By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on September 1, 2022.
Driving around the city and surrounding area this summer, it seems as though there are more out of town plates around with lots of cars stopping so occupants can get photos of the Saamis Tepee and other landmarks around the city.
Tourism Medicine Hat executive director Jace Anderson, Executive Director, says “stats are looking good” after a few slower years resulting from the pandemic.
“We started the year cautiously optimistic because the tourist industry was one of the first and the hardest hit in 2020,” he said.
While 2021 showed a marked improvement over the disaster that was 2020, 2019 is the type of year industry folks are looking forward to getting back to.
“2019 was the best year we’d had, a fantastic year, an improvement over 2018, which was an improvement over 2017. Then it was gone,” said Anderson.
Travel Alberta has speculated that 2024 is when the industry will get back to 2019 numbers. Anderson suspects things are ahead of the curve locally.
“We are really excited to get to the end of the summer/end of year when we do our full reconciliation of data. The KPIs (key performance indicators) we are tracking month to month have been really good.”
In 2020 and 2021, many visitors to the area were Albertans, many possibly for visiting the first time and it is expected a large number of them will return. This year, long haul Canadians and Americans are starting to come through again.
“We do a review of the first six months, and I think we saw 20 something states check in – 2019 we would have seen about 47, so still pretty significant room for us to grow,” said Anderson.
From summer data, the percentage of visitors staying the night is growing year over year. Business travel and leisure travel continue to be strong. Additionally, a return of sport and event travel, along with in-person events are also important pillars to tourism.
With Labour Day weekend coming up, the geographic region will see a boost of traffic for back-to-school shopping. While local schools are back in session, those in southern Saskatchewan and other places might not be, with many travelling to Medicine Hat as it is the closest economic retail centre for a large area.
Once school is back in, Anderson explained, “then we start to see those who prefer to travel when kids are back in school. We see a marked transition over the first couple of weeks of September. The other thing we start to see in the fall is sport and group traffic, teams and those sorts of things through the fall and winter.”
Other encouraging signs are that metrics are up for online reading of Experience Medicine Hat and demand for the printed magazine has also increased.
“We have been restocking venues where in the last couple of years we have stocked only once,” said Anderson. “These venues have been calling us multiple times over the summer to restock and that is indicative of the likelihood of people travelling over the summer and into the fall. Those are all positive indicators for us, that our partners and stakeholders are in a good place and it’s getting better.”
While there are other factors impacting travel that extend further than our immediate area, Anderson believes the work Medicine Hat and area have done to be welcoming and open to business is paying off.
“This is a compelling community and folks see it,” he said. “One of the things we love about the venue we have here and some of the partnerships we have in the community is we have an opportunity to impact and present information to new residents or to folks who are considering relocation.”
In the past six months, Anderson says more than 16 packages have been sent out to those with an interest in moving to Medicine Hat.
“We send them information to give them a full look at who we are as a community and then get to hear anecdotally after the fact that those efforts are resulting in people relocating,” said Anderson.