Tourism thrives in recession

Tourism appears to continue to thrive in the Stettler area, considering the major economic downturn in Alberta and around the world.

Tourism appears to continue to thrive in the Stettler area, considering the major economic downturn in Alberta and around the world.

“Our summer was very busy and our number of visitors is up slightly,” said Keith Ryder, executive director of Stettler Regional Board of Trade and Community Development and Stettler Tourism Centre.

“Overall, our number of visitors was down slightly at the information centre this year.”

Just over 1,400 signed the guest book this year, compared to 1,500 last year, although about 20 per cent of visitors don’t sign the book.

“More people came in to look for vacation venues closer to home,” said Ryder.

“People still seemed to be traveling despite the economy.”

Most of the guests in the information centre were from Alberta while Saskatchewan and British Columbia virtually tied for second.

As the northern gateway to the Canadian Badlands focused in the Drumheller area, Stettler promotes many attractions and features to the region, said Ryder.

“First-time visitors are amazed at the retail facilities we offer and we got numerous positive comments about our camping facilites.”

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, Stettler Town and County Museum, Ol’ MacDonald’s Resort and Buffalo Lake are the major attractions to the Stettler region, he said.

“One thing we are trying to promote as a gem is Buffalo Lake,” said Ryder.

“We are very fortunate to have that as a tourist attraction.”

Another asset to help promote tourism was summer employee Whitney VanLanduyt who was a “great ambassador”, said Ryder.

Her enthusiasm had a positive effect.”

Stettler Town and Country Museum welcomed just over 1,300 visitors this season, up from about 1,200 in 2008 when the site recorded an increase of about 35 per cent from the previous season.

“It’s amazing, even with the slow economy,” said curator Wilda Gibbon.

“We’ve had a lot more people in this year and we seem to go up every year.”

“We’ve had many bus tours and people researching their genealogy.”

This year’s figure excludes Canada Day which drew 500 people, considerably higher than 400 of last year.

Visitors from the United States were down from last year, while the museum recorded an increase from other parts of Canada and foreign countries, and countless former residents of the Stettler area.

Many pre-school classes also visited the museum in the spring, but are not counted in the visitors’ figure.

Tourism traffic at Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions remains on track with about 16,000 boarding the train so far this year, said general manager Bob Willis, operating the attraction since 1990.

“We’re about the same as last year and we still have two months to go,“ said Willis.

Last year the major tourist attraction recorded an increase of 17 per cent, with 70 to 80 round trips to Big Valley in the season.

“We started the year slow and we equate the slow start to the doom and gloom of the economy,” said Willis.

“We have sold out as many trips this year as we did last year.”

Maintaining admission prices from the past three years has also been a main draw, he said.

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