The Town of Black Diamond has joined Turner Valley after buying-in to the Foothills Tourism Association.
Council unanimously agreed to support the tourism initiative at the Aug. 7 meeting for a sum of $6,200—representing $200 membership per tourism asset in the town—to be paid from the 2019 economic development advertising budget.
The contributions from the towns and municipalities will go towards facilitating the marketing initiatives of the association, and supporting the tourism assets in the community.
Offering a two-tier membership, with the basic level costing $200 and the premium costing $400, the Town’s contribution will allow businesses to join for free, or go 50/50 for the premium.
“Just the speed with which they have accomplished so much is impressive, and also, in a round-about way, council is already supporting their initiative through Community Futures,” said Coun. Veronica Kloiber.
Having attended some of the Foothills Tourism Association’s meetings, Kloiber said the attendees was enough to sell the idea.
“Everybody was there, Alberta Tourism, they had CBC covering it. It was just astounding what they pulled out of a hat, it was amazing,” she said. “Everyone who is anyone was there.”
Coun. Sharon Hart said the initiative was needed to showcase the community.
“We are definitely in an area that’s kind of void of being able to showcase like Medicine Hat does, and Canmore and Banff and that, and we need to push forward for our community,” she said.
Ryan Lindsay, executive director of the Foothills Tourism Association, said it's a way for towns to support the businesses and help them get involved at a lesser cost.
“And show their support in the initiative, help us do some marketing, and show the businesses that they’ve got their back and they’re in on this too," he said.
Operating under the adage of “rising tides float all boats,” the Foothills Tourism Association board of local business owners—from Spruce Meadows, Kayben Farms, Eau Claire Distillery, Granary Road, Saskatoon Farm, Community Futures Highwood, and more—formed in the fall of 2018 before deciding to pool their resources to help the Foothills as a whole, said Lindsay.
“Our mission is to really attract visitors and offer them value,” he said. “That’s not just 20 per cent off, or two for one, it’s life-changing experiences, enriching experiences.
“It’s education, it’s history… It could be anything from going to Bar U and learning something about how agritourism is done to going to the mountains and learning more about yourself and nature.”
Following the inaugural conference in March, the association has been well-received and has since gotten support from the provincial government, Travel Alberta, and local businesses, with Spruce Meadows as a lead sponsor.
“We were formed to aid and grow strong agricultural and rural businesses across the Foothills,” said Lindsay. “We want to draw local tourists, we want to draw national tourists, and then eventually international tourists.”
Having launched their website on June 18, the Foothills Tourism Association already has over 500 Foothills businesses represented on the site, with an initial goal of 600.
The next step is marketing, with a $30,000 matching marketing grant from Travel Alberta allowing for paid-marketing opportunities, such as the Calgary International Airport, Calgary Transit, as well as Google and YouTube.
Working with Travel Alberta extensively, the association is able to offer a technologically advanced website for business owners to capitalize on.
“We’re one of the first tourism destination marketing organizations to pull Travel Alberta data directly to our site, and work with them to integrate everything that they do into our site,” he said. “In the process that we’re doing, we’re getting a lot of businesses that wouldn’t necessarily have the exposure of Travel Alberta’s site, and that’s a huge thing for them.
“There’s millions of dollars put into Travel Alberta marketing, and we’re basically listing this for free for them.”
One of the main goals of the association is promoting year-round tourism.
“Once the snow flies, business is tough for a lot of businesses,” said Lindsay. “There is a lot more to do out here in the winter than people know, and that is something we want to help share and promote.”
While the association will be marketing to all three tiers from the beginning, Lindsay described it as a “baby-step process,” saying that it starts locally.
“I know, as somebody that moved here from Ontario, that learning so far in my role, there’s a lot of my neighbours that don’t even know what’s down in High River, where Women’s Buffalo Jump is, what’s Cayley," he said. "There’s definitely local opportunity, especially with the economy down, people can’t afford to travel as far.”
Travel Alberta has shown there is around $5 million spent by Albertans per year on local tourism, providing an opportunity to get started on marketing the Foothills as a tourist destination—on the same level as Banff, Lake Louise, and Drumheller.
“Capitalizing on even one per cent of the traffic that comes into the YYC would have great benefit for the Foothills,” said Lindsay.