exclaims Higgins, “they are on sight at festivals and events throughout the year to provide information and share the Edmonton story.”
Explore Edmonton has also partnered with Utrip to help travellers explore, personalize, and create the ultimate to-do list. The online tool allows users to view hundreds of options based on their interests and budget to find the must-see sights, activities, events, restaurants, and shops in just minutes.
“If you really want to get the most out of your trip to Edmonton, connect with us. The Explore Edmonton team is always available via phone, email, and social media. We live for giving recommendations,” explains Higgins. “Don’t hesitate to connect with the locals either. We are so lucky to live in such an incredibly diverse and supportive city. If you are looking for the best beer spots or a great place to have coffee or enjoy a meal, ask the person sitting next to you or the group of locals walking by.”
“Edmonton isn’t an obvious place but I kind of like it that way. The city still has a small town feel, where there are one or two degrees of separation” says Sarah Hoyles, creative director for Walkable Edmonton (WE). Sarah has been working with WE since its inception in 2016. The online platform highlights what Edmonton has to offer in core neighbourhoods, from everyday amenities to unusual spots, events and shops.
“Tourism has obvious financial benefits, but the cultural aspect might not be so clear. If people do their homework and engage with the local food, arts, music and makers, they can take what they discovered back home with them and share it with others. This is how Edmonton makers develop a wider audience and appreciation,” Hoyles explains.
Her Edmonton itinerary includes devouring a Farrow sandwich and grabbing a cup of coffee from a local roaster like Transcend Coffee, Rogue Wave and Iconoclast. She recommends taking a walk through ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11, Edmonton’s Indigenous Art Park, and tasting our city’s signature dish of green onion cakes. Savour the food and atmosphere at The Lingnan, check out the latest exhibit at The Mitchell Gallery at MacEwan University, stargaze at the University of Alberta’s observatory, explore with the tunnels under the legislature grounds, and visit the first mosque in Canada — the Al Rashid Mosque is preserved at Fort Edmonton Park. Be sure to try on a pair of jeans from Arturo Denim and discover local makers showcased at Hideout Distro on 124th street.
“This is probably an obvious answer coming from someone with Walkable Edmonton but walking is the best way to explore the city! A person on foot can spend the day making their way through Chinatown, along Jasper Ave, up 124 Street or down Whyte Avenue.”
If visitors would like to get off of their feet for a few hours, they can take advantage of the city’s expanding LRT line, take a historic streetcar ride over the High Level bridge, or grab a free seat on the 100 Street Funicular.
The bottom line? There is no shortage of things to do, taste, experience and see in Edmonton, which makes it an ideal city for tourists and those ready to explore their own backyard.