By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Tourism Lethbridge is gearing up for the 2023 spring and summer tourism season, and doubling down on positioning the region as a premier destination for locally grown and produced food and beverages.
“We promote ourselves as Canada’s Premier Food Corridor and Canada’s agriculture destination, so it just makes sense that we are active in that,” explained CEO of Tourism Lethbridge, Erin Crane.
Crane said more than ever before food and beverage plays into a tourist’s visitor experience. “It’s huge. Everybody eats and now when they’re looking at destinations, most travellers are looking for experiences and a lot of that ties into food and beverage.”
In 2022, Tourism Lethbridge launched Canada’s Food tours featuring pre-prepared and custom itineraries for self-driven food tours. The eight-hour self-driven tour begins in Lethbridge and provides visitors with information on local experiences and products made locally and all over Lethbridge County. Part of Tourism Lethbridge’s marketing strategy continues to focus on promoting the outlying region’s contributions to the global supply chain, and highlighting the region’s function as an agricultural powerhouse, while also imprinting upon visitors a genuine understanding of what makes Lethbridge and area special.
Crane said there is plenty of discussion going on in the tourism industry about the role rural tourism plays in the industry overall. One of Tourism Lethbridge’s broader goals is to capture more of the domestic tourism market and attract visitors from within Canada, and Alberta.
“More and more we’re hearing that people aren’t looking to go to places, and they’re not looking to do things. They’re looking at experiences, and the interesting thing about that is that they are looking for kind of smaller, rural areas in order to make that happen. So, this is a real opportunity for growth for us.”
Crane also stressed the importance of market-readiness, noting businesses wanting to capitalize off of the tourism industry need to have a way to engage with visitors and to be able to provide some kind of retail or purchasable experience.
“It’s just not enough to say ‘we welcome visitors’. Again, tying back to that experiential piece, there has to be something for them to do. That’s what we want to build. That’s building the economy, that’s building business.”
Crane added Tourism Lethbridge has also partnered with the Culinary Tours Alliance (CTA), a national organization which promotes and highlights different regional agri-food tourism.
The partnership provides a platform to showcase Lethbridge and surrounding area on a national platform. The CTA has partnered with the Globe and Mail and other key partners to highlight the destinations that have an exceptional taste of place. The local food and beverage landscape of a destination, or “taste of place,” is informed by all of the local offerings and products which make this region unique and memorable.
Crane said when people visit the region, “we want people staying longer, eating more food in our restaurants and going and visiting all of the retailers and the attractions as they go along.”
“A big part of it is the Agri-food Hub and Trade Centre (Lethbridge Exhibition grounds) coming online. It is going to be able to house up to 7,000 people, and we want all of those people to not just go to the Agri-Food Hub and go to their conference and go home.”
Crane said being able to provide visitors with market-ready experiences will result in people supporting more local businesses, and spending more money.
Tourism Lethbridge has built strong partnerships with organizations focusing on advocacy in rural areas beyond the city, such as SouthGrow and Alberta Southwest.
“While Lethbridge is fantastic, and we have so many great things that happen in the city, what makes us special in this region is what happens in the ‘in-between spaces’.”
Visit https://tourismlethbridge.com/food/itinerary for more information.