Exclusive Interview: Mr. Jack Hayden, Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation
Alberta’s parks and protected areas network includes a spectrum of sites ranging from intensively developed recreation areas to pristine wilderness. These sites provide opportunities for heritage appreciation, outdoor recreation and heritage tourism. In total, Alberta parks cover more than 27,000 square kilometres of the province, preserving important ecological areas and providing places to enjoy Alberta’s natural bounty.
“The 80th anniversary of Alberta Parks is very significant, simply because that shows a lot of foresight by the people who started something that is of great value to Albertans and people who come in outside of our jurisdiction,” says Jack Hayden, Minister of Tourism, Parks and recreation, of the contribution and celebration of Parks Alberta.
And there is no visitor of Alberta who does not leave impressed by the number and exquisite natural beauty of Alberta’s famous parks. “We are in a position where no one in the province of Alberta is more than one hour from a provincial park which is something that not many places can claim,” says Hayden. “The diversity of our parks is another thing we need to celebrate on our 80th year. We have amazing urban parks, amazing ecological reserves, preserves, really good interactive opportunities with nature.”
While no one contests that Alberta parks have an intangible effect on the quality of life of Albertans, the tangible contributions of the parks are also significant.
“We have a $5.5 billion tourism industry in tourism—our third largest industry in Alberta—and parks are a big part of that,” says Hayden. “We have about 8.5 million visitors a year to our provincial parks, so it is a big part of the economy.”
Alberta has landmark urban parks as well that offer city dwellers the chance to return to nature without traveling very far. “I think the planning that took place ahead of time has given an opportunity for our city dwellers to have some amazing experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise. Take, for instance, the North Saskatchewan River Parks system in Edmonton. It is the largest urban park in our country, stretching 60 kilometres, and our province has been a big part of that.
“Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary is likewise enjoyed by Calgarians, gives them an opportunity just minutes from their home to get back to nature.”
World Travel Market
Promoting Alberta as a must-see tourism destination was the focus of Hayden’s mission to London, UK for the World Travel Market (WTM), November 7 to 10.
In its 32nd year, the WTM attracts senior representatives from more than 180 countries and regions and more than 2,600 international media outlets each year.
“Building greater awareness of Alberta as a world class destination is the first step towards growing our $5 billion tourism industry,” says Hayden. “Travel Alberta is working with the Canadian Tourism Commission and Alberta-based operators to increase our market share of the world’s travellers.”
In 2009, Alberta’s top 5 overseas tourism markets were the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Japan. More than 380,000 visits from these markets generated $410 million for Alberta’s economy.
“The competition for tourists is fierce, and the marketplace is crowded. Alberta needs to stand out and capture the imagination of potential visitors,” adds Hayden.
“I met with tour operators from around the world but specifically the UK. Outside of our American visitors, the UK is our largest group of foreign tourist visitors; they are huge fans of the Rocky Mountains and the ski industry and people love to come to Banff, Jasper, Lake, Louise etc., and this was chance to further promote that. We also had opportunity to meet with airline operators because of course getting people directly into the tourism destination is such an advantage, so more direct flights is what we are shooting for,” adds Hayden.
“This was an ideal opportunity to showcase Travel Alberta’s new brand and to make a strong impact on tourism operators and media from around the globe.”