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Lethbridge tourism industry shifts focus to winter attractions as summer winds down

Castle Mountain Resort (file photo). Castle Mountain Resort (file photo).
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The sun is setting on the summer tourism season in Lethbridge, and stakeholders are now turning their attention ahead to winter.

"Anecdotally, what we've heard is that (the) Lethbridge tourism industry had a really good summer," said Erin Crane, Tourism Lethbridge CEO.

Crane says tourism in Lethbridge has continued to climb from lows seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to multiple initiatives and programs focused on agriculture.

"We looked at and analysed the numbers from January 2023 to June 2023, and we compared that to the same time last year, and we have seen some really good increases."

Although finalized numbers for the summer months aren’t available, in the first six months of the year its estimated Lethbridge had over 23,000 visitors with an economic impact over $6 million.

Summer destinations like Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden have also seen an increase in visitors.

"We've done a lot more than we've done before in terms of programming, in term so of general people enjoying their time here," said Eric Granson, marketing manager at Nikka Yuko.

WINTER 2023-24 TOURISM

Cole Fawcett, sales and marketing manager at Castle Mountain Resort, says it's only a matter of time until snow begins to fall.

"A lot is on the go in respect to getting prepared for the season. Those last minute preparations on lifts, which we've been doing preventative maintenance and off-season maintenance (on) all season, same with 'snowcats' and snowmobiles.

"There’s some work on the mountain going on right now, moving some dirt around to make things make a little more sense."

Last winter was a top-three season for Castle Mountain Resort, according to Fawcett.

"For most outdoor recreational opportunities like skiing and golf, the pandemic period was actually not too bad for our business, and so we have hung onto some people who came back to the sport or came to the sport for the first time," Fawcett explained. 

Other winter attractions are seeing similar increases.

Granson says Nikka Yuko saw a record-breaking 30,000 visitors to its winter lights festival last year, a number he expects to increase this season.

"Last year, we were actually increasing our total amounts from outside the Lethbridge area from eight per cent to 20 per cent," he said.

Along with promoting the region throughout the winter, Tourism Lethbridge is already planning for new initiatives in 2024.

"We are doing some work with Indigenous Tourism Alberta, our Travel Alberta partners, really getting that 'prairies to pacific corridor' that’s being promoted by Destination Canada, going," Crane said.

"We’re also doing a lot of marketing readiness training with our partners from Community Futures, to make sure that the tourism businesses can capture as much of that economic impact as they can."

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