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The Foothills Tourism Association Discusses the Opportunities Possible with a Visitor Economy

The Association encourages everyone in the region to onboard with the efforts and strategic plan.

The Foothills Tourism Association’s aim is to develop the visitor economy in the region. Such development will contribute to job creation; preservation of agricultural roots, traditions, and land; protection of natural environments; infrastructure investment; residual effects on non-tourism businesses; reduced rural crime; diversification of agricultural businesses; increased food security; increases in real estate values; retaining and attracting young people to the community; and a bridge between urban and rural citizens.

“Historically, Foothills has largely depended on the Calgary economy. By bringing visitors into the Foothills and developing the visitor economy we can create a much more independent economy,” says Hugo Bonjean, President, Foothills Tourism Association and co-owner of Spirit Hills Flower Winery. “Developing a visitor economy fits into the province’s vision of diversifying. We are in close proximity to a city with 1.3 million people, an international airport that serves 17.3 million travellers annually, and close to one of the top tourism destinations in Canada – Banff. We also can offer a very complementary tourism offering to Banff and Canmore, which have secondary tourism offerings in agri-tourism, arts and culture, and history.

Agri-tourism is a growing industry sector that helps visitors learn more about the food we eat and where it comes from. It is one of the areas identified for potential growth by Western Management Consultants, a firm Foothills Tourism retained to conduct an analysis for their efforts in the region. The report can be found here:

“One of the things this study shows is that 91 per cent of Calgarians have an interest in local food,” Bonjean points out, “and 70 per cent of them would drive 30 to 60 minutes to buy their food directly from a local farm – 41 per cent of that would do this up to six times a year. That is ~370,000 people. If we assume four people per family spending $500 on average per shopping trip in the Foothills for an average of five trips per year (including coffee, lunch, and some other shopping in rural towns), that represents $233 million dollars for the Foothills region. If those visitors would come to the Foothills to buy their beef, lamb, pork, vegetables, wine, spirits, or beer directly from Foothills farmers and producers they would also stop in the rural towns to eat, drink, shop, and gas up their vehicles. They would also combine their shopping trip with a game of golf, a trail ride or any other experiences on offer. All these businesses in turn have local contractors serve their businesses and feed a supply chain of other businesses. The higher margins farmers would receive for the sale of their meat or produce would help family farms not only survive, but thrive.”

Farms are not the only places that would benefit from agri-toruism. As Bonjean explains, “This business activity would lead to the generation of entry level and management jobs on farms, tourism-related businesses, and trades. When visitors see how beautiful and active this region is it would lead to stable and strong real estate prices in our towns and county. We would become less dependent on Calgary's economy and its booms and busts.”

The Foothills region is also poised to take advantage of another major marketing opportunity – Christmas. Bonjean explains. Most Calgary Christmas markets have been cancelled, leaving a huge economic opportunity for us. These markets are normally visited by some 150,000 people who are all looking for unique Christmas gifts and winter entertainment. We estimate the value of this opportunity is upwards of $30 million. We are organizing a significant marketing campaign to bring visitors here and we have used various ways of communication to mobilize all the towns and businesses in the region to capture this economic opportunity. If we can make this happen this year, it could provide a concept to grow in the future.”

The Association encourages everyone in the region to onboard with the efforts and strategic plan.

“From the onset, Foothills Tourism realized that we could only succeed through a collective effort, so we build the largest marketing coalition in the Foothills,” says Bonjean. We also realized that any destination marketing organization can only thrive if it has a strong and diversified income stream, so we formed a coalition with Tourism Calgary, which allows us to tap into their resources and align our efforts, and with the Calgary Hotels Association, which provides an opportunity to receive financial support through the DMF fund. The financial contributions we receive from members, sponsors and municipalities are leveraged with provincial, federal and Travel Alberta grants, providing us a strong and sustainable funding model to finance a very targeted marketing campaign. We also hired a very experienced marketing agency, which allows us to tap into what has worked for the development of a visitor economy in other regions.”

Learn more about Foothills Tourism and how they are building a visitor economy by visiting