More travellers are visiting Calgary for fun, says tourism bureau

Visits to Calgary are up slightly despite a decline in business travellers, the city's marketing organization says.

City used to attract a quarter of its visitors as business travellers, Cindy Ady says

The Peace Bridge crossing over the Bow River to downtown Calgary. Tourism is up slightly in the city due to more leisure travellers. (Getty Images)

Visits to Calgary are up slightly despite a decline in business travellers, the city's marketing organization says.

Tourism Calgary released its annual report this week, which found 6,983,700 people visited the city last year. In the previous year, 6,734,523 visited. That's an increase of 3.7 per cent.

Calgary underwent a recession after the drop in oil prices about three years ago. Businesses cut their travelling expenses to save money, dramatically affecting tourism locally.

But 2017's numbers are a sign that other types of travellers are picking up the slack, Tourism Calgary CEO Cindy Ady said Friday.

"We had two really wonderful things happen last year. We were coming off a recession, which had been tough," Ady told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We had wonderful weather last year, and it was the [Canada] 150. So a lot of people were moving around the country, enjoying the different things that the country had to offer, and we saw a really great uptick in the leisure market."

'Felt it keenly'

Calgary used to be unusually dependent on business travellers. In most cities, business travellers represented roughly 11 to 12 per cent of visits, she said. In Calgary, they made up a quarter of visits before the 2015 oil price slump.

"When that, of course, dipped in the recession, this industry felt it keenly," Ady said. "And that's why you want a balanced tourism economy."

Tourism Calgary has been focused on diversifying the tourism market. Calgary is still receiving visits from people who use the city as a base to explore Alberta.

"Obviously the mountains are still a very big pull because they're glorious and wonderful and people do come and spend a few days in Calgary prior to going to that," Ady said.

But increasingly, visitors are seeking out a city experience of shopping, dining and festivals, she said.

The public can now get a glimpse of giant pandas at the Calgary Zoo. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

She expects the pandas at the Calgary Zoo will draw tourists, in particular from nearby cities and within Alberta.

The mix of events, festivals, friendliness and beautiful nature all seem to be working to draw tourists from farther away, including China and England, she said.

Tourism Calgary estimates the industry contributed $1.6 billion to the Calgary economy in 2017.

  • Listen to more about Calgary's tourism success last year:

With files from Paul Karchut and the Calgary Eyeopener.