TOURISM INSIGHTS: TOURISM CALGARY
Calgary’s tourism industry generates approximately CAD$2.91 billion in visitor spending from more than eight million tourists every year. To support the burgeoning travel sector, Tourism Calgary, the official destination management organisation for the city, has been promoting the area as the perfect location for both leisure and business for over 60 years.
The organisation strives to promote Calgary as the ultimate host city, highlighting the area as a comprehensive travel destination to markets locally across Canada and the rest of the world. Cindy Ady, CEO, tells us how Calgary is emerging as Canada’s top destination.
Q&A WITH CINDY ADY, CEO, TOURISM CALGARY
Can you talk us through the origins of Tourism Calgary and the company’s founding mission?
Cindy Ady, CEO (CA): Our mission at Tourism Calgary is to inspire more people to visit the city for memorable experiences that celebrate our community, culture, and people. We pride ourselves on being the ultimate hosts, in an ultimate host city. This means we aim to exemplify Calgary’s community spirit by fostering a destination that is welcoming, innovative, and offers unique experiences.
As the official destination management organisation for Calgary, we work closely with industry and community partners to support, build, and foster the best possible visitor experience in the region.
Our team connects directly with travellers, providing advice during trip planning and while they are in the city.
In doing so, we support leisure and business visitors from around the world. We attract and host major sport and cultural events, as well as bringing thousands of delegates to Calgary annually for meetings and conventions.
Why, in your opinion, should someone visit Calgary?
CA: Calgary was recently honoured to be named the friendliest city in the world in the Condé Nast Traveller 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards. Visitors feel the warmth the moment they get off the plane, as White Hat volunteers welcome travellers to the city. Throughout their time here, visitors are invited into the experiences and communities that make Calgary what it is.
The city’s offerings are highly diverse, featuring seven of Canada’s 100 best restaurants, world-class museums, award-winning architecture, and the Rocky Mountains less than an hour away. It’s a destination for all types of travellers and as a region, we continue to invest in our current and future offerings, meaning more events, festivals, and memorable experiences to share with current and future visitors.
What kind of travellers does the city appeal to the most?
CA: Calgary appeals to a wide range of travellers, from families and couples to solo adventurers and business professionals. Iconic attractions such as the Calgary Tower, Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, and TELUS Spark Science Centre are perfect for families. Couples and solo travellers will be delighted by our booming craft beverage scene with over 40 local craft breweries and distillers, creating award-winning beers and spirits.
International travellers find a lot to love in Calgary, especially those interested in Western heritage. They’ll get to experience the real thing at the Calgary Stampede or at cultural gems throughout the city like Heritage Park.
The city really does have something for everyone, in every season of the year. Winter adventure seekers will love the area, not only for sports but for events like Chinook Blast, Calgary’s premier winter festival. During our long summer days, the city is equally alive with excitement, coming together for almost every type of festival imaginable, including a number of well-known music events.
How has the organisation worked towards putting Calgary on the map for potential visitors?
CA: Calgary is great at showing its community spirit and inviting visitors to be a part of it. As a symbol of our hospitality, visitors are sometimes ‘white-hatted’. In a fun ceremony, they receive an iconic white cowboy hat, a well-known symbol of the city’s hospitality, and become honorary Calgarians.
Notable recipients have included Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, and even Mickey Mouse, but we’ve also surprised visitors walking downtown with a spontaneous ceremony. We hope they take that experience with them when they return home to wherever they’re from.
The community has come together to really invest in the tourism economy by creating beautiful meeting places and attractions. Two perfect examples of this include the new Central Library, as well as Studio Bell, home to the National Music Centre, comprising two stunning buildings that have helped revitalise Calgary’s East Village neighbourhood.
In 2024, the city will have the greatest amount of convention space in all of Western Canada with the opening of the new BMO Centre at Stampede Park, alongside the existing, unique spaces at the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre and other meeting points in the city.
What trends are currently reshaping the tourism industry in Calgary and the surrounding area?
CA: We find that travellers are looking for local experiences when planning their trips. The Calgary area increasingly caters to this with Indigenous tourism experiences, offering the chance for guests to learn about Indigenous culture and history.
This includes a wide array of experiences such as wilderness education and hands-on learning with partners like Painted Warriors, or an opportunity to see and create Indigenous artwork at Moonstone Creations. Visitors also have the opportunity during the summer to witness powwows from the Treaty 7 nations. These events are a place of celebration, sharing, dance, and pride for Indigenous cultures.
We also recognise that those travelling for work are looking to save on vacations by adding leisure time to business trips. Calgary is the perfect place for this type of ‘bleisure’ travel, given its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and six other UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Amongst the many events and attractions, what should visitors plan to see this winter?
CA: Calgary is an amazing winter city. You’ll have a wide choice of winter sports here, whether visitors prefer to go fat biking along the Bow River, skating on a frozen lagoon at Bowness Park, or downhill skiing right in the city limits at WinSport.
For those looking for more cultural experiences, Chinook Blast showcases local artists, musicians, and entertainers as well as some unique cultural markets. The festival is a full-on winter celebration in the heart of our city.
Winter 2024 also brings some exciting events, all happening in the month of February. For example, Calgary will be hosting Nitrocross (car racing on ice), the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (annual curling competition), Snow Rodeo (an International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) Snowboard World Cup event), the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024, and the International Skating Union (ISU) World Speed Skating Championships.
We’re also very excited to welcome two orphaned polar bears to the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. Their arrival is part of a redeveloped Wild Canada experience, representing seven of the country’s ecological zones.
And of course, Calgarians are hockey crazy, so if the Calgary Flames are in town during your stay, you can catch a National Hockey League (NHL) game and cheer on the home team.
In what ways have you integrated the influence of the Indigenous experience in Calgary’s list of things to do, and why is this important?
CA: When travellers come to Calgary, they are welcomed to the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta. This is also homeland to the historic Northwest Métis as well as the Otipemisiwak Métis Government.
Mohkinstsis is the Blackfoot name for Calgary, and there is a rich culture and history in this area. The confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers has been a meaningful place for many. You can learn about this special place from Indigenous educators at Fort Calgary.
By fostering and promoting Indigenous tourism, we collectively help preserve and showcase the rich cultural heritage of these communities, while also facilitating important conversations. It’s a way to honour and celebrate the traditions, stories, and practices of local Indigenous communities. For visitors, these experiences are not just recreational but also educational; they provide a meaningful opportunity to learn and participate in local Indigenous culture.
Tourism Calgary works closely with partners such as Indigenous Tourism Alberta as well as the Treaty 7 nations to develop and promote Indigenous-owned and operated businesses and experiences throughout the city and surrounding areas.
Finally, in your opinion, what makes 2024 the year to visit Calgary?
CA: Visitors to the city in 2024 can expect a diverse selection of music, food, culture, and sports. The upcoming year is especially significant with the opening of the BMO Centre, Western Canada’s largest events and conference space, as well as the SAM Centre, a destination dedicated to making the Calgary Stampede a year-round experience.
With the level of investment happening in the city, and the collaboration we’re seeing on new events and festivals, Calgary has more experiences than ever on offer for potential visitors.
Guaranteed to remain unchanged is the warm and welcoming hospitality you’ll find in Calgary, no matter what time of year you decide to visit.