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March 31 2021

Navigating an unpredictable journey: The future of the tourism industry

Calgarians are exceptionally proud to call our city home – our friendliness, Chinooks, river pathways, and strong sense of community have created a truly remarkable place. But Calgary is not just loved by its residents, it’s also a tourist destination for people across the world. With unbeatable proximity to the mountains, the greatest outdoor show on earth, and outdoor festivals year-round, Calgary attracts 7.7 million people from around the world each year.

In an ordinary year, tourism employs one in ten Calgarians, is the foundation of 20,000 businesses in Alberta, and supports Calgary’s economy to the tune of $2 billion. However, as we know, tourism has been one of the industries hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic – and there’s a long road ahead before the sector sees a full recovery.

After seeing declines in everything from hotel occupancy rates to food and beverage purchases over the past year, Calgary’s tourism sector has a unique opportunity to reimagine its future, leveraging our strong history as a destination while rethinking the possibilities that lie ahead for the sector.

Join us on April 21, 2021, when the Calgary Chamber will convene a virtual conversation with leaders in Calgary’s tourism sector to discuss the recovery and long-term potential of the industry. In advance of the conversation, we’ve outlined some key highlights about the industry so you can join the conversation to dive even deeper into the trends shaping the future of the tourism industry.

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With Calgary as a gateway destination to the Rocky Mountains, the sector comprises a critical part of our economy, supporting hotels, restaurants and cafes, sport and recreation, and arts and culture businesses across the City. Despite a challenging year, during which tourism has ground to halt, much of the City’s tourism infrastructure remains in place and will continue to be fundamental to the Calgary’s long-term success.

Calgary and Alberta’s tourism sector, including hotels, restaurants and cafes, sport and recreation, and arts and culture, are all focused on welcoming people and ensuring we are a destination of choice. However, each of these have seen major challenges this past year – an indication of the hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the numbers: the impact of COVID-19 on the sector

Alberta has seen an 82.4 per cent decrease in air passenger travel, year over year.

The sector’s unemployment rate is 16.2 per cent as of February 2021.

Hotel occupancy has decreased by 21.6 per cent, year over year.

Bright lights at the end of the runway: the future of the industry

With the past year shaking the industry to its core, the tourism sector has the opportunity to reimagine its future. With rapid change affecting every part of the economy, we outline some of the key trends that industry experts close to home and around the world were focussed on before the pandemic, and how tourism might change after too.

Experts in Calgary and elsewhere over the last few years have focused on key trends in the sector:

Long-term trends in the tourism sector

China continues to have the most outbound tourists.

There is an increased demand for experienced-based tourism.

Technology continues to disrupt how travel is planned and experienced.

We see a trend towards ‘slow travel’ that prioritizes rest over sightseeing.

Canadians are increasingly looking to add self-improvement to their trips – often through yoga & meditation or charitable work.

Sustainability is top-of-mind for many Canadians, planning trips or choosing travel products that minimize their carbon footprint.

What the pandemic might mean for recovery

The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives and analysts predict the pandemic will have lasting impacts, some of which may alter the trajectory of the trends outlined above.

a. A continued focus on social distancing

Our current need to maintain a safe distance from others during the pandemic may become a staple of travel. Crowded places, and even entire cities, may now induce anxiety for some travellers instead of the excitement they once did. Tour operators may have to shift their programming to accommodate smaller groups and social distancing, even as the pandemic ramps down. An added challenge will be providing this space for travellers sustainably as we combat climate change and transition to the low carbon economy of the future.

b. Shifting transportation and market expectations

The pandemic may influence where people want to travel and how they want to get there. Destinations that controlled outbreaks well during the pandemic may see a boost in popularity given a new association with safety. At the same time, the means of getting to a particular destination might change, too, as travellers may now demand increased cleanliness and safety precautions before travelling by road, rail, or plane.

c. A focus on reunion travel

For so many, the pandemic has meant time away from friends and family – birthdays, celebrations, and special moments have been missed. The loss of these moments may catalyze a new focus on reunion travel when pandemic restrictions make it safe to do so. This emerging trend will likely require less planning of in-country activities, and greater focus on providing safe transportation and accommodation plans to-and-from a reunion destination for tourists.

Come on this journey with us

Dive further into these trends and much more by joining us on April 21, 2021 for a virtual conversation with leaders from the tourism sector, including experts from Travel Alberta, the Calgary Hotel Association, the Calgary Stampede, and Tourism Calgary.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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