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EDITORIAL: Cabinet shuffle pushes tourism from portfolio prominence

On Aug. 25, Premier Jason Kenney shuffled his cabinet and for some unexplained reason dropped tourism from its cabinet portfolio title

For some, titles mean very little in life. 

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying: "Titles distinguish the mediocre, embarrass the superior and are disgraced by the inferior." 

But when it comes to tourism – a billion dollar industry that the entire Bow Valley depends upon to earn a living in some form or another – there seems to a lack of commitment from the UCP government to recognize its importance with an important title. 

On Aug. 25, Premier Jason Kenney shuffled members of his cabinet to "put the best people in the right positions to focus on Alberta's recovery plan."

But we cannot help but notice that tourism as part of a cabinet portfolio was somehow lost in the premier's modest "reset." 

On Aug. 24, Alberta had a minister of economic development, trade and tourism, but afterwards it had a minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

Where did tourism go and why was it dropped from a cabinet title altogether? 

The Outlook reached out to the press secretary for the premier Christine Myatt this week to better understand the rationale behind this decision. As of yet, we have not received a response to our inquiries. 

While the economic fallout of COVID-19 has been devastating for almost all industries – tourism has been particularly hard hit.

Alberta boasted a healthy and growing tourism industry in 2019 – with close to $10 billion spent by visitors in this province. The future of tourism was so bright that the UCP announced its goal of reaching $20 billion in visitor spending by 2030.

The province and its destination marketing organization – the Crown corporation that is Travel Alberta – were hard at work on a brand new 10 year tourism strategy to support the industry and that new target. 

That process was drastically altered in light of COVID-19, as it is pretty clear that what the tourism industry is going to need moving forward is its own recovery plan.

International travel has all but stopped and visitors from south of the border and overseas are no longer coming to visit iconic Alberta destinations like the Rocky Mountains. 

Restaurants are facing a crisis with reduced capacity and increased protocols and rules to follow to continue to operate. And not everyone is comfortable with dining out yet in the midst of a pandemic. 

Hotels have been affected due to the reduced number of travellers as well as the lockdown, during which time nobody was renting a room or suite for a vacation or get-away. 

The situation has been dire for events and event organizers – which have always been a major driver for visitation and spending in local economies. Marathons, cross-country skiing competitions, folk festivals and even the Calgary Stampede – are all economic drivers that bring people into communities to spend money.

As summer winds up and we move into the fall and winter months, the fallout from COVID-19 will become more and more apparent for the tourism sector – which is an industry of industries.

Without tourism being included specifically in a cabinet portfolio this government has confirmed it is not a priority while energy, agriculture, forestry all continue to have seats at the table. 

Had Myatt or Premier Kenney felt it was appropriate to respond to the Outlook's request to better understand this decision, we assume they would say that tourism is included in a general sense under the umbrella of jobs and the economy. 

With all due respect, that is not good enough for a billion dollar industry facing its most difficult economic crisis in a generation. 

The provincial and federal governments should both be preparing comprehensive support plans for an industry that is about to topple over the edge. Many tourism enterprises are small businesses and their ability to survive this crisis is limited.

Tourism needs more help now.


Rocky Mountain Outlook

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