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Tourism framework, roundtable to be established in Canmore

“Part of our framework was informing the visitors and helping them understand how to play in our space the right ways, but also that extends to residents as well. Tension is coming from the idea of overcrowding, congestion, some of those behaviour and structural things, so addressing some of those issues will help get at those things that are frustrating people.”
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Tourists walk around artist Cedar Mueller's found metal sculpture Ferdinand the horse on the pedestrianized Main Street in Canmore on Saturday (June 12). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – A long-awaited report for a tourism framework in Canmore will see the creation of a local roundtable to work towards a community-led vision for sustainable tourism.

Town council endorsed the tourism framework brought forward by Calgary-based Stormy Lake Consulting, following the creation of the tourism task force a year ago.

The framework aims to continue to preserve the social fabric of Canmore, maintain ecological integrity and ensure Canmore’s long-term economic health.

“What we really heard is there is a tension between residents and visitors in terms of how the space is being used,” said Jason Thompson, a strategist with Stormy Lake Consulting. “There is a belief or feeling of people who live here that things are getting overcrowded, overused and not being treated respectfully.

“Part of our framework was informing the visitors and helping them understand how to play in our space the right ways, but also that extends to residents as well. Tension is coming from the idea of overcrowding, congestion, some of those behaviours and structural things, so addressing some of those issues will help get at those things that are frustrating people.”

Though it can be a divisive conversation in the community, the Town of Canmore relies on tourism to support the local economy.

Philip Coppard, the principal with Stormy Lake Consulting, noted whether indirectly or directly, every business is impacted by tourism. However, to reach the goals of the framework, coordination between all community partners is vital.

“We recognize this isn’t a framework we can enforce on other people, but we need to encourage them to adopt it,” Coppard said. “Businesses seem very aligned with the issues we’re talking about. They’re important to all of them. We didn’t see any rejection of ideas. … Our interviews with local businesses, there was a lot of support.

“Council’s endorsement will be a large flag on this that this is important, we believe in it and we’ve got some work to do.”

The final report emphasized the need to address both climate change and truth and reconciliation “with sincere and meaningful actions.”

The report also identified nine pillars ranging from tourism awareness and ecological integrity to co-existence with wildlife and affordability.

Opportunities and recommendations were provided to help attain the goals, while key actions were also determined for the nine pillars.

The report concludes with the importance of engaging the Stoney Nakoda Nation and other Indigenous partners on the tourism framework, creating a tourism roundtable to achieve key actions, report back to the community on research findings and sharing the framework with the local community.

“This has to be an issue for council moving forward,” Thompson said of reaching out to Indigenous partners.

The report stresses the need for residents, businesses and government to work with one another in achieving the goals of the framework.

A tourism roundtable will also be established from industry, community and environmental representation to work on monitoring the process.

Coun. Joanna McCallum highlighted the importance of the community working towards a common goal and “rowing in the same direction.”

“We all love this community and we really need to show it through trying to walk the steps of this framework,” she said.

Stoney Lake Consulting led the community discussion in a series of virtual town halls between June and August.

The town halls had 161 community members participate and three youth workshops were held with 63 high school students. A workshop was also held with lower-income residents, with additional discussions with community members and the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

An online survey also had 692 responses.

The tourism task force consisted of 15 community representatives, two council members and three people from the Town of Canmore as well as the executive director of Tourism Canmore Kananaskis.

The task force has been active since Sept. 2020 and was added as part of council’s strategic plan.

Multiple councillors stressed how achieving resort municipality status would help Canmore achieve its tourism-related goals.

The status gives municipalities the ability to collect additional revenue from visitors, which can go towards infrastructure needs. Without the ability to do so, which needs provincial approval, an extra tax burden is pushed onto residents.

Coppard called it “an uphill battle” in receiving the status, but that it would be “a magic bullet” if it was provided.

The Town of Canmore along with the Town of Banff and the Municipality of Jasper have heavily lobbied the province for the past two decades to receive the much sought after status, particularly given the three communities' role in tourism in Alberta.

During the last provincial budget, the Alberta government made the ambitious goal of doubling tourism revenue to about $20 billion annually by 2030. To achieve the lofty aim, Canmore, Jasper and Banff would all be primary partners in getting to the finish line.

“Our communities are the tourism destinations in the province and that’s where the bulk of that growth in tourism will happen,” said Lisa de Soto, Canmore’s chief administrative officer. “It’s really a provincial regulation change that’s needed.”

Mayor John Borrowman said it is “a fairly comprehensive vision” and the work ahead will likely be difficult, but will not be completed overnight. However, it is important for council, Town staff and the community to work together.

While it is unlikely to bring a perfect result to keep everyone happy, Coun. Esmé Comfort said the framework is a step in the right direction and will be “an immense benefit in achieving our final goals.”