Alberta’s tourism industry celebrated this week as a promotional YouTube video for tourism in the oil-rich province reached over a million viewers worldwide.
Titled Remember to Breathe, the video was voted best in the world, earning the Diamond Award—equivalent to the Oscars in tourism circles—at Golden City Gate, a tourism advertising competition held at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin last month.
The three-minute video features a vivid collection of Alberta’s natural wonders and attractions, and various versions of it are currently being promoted to markets in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and China.
The attention reflects a growing $5.5-billion tourism industry, one of the largest sectors in Alberta, which employs 90,000 workers in the province.
“[Tourism] has been growing exponentially over the last 10 years,” says Travel Alberta CEO Bruce Okabe, who contributes much of the growth to a fresh marketing strategy and increased funding that became available when Travel Alberta became a crown corporation in 2009.
“Clearly we have a lot of what visitors want,” Okabe adds.
“We have the full support of the government of Alberta in terms of the sustainable tourism funding model. So there’s a number of things that are on our side that are contributing to the growth.”
Publicity from top U.S. talk show Live! With Kelly, which broadcast for four days in Banff earlier this month, will also contribute. The attention from the show is thought to be worth around $22 million.
Twenty-three million people visited Alberta in 2010; 18.6 million came from other parts of the province, 2.8 million came from other parts of Canada, and 1.5 million from other countries.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, average revenue growth from tourism across Canada was just under 4 percent last year. In Alberta it was almost double that at 7.8 percent, and Travel Alberta hopes to increase tourism revenues by $1 billion before 2017.
The major draw for international tourists continues to be natural wonders such as the Rocky Mountains and Banff or Jasper national parks, says Okabe.
Tourists within Canada are more likely to visit other areas of Alberta to see family or explore attractions such as Dinosaur Provincial Park or the Calgary Stampede.
However, tourism in Alberta has not always enjoyed such a rosy image.
In 2010 a San Francisco-based environmental group launched an international ad campaign that called for American tourists to boycott Alberta due to the environmental impact of oil sands development.
The “Re-Think Alberta” campaign, directed at U.S. and U.K. markets, included billboard ads and online advertising featuring oil-soaked birds and wildlife, with the words “Alberta: The OTHER Oil Disaster.”
Okabe says the anti-Alberta campaign didn’t have any effect on tourism numbers, and in fact could have produced the opposite effect.
“Interestingly enough what actually transpired was the tourism to Fort McMurray and the Northern area actually doubled [after the campaign was launched],” he says.
He adds it is difficult to prove whether the campaign can be linked with the boost in tourism, but it did create a lot of discussion in social media circles at the time.
“It was a very interesting social dialogue on tourism and energy production that actually went in the favour of tourism in Alberta,” he says.
The award-winning Travel Alberta promotional video can be seen at www.travelalberta.com