2016 was a record-setting year for Alberta tourism: Statistics Canada

Red canoes at glacial Lake Louise with Victoria glacier, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Red canoes at glacial Lake Louise with Victoria glacier, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Arterra/UIG via Getty Images

Tourists spent over $8 billion in Alberta in 2016, making it a record-setting year for tourism in the province.

New numbers from Statistics Canada show that tourism spending rose 4.7 per cent over 2015. Almost 35 million visitors came to the province, an increase of 2.1 per cent over 2015.

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“The strong performance of Alberta’s tourism sector in 2016 shows its resiliency and continued potential to diversify the economy, create jobs and generate investment in communities across the province,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda said in a release on Thursday.

The increase in numbers isn’t surprising to Travel Alberta CEO Royce Chwin. He said the record-setting year isn’t an anomaly; it’s something they’ve been working towards.

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“We’re welcoming, we’re inclusive, people feel safe here and there’s something to be said about Canada’s personality on the world stage and that translates so well into Albertans and how we receive visitors.”

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In 2016, Travel Alberta worked with an organizational budget of $49 million. Of that, Chwin said they spent about 76 per cent toward business development and marketing. He said, looking at estimated economic impact as an aggregate, the province would be north of $300 to $400 million in business brought into the province.

“That’s directly trackable business of working with our partners.”

While many may assume that the Rockies are what bring people to Alberta, Chwin said they’re really working to promote other parts of the province – and the work is paying off.

“In southern Alberta, for example, I had the opportunity to travel around there last year and talk to many operators and they had incredible visitation numbers. Not just from Albertans or other Canadians, but also from international markets. We’re also starting to see those international travelers starting to go north as well and quite far east as well.”

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According to Travel Alberta information, the United States is Alberta’s biggest market for not only number of visitors, but also visitation dollars. They’re also seeing “tremendous” growth in tourism numbers from China.

The number of international visitors to the province rose by 10.9 per cent and the amount they spent increased by 14.1 per cent.

Even the number of visitors from the rest of Canada rose in 2016 by 9.4 per cent. Those visitors spent 15.1 per cent more in 2016 than they did in 2015.

Travel Alberta is hoping to grow tourism to a $10-billion business by 2020.