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Alberta Eyes Tourism Uptick from Royal Visit

August 3, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Prince William and Kate don cowboy hats while attending the Calgary Stampede in early July. AP photo.

It may be years yet before those photos of Will and Kate in the white hats attract throngs of jet-set world travelers, but Alberta tourism bosses are noting an uptick in the number of visitors coming to the province since the royal couple visited in early July.

According to Bruce Okabe, the CEO of Travel Alberta, revenue from tourism levies — the surcharge on hotel rooms — has increased by 10% so far this year, The Calgary Herald reported

It’s a promising sign for the industry, he said.

“We’re up a little bit, largely due to the fact that Albertans are continuing to travel throughout the province,” Okabe said.

The Canadian Tourism Commission recently calculated the value of the publicity generated by the royal tour at $2 million in China alone.

It may yet be a while before Alberta can reap the benefits of increased exposure: more than half of the Alberta’s recorded 23 million tourists are from within the province, a market that has remained strong as people stay closer to home and enjoy fine camping weather.

While the strong Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback lessens the temptation of the Rockies versus a trip south, Alberta’s strengthening oil and gas sector is proving a boon to business tourism, Okabe said.

It’s also been more than a year since Canada was granted “approved destination status,” in China — a designation that allows Alberta to market itself in the booming emerging Chinese economy. It also permits leisure groups to book tours to the Rockies.

Prior to the approval, about 25,000 Chinese visited the province annually.

Randy Williams, the president and CEO of Tourism Calgary, expects that number to increase by between 10% and 20% when the data is tallied next year.

“You’ll see at least another 2,500 on top of that and as many as 5,000 visitors,” Williams said. “We expect that to grow to 60,000 to 75,000 in five years.”

The Skoki Lodge in Lake Louise, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent some private time before their two-day visit to Calgary in early July.

While Chinese visitors are among the fastest growing demographic of Alberta’s share of tourists, it will still be many years before they challenge the province’s top markets; Canadians, Americans and visitors from the United Kingdom.

Anecdotally, Okabe said there had been a slight uptick in travelers coming to Alberta directly from the U.K. since the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent a day touring Calgary sites during their recent cross-country tour.

“It’s steady as she goes. The operators have told us they’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Tourism statistics are available to 2009. Okabe said it can take more than a year for Statistics Canada to collate data from international gateway cities Vancouver and Toronto, comparing them to destinations like Alberta.

What is known is that “these days, Albertans are staying closer to home to vacation because of the price of gas and the wonderful weather,” Okabe said. “The campgrounds are full.”

Indeed, Omar McDadi, a spokesperson for Banff National Park, said campsites were hopping all long weekend.

Park pass purchases are slightly up from last year, he said.

“This past weekend, for example, every reservable spot in the mountain parks was booked a head of time and most first-come campgrounds were full by early afternoon,” McDadi said.

In her second season working at the Tunnel Mountain Resort in Banff, Emma Houlford said she’s noticed more people this year over last.

“Last summer was really busy, but this summer we’re at capacity more and we have a lot more people travelling through with a shorter stay,” the front-desk clerk said. “It seems to be a lot busier.”

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