Pandemic-hit visitor economy buoyed as Edmonton MP named tourism minister

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

The appointment of Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault as Canada's new tourism minister was cheered by the city's tourism industry, which is recovering from a pandemic plunge in trips and revenues.

"Explore Edmonton is thrilled to have a dedicated ministry focused on tourism as the sector begins to dig itself out from under the profound damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Dan St. Pierre, director of strategic communications and partnerships, told Taproot in an email.

"The tourism sector was the first hit, the hardest hit, and will likely take the longest to recover. Creating a focused ministry demonstrates a commitment to that recovery."

Edmonton went from a record year in 2019 — with 6.3 million people visiting the capital region and spending $1.7 billion — to just 3.3 million visitors and $315 million in revenue in 2020, the destination management and marketing agency notes in its relaunch plan.

While Boissonnault has a national mandate, "we would be lying if we didn't admit we're very excited that someone who loves Edmonton as much as we do is the federal minister of tourism," St. Pierre said.

Several federal government initiatives are expected to help the industry generate employment this winter, including the new international vaccine passports and two new aid initiatives – the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery program.

Soccer star Alphonso Davies

Soccer star Alphonso Davies will bring international attention to Edmonton during World Cup qualifying games in November. (Soccer Canada)

Explore Edmonton's relaunch strategy includes adding staff to attract more major events in the sport and culture segment, which accounts for 70% of local economic impact.

Edmonton's hosting of two World Cup qualifying soccer games at Commonwealth Stadium in November plus the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship starting Dec. 25 are seen as boosts to both local businesses and the city's brand.

"It demonstrates our city's strength in hosting these major events, which makes it easier to attract more of them," St. Pierre said. "But they also shine a light on what a cool place Edmonton is, with a strong arts and culture sector, incredible restaurants, and natural wonders like the river valley."

To encourage business travel in the hard-hit trade show and conference market segment, Explore Edmonton is offering incentives, such as waiving cancellation fees at the Edmonton Convention Centre and Expo Centre, to organizations that book before Dec. 31. Virtual trade familiarization events, which will highlight attractions for tour operators, are also planned.

Boissonnault's appointment, along with a reversal of a federal government proposal to centralize control of regional development agencies under a single ministry, "may be part of the Liberals' economic strategy to target help at the sectors and areas of the country that need it the most," the Canadian Press reported.

The monthly Alberta tourism market monitor shows trips through Edmonton and Calgary airports increased almost 160% in the first eight months of 2021 compared to last year.

With travel restrictions being lifted, WestJet is set to restore service to more than 95 destinations by December. Edmonton International Airport will see direct flights to 24 domestic, international, and transborder destinations.