MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY – Three operations in the region with the potential to increase the number of visitors in the area were recently named among 50 Alberta-based recipients whose Tourism Relief Fund applications were approved.
The federal government is investing a little more than $17.8 million in 50 projects across Alberta through Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) to help grow the province’s tourism economy.
Alberta’s allocation represents an overall country-wide investment of $500 million over two years through the Tourism Relief Fund (TRF), which is administered by PrairiesCan in the prairie provinces.
“This federal investment will attract more people to explore Alberta destinations, bringing economic benefits to communities all across the province,” reads a portion of the statement, later adding it is also “expected to help support more than 2,800 jobs.”
The objectives are to empower businesses and organizations that have a connection with tourism “to create new or enhance existing tourism experiences and products to attract more local and domestic visitors” as well as to help “the tourism sector reposition itself to welcome international visitors.”
The three recipients in the region are:
• Mahikan Trails Indigenous Experiences, a Sundre-area organization that offers educational medicine walks and workshops;
• Fallentimber Meadery, which is based in the Water Valley area and provides guided tours of their facility; and
• Rocky Mountain Motorsports, a racetrack located near Carstairs.
Mahikan Trails, which offers medicine walks in Sundre, Banff and Canmore, is to receive $99,895 to renovate a workshop space and install new cabins to facilitate multi-day workshops and immersive Indigenous experiences year-round.
Fallentimber was approved for $99,999 to construct a new sampling room, patio and walking trails to increase capacity as well as extend the operating season for facility tours and product tastings.
And Rocky Mountain Motorsports was approved for $500,000 toward the construction cost of the new 3.5-kilometre asphalt race track that opened last fall at an overall cost of about $34 million.
During an interview with the Albertan last month, Dominic Young, Rocky Mountain Motorsports president, expressed gratitude but quickly clarified the amount allocated to his operation is an interest-free loan.
“It’s not like a grant,” said Young. “So, we have to repay it.”
Either way, he said being approved for the funding certainly came as welcome news.
As the raceway already opened in 2022, Young said when asked if the funds might be spent on anything specific such as a facility upgrade or expansion that was identified as needed post-construction, that the program’s eligibility criteria covered the period of time between Dec. 31, 2021 through to March 2023.
“We incurred a lot of our construction costs in 2021 and 2022,” he said.
“So, we were able to use some of the construction costs from ’22 to support the application,” he elaborated, adding, “the money – which we haven’t received yet by the way – will pay bills that we incurred during construction.”
Starting in the spring of 2024, he said they will have a five-year period within which to repay the interest-free funding.
“The fact that it’s interest-free money is helpful, very much so,” he said.
“We’re grateful to have an opportunity to participate in the program. We think we will do some great things for tourism in Alberta; we’ve built a world-class facility that is available for motor sports enthusiasts across Western Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and further afield.”
Asked what metrics might be involved in tracking the number of visitors to gauge traffic trends, Young said they’ve split demographics into domestic as well as international tourists.
However, as the raceway opened well into 2022, they do not yet have a full year’s worth of visitor numbers let alone past years to compare with.
“The numbers will grow,” he said.
Young said 1,030 domestic tourists were recorded in the time the facility was opened in 2022. That figure is based on registration information people provide; more specifically, the area codes of their phone numbers to get a better idea of roughly where they’re from, he said.
“We had about 80 that we would classify as international tourists,” he said.
Building relationships with other racetracks from other parts of the planet is also factored into their plan to appeal to an international pool of vehicle enthusiasts, he said.
“We are part of a group that is looking at pulling together a number of semi-private racetracks from around the world, and we would potentially have reciprocal privileges,” he said.
“We could have people from Germany – as an example – and as part of their trip, they might use the track for a couple days and then go and spend a week or 10 days in the mountains.”
That by extension of course creates a beneficial economic ripple effect in the tourism sector, he said.
Domestically speaking, visitors have come from the region and as far away as Ontario, while international tourists from the U.S. and even the U.K. have also been out, he said.
“They’re coming from good distances, including as far away as Europe at this stage,” he said.
Another metric used to measure growth and success is job creation, he said.
“We created four full-time positions, and in 2022 with just partial operations, we had six seasonal positions,” he said, adding they expect the number of part-time seasonal positions to increase this year.
“I can see us having more than dozen employees,” he said.
A spokesperson with Prairies Economic Development Canada confirmed by email in response to follow-up questions that the funding approved for Rocky Mountain Motorsports is repayable, while the sums to be provided to Mahikan Trails and Fallentimber are non-repayable.
As per the program's criteria, they said contributions of up to $100,000 to for-profit businesses are non-repayable while contributions from $100,000 up to $500,000 are repayable. Not-for-profit as well as Indigenous organizations were also eligible for non-repayable contributions.
Among the big ticket, multi-million dollar recipients of the Tourism Relief Fund in Alberta mentioned in press release were:
• Travel Alberta being allocated $3.25 million to create regional destination development plans focused on increasing visitor traffic to diverse tourism destinations in Alberta that have capacity for more visitors;
• Métis Crossing in Smoky Lake set to receive $1.45 million to add year-round Sky Watching Domes that complement Indigenous programming and support more choice for visitors looking to stay overnight at Alberta’s first major Métis cultural interpretive destination; and
• TELUS World of Science - Edmonton earmarked for $2 million to among other upgrades include new exhibits dedicated to human health and the Arctic, enhance Indigenous-programming spaces, as well as incorporate new projection equipment into the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium.
Many of the 50 Alberta-based projects are in Calgary and Edmonton, with plenty of others ranging from traditional tourist hot spots including Banff, Canmore and Jasper, as well as a few more off-the-beaten path places such as Riviere Qui Barre northeast of Edmonton, Bon Accord, Hinton, Mayerthorpe and Vermillion.