By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Continued efforts and funding into rural and Indigenous tourist destinations and experiences continue to be a prioritize for the Minister of Tourism and Sport, Joseph Schow.
In a recent release recognizing World Tourism Day on Sept. 27, Minister Schow said rural and Indigenous destinations will continue to play a critical role in building the tourism industry, and continues to be a key focus of Travel Alberta’s in distributing funding supports to build capacity in those areas.
“There is so much potential in rural tourism, agri-tourism, and Indigenous tourism, which benefits people from across the province,” through the creation of jobs and careers in tourism.
Included in this is also Alberta’s growing agri-tourism sector, which leverages the province’s unique agricultural identity and production sites as a selling point in marketing Alberta as a premier travel destination. The “essential component(s)” of rural and Indigenous tourism are expected to continue to play a critical role in the government’s efforts to grow Alberta’s tourism economy to more than $20 billion by 2035,” according to a recent government press release.
Under this umbrella is the Tourism Investment Program. Administered by Travel Alberta, the program is currently committed to investing $15 million annually into communities and tourism operators to continue to develop the province’s tourism sector. Of the over 165 projects funded by Travel Alberta from 2022-2023, 75 per cent were in small urban and rural areas, and 70 per cent of the 73 communities to receive funding are smaller urban or rural communities.
Developing these sectors in tourism are among various targeted effort to meet the objectives of the government’s Economic Development in Rural Alberta Plan, a five-year commitment which is intended to guide rural economic growth, with chiefly focusing on innovation, diversification, and sustainable, long-term economic development. The plan outlines 5 strategic directions and include: Economic development-enabling infrastructure; Rural business supports and entrepreneurship; Rural economic development capacity building, and; Marketing and promoting rural tourism.
Schow, who is also the MLA for the Cardston-Siksika riding, noted recently visited Running Reins Ranch, a rural and Indigenous tourist destination located in Red Deer County. The site is a recent recipient of a $250,000 grant from Travel Alberta.
Schow said in the recent release, “Alberta’s government is proud to invest in growing visitor destinations like Running Reins Ranch that celebrate the richness and diversity of Alberta’s rural destinations and provide a sustainable tourism experience for visitors to enjoy.”
As part of the Tourism Investment Program, Running Reins Ranch received a $250,000 grant from Travel Alberta. Jon Mamela, chief commercial officer for Travel Alberta said the investment, and others like it, helps build the infrastructure and capacity for rural and Indigenous destinations with unique experiences and offerings.
“This investment in Running Reins Ranch is a perfect example of how Travel Alberta is driving tourism growth in rural communities across the province,” Mamela said in the release.
Tourism is the top service export sector for the province. In 2019, the industry generated $10.1 billion in expenditures, and welcomed nearly 35 million visitors, which in turn supported over 80,000 full-time jobs. The continued investment is geared toward growing Alberta’s tourism economy to over $20 billion by 2035.
Other initiatives which fall under the Economic Development in Rural Alberta Plan’s marketing and tourism strategy include, the film and television tax credit, Alberta Open Farm Days, and Alberta Culture Days grants.