Exclusive interview: Cindy Ady – Alberta Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation


For this issue, the CBJ team was eager to have the opportunity to get to the heart of the tourism industry in Alberta—so we contacted the Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, Cindy Ady.

Minister Ady was happy to help tell us why Alberta has such a thriving industry, and why all Canadians should make a trip sometime. Minister Ady was elected to her third term as Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Shaw on March 3, 2008, and was sworn in as Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation on March 13, 2008. Here’s what she has to say about the tourism business, “Staycations” and experiential travel.

CBJ: How did the recent downturn affect the tourism industry for Alberta?
Cindy Ady: Everyone knows there has been a recession, and there is no question we have felt the effects of that. But we are fortunate in Alberta because we are always a destination market, so we have felt effects but not to the extent that we might have.

CBJ: How did you minimize the impact of that slowdown?
CA: We have tried to mitigate the effects with our “Staycation” campaign. About 50 per cent of our tourism has been Albertans moving around the province, and we ran an intensive campaign reminding people about what there is to offer. About 70 per cent of those we surveyed have seen the campaign since we began running it, and what we are really seeing is renewed activity of Albertans in their own province. They are staying closer to home and are enjoying what we have to offer.

CBJ: What initiatives or campaigns are you running now?
CA: We are running a few different programs. For instance, under Alberta’s “Plan for Parks” we committed to certain things, one of which is looking for new business opportunities in our provincial parks. We have a large land base and a lot of opportunities, so we are saying come to us with projects and we will take a look. We are starting to see some early returns on that now.

We are offering all kinds of experiential travel. People want experience when they travel. For example, in Dinosaur Provincial Park, we are doing some great things. You can go there and go out into the park and you can see dinosaur bones sticking out. We are offering an exclusive type of programming where you can go with your family or group and have a weekend with a palaeontologist and go on a real dinosaur dig! We are piloting “glamping” (glamour camping) next year, for those wannabe outdoorsmen like me, where you go camping but with a lot of amenities. We are also offering a sunset program for photographers, to do photography in the badlands, fabulous photography. We are looking at a lot of experimental niche marketing.

CBJ: I know that that type of travel can get pricey, what about programs that appeal to the economical traveller?
CA: We are one of the few provinces that do not have gate fees or day use fees. Within a one hour drive, all Albertans are at a provincial or national park. So there is great access.

You have probably heard about our online campground reservation system. Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca makes it much easier for people to actually access the parks. It’s an innovative reservation service that provides campers with maps and real-time space availability of more than 4,000 camping sites at 50 provincial campgrounds. Campers now have the capability of viewing, exploring and reserving campsites online. Previously, reservations could only be made by phone or in person. To address the need for a more efficient system, Sierra Systems was chosen to design and develop this online application.

CBJ: We can imagine that the reservation system is making it much easier to camp.
CA: Yes it is. The campground reservation system has already had 178,000 reservations at this point in time, and currently has 141,000 account holders. Our campground operators tell us that typically when weekdays would have been slow, they are now managing to keep them filled, so they are pleased with how consistent reservations have become.

CBJ: How has it changed the Alberta camping experience?
CA: It’s helped people explore new parks and explore these parks differently. Because it is so state-of-the-art, you can go to the site and do a 360 degree turn and see what the amenities are and where. Other provinces have been looking to us now because we have been able to take technology and step it up. We look at the opportunity for using technology even more.

The next generation of that system will tell you what is going on in the general vicinity…whatever it is that will enhance your vacation. For now, people are loving and using the system, and are finding it is providing opportunities that before they didn’t have.

I think the population was ready for this. I was just glad we were able to kick it up and move it. Most people have access to a computer. However, you can still go the traditional method and call and access reservations by phone, which I think people still appreciate.

CBJ: What’s the next step for this technology?
CA: We are going to continue to expand the reservation system. We have been receiving national awards, and most recently gained the attention of ESRI Canada, a leading provider of GIS solutions, who gave us an award. We are also going to add more campgrounds.

CBJ: What about next steps for the Ministry?
CA: I am bringing the implementation stage of the “Plan for Parks” back into the legislature and we plan to bring forward legislation that includes plans for more private business opportunities in parks. We have created the rules for engagement; the rules that will allow those conversations. We are saying to private operations, ‘where can you bring us more product?’

We are going to continue to upgrade the parks…we’ve put $250 million into upgrading them in the past five years. We are about 75 per cent of the way there. I have also challenged our parks and tourism staff to stay innovative and to look to their markets. One of the things we are noticing is people are going to the mountains and spending a day in the Badlands, but then they are drawn back and will return to spend a week in the Badlands. We know people want to camp and they want things to do while they camp, such as white water rafting, horseback trips etc., so we’re working on that.

We think we are on the right road between conserving and letting people appreciate [the parks]. We are looking at a lot of different opportunities.

CBJ: Can you speak briefly about housing a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
CA: We have five of the 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, and we are very proud of that. A UNESCO designation is the UN saying this is a special place in the world. I know people who only visit UNESCO sites, so for us, that is an important piece that comes with responsibility. We have to work hard to preserve it and to protect it properly.

Our final key message to Canadians: we think Alberta is the most beautiful place in the world, and we have some of the nicest people here. The number one thing tourists say to me is that our cities and environments are so clean. Those are our three things: Alberta’s beautiful, the people are nice, and it’s clean. If you want a clean and beautiful environment, come to Alberta.