By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 1, 2024.
A new adventure is underway for Tourism Lethbridge.
Announcing the launch of a market readiness program in partnership with SouthGrow Regional Initiative and Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance, Erin Crane, CEO of Tourism Lethbridge, says they will be subsidizing 15 southern Alberta tourism businesses to take part in a training and accreditation program offered in connection with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
The program will provide the selected businesses with the opportunity to participate in a program that will prepare them for some of the demands of hosting travellers.
“As we focus more and more on national and international travellers, there’s an expectation of what tourism businesses will provide. So along with all the promotion that we’re doing, this idea of business development within the region really stood out to us as one of the needs and the gaps that we needed to fill,” said Crane Wednesday at the Lethbridge Visitor Information Centre, adding, “one of the things that we’ve noticed is that our businesses need some additional support to get them to the point where they can welcome those tour busses that come in.”
An early adopter of the program, Crane said it will help bolster the profiles of the participating businesses as well as southern Alberta as a tourism destination.
The training will focus on supporting the participating businesses in various aspects of tourism such as physical presentation including parking, access to washroom facilities, and proper signage.
Key components such as competent point-of-sales systems and the ability to serve 30-passenger tour busses with ease are also top of mind. Additional structures like an online presence, including strong booking systems and websites are also vital for tourism businesses and will be supported by the program.
“On top of that,” added Crane “there’s working collaboratively amongst your own community. Nobody wants to come for just one experience, we need to be able to fill hours in the day and multiple days of the week in order to really attract people and that’s what we’re trying to build up here. Not only each individual business but the tourism industry as a whole community.”
A key motivator for the initiative is Destination Canada’s “Sustainable Journeys Prairies to Pacific Corridor” tour that focuses on Highway 3.
“The idea of that corridor is to promote it nationally and internationally and we want to make sure the businesses here in this area are ready for that to happen and they understand what those expectations are and that even if now they can’t meet those expectations that’s okay, we’ve got some time as we build that corridor to build the businesses along with it but we can’t do one without the other and they have to work side by side,” said Crane.
Collaboration is a key focus of the program.
Crane said that will help the area when competing with more well-known destination hot spots.
“It is best for us to work regionally in order to compete against some of those other destinations whereâ€¦we’re not quite as mature as they are.”
With Lethbridge as a hub of services for the region, Crane and her team acknowledge that a lot of what makes the city special is what happens outside the limits including the neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
“Tourism touches many different things so in order to do what we do, we have to collaborate with each other and bring in our partners and when everyone works, that’s when tourism works.”
The project will have Tourism Lethbridge team up with neighbouring organizations, Tourism Medicine Hat and the South Canadian Rockies Destination Management Organization, with additional support from Community Futures.
With a growing interest in Agri-tourism, Indigenous experiences, and natural resources like wind, solar, water, and soil, Lethbridge and the southern Alberta region has an opportunity to draw in visitors, she said.
“Lethbridge is one of the markets I think everyone is really excited about. Travel Alberta has highlighted as one of the areas that they’re very interested in,” said Crane.
“We know that the Rocky Mountains, The Banffs, the Jaspers, those are full during the summer. So there’s opportunity for us to capture the visitors that are coming in, and many of them are looking for things that many other people don’t quite know about yet, those undiscovered gems, and our region is full of them, so we have that opportunity now to really highlight that. The unique experiences that they’re going to get here in southern Alberta.”
Participating businesses will not only be provided with training and accreditation, but also be added to a registry that allows them to access other resources such as Rendez-vous Canada, an annual gathering that connects those in the international travel industry with Canadian tourism partners.
Funding for the initiative is provided by the Government of Canada’s Tourism Relief Fund and the Government of Alberta’s Northern and Regional Economic Development Program.