Alberta looking to capitalize on new Tourism Strategy

The Alberta hospitality industry is coming off a solid growth year in 2023, and a needed one at that. While overall sales slowed a bit towards the end of 2023, hoteliers saw rates and occupancy come back to, or near, pre-pandemic levels. Domestic travel led the way, mirroring other regions, while international and business travel still lags behind.

Foodbuy Canada spoke with Tracy Douglas-Blowers, President and CEO of the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). The AHLA has been in existence for over 100 years and has been at the centre of advocacy work for hoteliers in Alberta. We asked Douglas-Blowers what to expect in 2024 and what are the key issues facing Alberta hotels. “We expect to see continued recovery in 2024. But inflation is a concern for our members. While room rates have come back, costs are increasing at levels we have not seen before. Cost increases on food and beverages, insurance, and financing are all impacting the bottom line.”

Profile photo of Tracy Douglas-Blowers, President and CEO of the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association

Tracy Douglas-Blowers, President and CEO of the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association

A key concern is current interest rates. Douglas-Blowers explained, “Many hotels are still managing debt incurred during the pandemic and/or they have deferred capital projects until now. Interest rates are having a significant impact on their business which is adding costs to their bottom line.”

Douglas-Blowers also indicated that staffing concerns in Alberta seem to have eased…for now. “There are still gaps in culinary and housekeeping departments however, we are in a better position now than pre-pandemic. The influx of Ukrainian evacuees has helped hoteliers and could help even more long-term. Alberta’s strong Ukrainian community made our province an obvious choice for those who came to Canada fleeing the war. This has helped rural operators find staff as Ukrainians seek employment while they are in Canada.”

March 1, 2024, the provincial government enacted a new Tourism and Hospitality immigration stream under the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP) for this important sector. Foreign nationals have helped ease staffing shortages, and many are choosing to stay in Canada and Alberta in particular.”

Housing continues to be an issue in Alberta, adding further weight to the AHLA’s calls for provincial rules for short term rentals. “Jurisdictions across Canada and around the world are seeing first-hand the unintended consequences of allowing short term rentals to operate without regulation. We continue to work with local and national partners to show policy makers the impacts of commercial short-term rentals on our communities. Purchasing multiple homes and renting them out nightly is not home-sharing – it is a business that has converted homes and condos into ghost hotels.”

Douglas-Blowers is excited about the opportunities that could flow from Alberta’s new tourism strategy, which was announced by the provincial government in February 2024. “We have been advocating for a coordinated tourism sector strategy. The new strategy shows that the government recognizes the impact and the role that the tourism and hospitality sector plays in the Alberta economy.”

The strategy focuses on 10 zones across Alberta and is a coordinated effort to drive growth. This is not just a marketing plan; it also looks at the infrastructure needed to support and attract world travelers. The five pillars the government’s strategy focuses on are – Leadership and Alignment, Competitive Product, People and Careers, Expanding Access, Indigenous Tourism. The strategy has a bold goal of helping Alberta’s tourist economy reach $25 billion/year by 2035.

The AHLA is also the official health & safety association for hotels and convention centres.  To support the industry, the AHLA has created an annual subscription for hoteliers to train staff not only on health and safety practices, but also on operational functions like front office, housekeeping, and supervisory skills through

Another key support function that the AHLA provides is emergency preparedness policies and procedures. Douglas-Blowers says, “In Alberta, this is key, as we have been hit hard by flooding and wildfires. We have resources to help hoteliers prepare their staff and operations for a variety of situations like natural disasters, workplace violence, and power outages.” Alberta is expecting 2024 to be another dry year so these issues are front and center for operators in Alberta.”

At the onset of the ALHA’s new three year strategy, Douglas-Blowers is enthusiastic about the future.  “Our purpose is to bring together Alberta hotels, and help our members prosper.  AHLA members are ready to turn the page on the most challenging time our industry has ever faced and make tourism a powerful contributor to Alberta’s economy.”

This is an excerpt from the Foodbuy 2024 Hotel Guide. To read the guide, click here.

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