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Tourism industry veteran appointed advocacy group CEO

“We really see this as an opportunity for Alberta to meaningfully and sustainably diversify its economy, but that’s going to require a coordinated advocacy effort to remind government and those wanting to form government that we need to have a strategic policy framework.”
20220303 Tourism Town Hall1
Canmore's Darren Reeder is the new president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – The new president and chief executive officer of the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta has his work cut out for him as the tourism industry begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Aug. 15, Canmore-based Darren Reeder, who was the executive director of Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association for 14 years until stepping away earlier this summer, took on the new role for the tourism advocacy organization he was instrumental in creating three years ago.

The Tourism Industry Association of Alberta (TIAA), which formed to support the province’s plan to double tourism by 2030, is pushing the government to have a strategic policy framework to support tourism, much like the unified approach taken for forestry and oil and gas.

To that end, Reeder said part of TIAA’s advocacy is to have the Alberta government work across all ministries in support of a robust Crown land policy to look at opportunities for more nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation experiences.

“That could be everything from glamping and boutique accommodations to additional trail development that supports motorized and non-motorized experiences throughout the province,” said Reeder, who was TIAA’s board advisor prior to his appointment as CEO.

“We really see this as an opportunity for Alberta to meaningfully and sustainably diversify its economy, but that’s going to require a coordinated advocacy effort to remind government and those wanting to form government that we need to have a strategic policy framework.”

With more than 30 years of experience in policy, advocacy and industry development work for a wide variety of economic sectors in Alberta, Reeder has been a vocal advocate for the expansion of the province’s visitor economy and meaningful labour reforms.

During his 14 years with Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, he worked on tourism experiences in protected areas and was a vocal advocate for the need to address systemic labour challenges facing Canada’s tourism industry.

Reeder said there are a number of challenges ahead for the tourism industry, particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but noted the most imminent challenge is building the labour force.

He said labour was a problem pre-pandemic, but it is now a “full-blown crisis.”

“We need to come up with a strategic framework to both grow the talent from the school age up, and to find ways to incentivize people to come in and to remain in the industry as they develop in their careers over a lifetime,” he said.

“You can come up with all these new product development ideas –  hotels you want to build and events and attractions – but if you don’t have a predictable labour supply, none of this is possible.”

Another challenge facing Alberta’s tourism industry coming out of the pandemic that TIAA is working to address is the need for more direct airline flights into the province’s airports in Calgary and Edmonton.

“It’s the twin effects of trying to build all the air capacity that was lost and, of course, there’s the issue of trying to make the airlines and airports work efficiently right now, which is creating a bit of travel chaos,” Reeder said.

“It’s not just about being able to get to market, it’s about being able to get here in one flight, not multiple connecting flights…  visitors have lots of choices and so the airlines have to get here with direct air capacity.”

Reeder reports to an 11-member board of directors that reflects a broad cross-section of the visitor economy, such as accommodation, retail, food and beverage, meetings and conventions, post-secondary and Indigenous groups.

Alberta had been one of two Canadian provinces without such an organization mandated to advocate for policy that grows the tourism industry and drives innovation. TIAA is sustained by membership dues and stakeholder funding.

Alisha Reynolds, TIAA’s board chair, said Reeder has led the new group since its inception through “unprecedented times.”

“With a small but impactful team now in place, we have proven to be an increasingly influential and respected organization in that short time,” she said.

“TIAA continues to grow and, through Reeder’s appointment as inaugural president and CEO, we look forward to making an even greater impact on Alberta’s tourism ecosystem.”

Reeder said the organization is trying to be inclusive of the whole of Alberta’s visitor economy and is not sector or region specific.

“Tourism truly is a tool for sustainable economic development for community economic renewal,” he said.

“It is something that can support community resilience over the long-term in a way that traditional resource development focus cannot.”