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July 7 2020

Opinion: Tourism needs local support in times of COVID-19

This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald on July 7, 2020. Photo credit to Jim Wells/Postmedia.

Tourism, the fourth largest industry in Alberta, has been shuttered by COVID-19. Between no Stampede, no arts and music festivals, and no end in sight for easing of border restrictions, it’s all hands on deck if we want tourism to recover.

Before COVID-19, tourism welcomed more than seven million overnight visitors to Calgary every year, contributed more than $2.5 billion to Calgary’s economy annually, and employed one in 10 working Calgarians.

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 forced closure of global borders; grounded air travel; closed hotels, restaurants, national parks, museums and attractions; postponed or cancelled events; restricted business and leisure gathering sizes and opportunities; and forced citizens around the world to stay at home.

Even as our economy begins to re-open, experts predict overall recovery will take 18 to 24 months. For travel and tourism it could take more; Travel Alberta’s Rebound Strategy aims to get our visitor economy back to 2019 levels by 2023.

To recover, we must support the local diverse businesses that energize tourism while simultaneously continuing the work to attract the events, people, and infrastructure for tourism — and our community — to prosper for years to come. In other words, we can’t lose sight of the long game.

Making Calgary a destination of choice — to visit, to live and to work — takes years. We must keep up the momentum we have built through and beyond COVID-19. This includes strategically evaluating and understanding the city’s brand, culture, infrastructure needs and opportunities. Then, we must identify our natural and experiential assets and core industries. Finally, it’s essential to target the types and sizes of events that support our city’s growth, prosperity, and quality of life. This work isn’t just about attracting major events, conferences and people to Calgary; it’s also about exciting Calgarians and building our city.

Key to this is the development of the Culture and Entertainment District, which includes the BMO Centre expansion, the Event Centre, and more. Both our organizations, the Calgary Chamber and Tourism Calgary, have actively advocated for the district and its elements which will enhance Calgary’s global brand, competitive advantage, economy, visitation and quality of life for Calgarians.

Together, we’ve made great progress and that momentum must continue. We must grow demand for the tourism assets we have along with the ones we are developing. Large scale conventions, for example, have a typical sales lead-time of four to six years.

Rebuilding consumer confidence will be key to our economic recovery overall, and for tourism especially. Governments, businesses and Calgarians all have a role to play.

Through their caring nature, Calgary businesses are demonstrating that they are putting their employees and customers first and going the extra mile when it comes to health and safety. Our interactions may look different now, but as Calgarians we can be open to new ways of engaging and in turn #SupportLocalYYC.

Our provincial and federal governments united to ensure public health was central to policy and programs during the pandemic. We’ll need them to maintain that collaborative leadership to ensure our city, our province and our country emerge on our front foot. Federal funding for domestic travel promotion and business liquidity are needed and welcome, and the inclusion of sector-specific strategies for tourism and culture in Alberta’s Recovery Plan will also speed our recovery. The latter includes a unique 10-year tourism strategy, advancing key infrastructure investments and support for the relaunch of cultural events.

And so, this summer, we invite you to support one in 10 Calgarians — your friends and neighbours — in the tourism industry. You can do so by visiting Calgary neighbourhoods you have yet to explore, choosing local businesses at every turn, and sharing your experiences with friends and family. Check for the latest information on which local businesses and experiences have reopened and are ready to safely welcome our community.

The road ahead is uncertain, but together we can demonstrate that ours is not just an interesting and beautiful community to visit, but a safe and resilient one that is ready to rebuild and rebound.

That’s the Calgary spirit.

Sandip Lalli is the president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

Cindy Ady is the chief executive officer of Tourism Calgary

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