Tourism soars in soggy summer

Tourism in the Stettler area survived and actually flourished despite a summer of cool wet weather and a continued global economic downturn.

Stettler Town and Country Museum experienced a great summer with 1,850 visitors recorded in the guest book from May 1 to Aug. 31 up from 1,300 last year during the same period.

“We had a lot more people than we expected,” said curator Wilda Gibbon.

“On rainy days, we get a lot more people, especially from Buffalo Lake,” added manager Karen Wahlund.

Gibbon credits the increased traffic to a stronger advertising campaign, visitors passing on the word about the museum more exhibits and three more building, people who return and bus tours.

Stettler Tourism Centre and Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions were also busy this summer

With the soggy weather and sluggish economy, it appears Albertans tended to stay and home for their vacations.

“Majority of visitors were stay-cationers,” said Keith Ryder, executive director of Stettler Regional Board of Trade and Community Development that operates Stettler Tourism Centre.

A total of 1,475 signed the guest book this year from the Victoria Day long weekend May 24 to the Labour Day on Sept. 4, said Rayanna Webster, a student employee who focused on serving visitors.

That included 878 from Alberta, 268 from other Canadian provinces, 164 from the Stettler area, 103 international visitors and 62 miscellaneous enquiries.

Just over 1,400 signed the guest book in 2009, down from 1,500 the year before, although about 20 per cent of visitors don’t sign the guest book.

“We heard comments in the tourism industry that people were mainly visiting destinations closer to home – to discover what’s in their own back yard,” said Ryder.

That was also reflected in local figures.

“We had a lot of people from the Stettler area come in to find out what to do on a rainy day,” said Webster.

The local tourism centre was also flocked with people on bus tours traveling through the area and especially to and from Drumheller for the Passion Play in July, said Ryder.

Tourists also enquired at the tourism centre about activities for a less-than-sunny-and-warm day.

“Overall, tourists mostly ask for information the train, Buffalo Lake and Canadian Badlands,” said Webster.

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

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

Tourism traffic at Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions is on track to record similar riders about 16,000 boarding in 2009,

“The summer season started slow but it certainly rebounded,” general manager Bob Willis, operating since 1990.

“Our figures will be similar to last year.”

“We are pleased with the season and we had lots of sellout starting in July and continued into August,” said Willis.

With most of its trips during the summer season from mid-May to mid-October, the economy impacts business more than the weather, he said.

While many people who reserve in advance are prepared for the weather on their trip, other people who don’t reserve are usually deterred by the weather.

“Often, bad-weather trips are the best because people come prepared and dressed for the weather,” said Willis.

However, if the weather is bad over a few days, reservations about two weeks down the line are often reduced, he added.

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