By J.W. Schnarr
Local municipalities now have a unified vision they can use to approach tourism opportunities.
During their regular meeting on Sept. 8, M.D. council heard from Division 2 Coun. Tom Machacek in regards to a recent presentation of the tourism visioning project that involves The Village of Barnwell, the Town of Vauxhall, the Town of Taber, and the Municipal District of Taber. It is hoped the suggestions in the project will help local municipalities enhance their tourism strategies and provide avenues for them to work together with a single goal. Machacek said he was in favour of having an external, objective viewpoint of local tourism.
The report identifies an overall theme for the municipalities, as well as complimentary, individual municipal tourism niches for each municipality to pursue. It also broke down the different types of tourists local municipalities are most likely to attract, and makes recommendations for improving tourism both locally and regionally.
The report identifies family-friendly festivals and events as a primary tourism vision for the region, “offering authentic, friendly, and interactive grassroots community experiences that leave lasting memories of excitement, learning, and belonging for visitors of all ages.”
Examples of this are the Taber Pheasant Festival, Molnar Pumpkin Festival, Barnwell Pioneer Days, and Cornfest. The report identified a number of other festival opportunities for the region that are currently not being utilized. The secondary theme identified for the region involves country-style sports and recreation, “specializing in hosting quality spectator sporting events and offering participatory experiences in the beauty of the Badlands.”
Country-style sports include traditional sports such as cross-country skiing, kite flying competitions, and marathons, as well as recreational pursuits such as mud bogging and motocross, and hunting. But it also allows for non-traditional sports such as bobcat rodeos, wife-carrying competitions, zorbing, and human foosball tournaments.
While the events themselves take place in one municipality, there are opportunities for other municipalities to host concurrent events in order to expand the experience for visitors and attract additional visitors.
Individually, it was suggested that the M.D. of Taber could focus on outdoor adventures, “offering the beauty of the Canadian Badlands with independent and group outdoor activities. The M.D. already offers opportunities for hunting, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, and hiking, and could focus on organizing festivals for those types of events and adding new events such as star gazing, agricultural tours, and trail rides with cowboy storytellers around a campfire.
The Town of Taber could focus on community hospitality, “providing down-home hospitality at festivals and sporting events.” While Taber already hosts a number of community and regional events, and is the primary source of infrastructure in the area, the town could focus on expanding the ability to cater to visitors in the area, and hold street festivals, culinary weekends, or events such as old-fashioned picnics.
The Town of Vauxhall could focus on the goal of learn-play-experience, “giving sport-learning opportunities to people of all ages and skill levels through camps, courses, and interactive experiences.” With the baseball academy and long-running baseball tournaments, Vauxhall could increase the sport-learning opportunities to be offered year-round, and even provide training spaces for athletes prior to their regional events. These could take the form of training camps, project-based events such as building go-carts or learning about gun safety, or special events such as kite flying and video game tournaments. Destination Canada has developed a way to sort tourists based on their demographics of age, marital status, income, and family composition, but also goes further in depth using psychographics. The system is called the Explorer Quotient, and is used by the federal and provincial government, and by major tourism operators in the province.
The nine EQ types can be broken down into four main categories: Learners, Enthusiastic Indulgers, Familiarity Seekers, and Escapists.
Within this region the report identified Learners as the primary EQ category and the type as Cultural Explorers. These are people who want to immerse themselves in local cultures and events to get a proper feel for the places they visit, in order to understand the places and themselves better. These travelers are more likely to attend festivals and events, outdoor nature events or shows, and nature observations.
The secondary category for this region includes Enthusiastic Indulgers, and the type as Free Spirits. These visitors are thrill seeking and experimental, seeking thrills, frills, and bragging rights. The tend to stay away from group tours and rigid plans.
Both groups are interested in adventure, experience, and discovery.
Finally, the report made a number of recommended municipal priorities for municipalities to consider. For the M.D., it was suggested that the development of a corn maze would be a good addition to the area. The M.D. could also identify the location of existing hiking trails, snowmobiling and cross country skiing trails, as well as sites of interest, nature observation areas, and create a map including half-day and full day incursions for visitors to have a chance to explore the area on their own.
In Taber, it was suggested the town do more to increase visibility of the Visitor Information Centre with appropriate signage, community awareness, and potentially a relocation. A future site could include a dumping area, dog run, and potable water source. Cross-partnerships between the Vauxhall Business Society and Taber and District Chamber of Commerce are also encouraged.
In Vauxhall, it was suggested the town begin a billeting program for future sport camp participants, and to contact provincial sport associations to determine opportunities for sports camps and hosting opportunities. An outdoor education program and a marketing and communications program would also be useful to the town.
Following Machacek’s report to council, discussion moved to how the M.D. could best benefit from the report, including offering copies to local development organizations such as Canadian Badlands and SouthGrow.
“Where we go from here with it I think we can take it to our joint economic development committee to pursue these ideas further and come back with recommendations for the municipality,” said Machacek.