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Marketing a Tourism Business in Alberta

If you are an entrepreneur and looking at launching a tourism business, there are many trends in your favour. [Update to readers: this post was written in October of 2019 – How the world has changed! Nonetheless, attracting tourists from within the province is still attracting tourists…and where there’s a will, there’s a way].

Up until the pandemic tourism had been growing, and the Alberta government wants to see the $8.5 billion industry double, which means they need to see more innovative ‘products’ (ATB Financial, 2017). Note that both ‘products’ and ‘services’ in tourism are often referred to as experiences for tourists. And remember, Alberta tourism certainly goes far beyond just the Canadian Rockies.

If you’re a little hazy on what it means to offer an experience, check out our past blog on Experiential Tourism.

Tourism experiences can be based around:

  • Accommodations
  • Attractions
  • Tours and Guiding
  • Hospitality
  • Transportation
  • Travel Agencies and Intermediaries
  • Tourism-Related Retail

Starting a business in tourism presents unique opportunities and challenges. Opportunities include market growth, a desire for new products, a passion-driven industry and excellent supports in economic development and trade. Some of the current challenges are certainly seasonality (summer generates 35.2% of travel in Alberta), a historical reliance on the energy industry (causing higher labour, material, and equipment costs), and financing – some lenders view tourism as high risk (Alberta Culture and Tourism, 2017).

Travel Alberta says new opportunities for tourism experiences are prevalent around:

  • Agri-food beverage (think craft beer and farm-to-table dining)
  • Aurora borealis and night sky viewing
  • City and day tours
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Winter experiences
  • Wellness experience

Do any of these have promise for you? Here’s how we suggest you get started.

Start with Research

As with starting a business in any industry, it’s always recommended to start with research. Below are some tools to understand and define your market.

Information You Need to KnowTourism Resources
Market sizeAlberta demographics
DemographicsTourism research and statistics
Habits and trends of your marketNational Household Survey
Local (geographic/regional) trendsLocal library databases

There are some incredible resources from Alberta Economic, Development, Trade, and Tourism Market Research, Travel Alberta Market Research , and Statistics Canada Research. You can use this available information to identify or validate who will buy your experiences. One thing to note is that currently 80% of Alberta tourism comes from Albertans and that the VFR market (visiting friends and family) is the #1 reason for travel (Alberta Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, 2019). It’s important to understand this data if you are aiming to turn locals into tourists or tourists into locals.

One really fabulous tool that has been created by Travel Alberta is called the Explorer Quotient Tool. Explorer Quotient is a marketing segmentation program based on demographic, social values and behavioural research to identify nine different traveller types. In addition, Alberta Culture and Tourism has partnered with Environics Analytics Group and can access Canadian household segments based on postal code. Tourism Businesses can access this information through their research team. In other words, if you track where tourists are coming from, and then send this data to Environics, they can tell you which traveller types those are, and what they are likely hoping to see when visiting your area. Much better than guessing!

Consumer Research

Information you Need to KnowTourisms Resources
Who will be interested in your products?Focus Groups, or results from focus groups of similar companies
What do similar groups of people need and want?Surveys
What do consumers say about similar products or services?Travel Alberta EQ
Prizm Analysis
Google reviews
Trip Advisors
Collective advisory groups

Lastly, here are some things to think about when you are evaluating the industry and how your idea, product, or service will fit/compliment/disrupt the industry.

Industry Research

Information you Need to KnowTourism Resources
Environmental factors (legal, cultural, social)Google Trends, Google News, Google Alerts
Trends in the industrySME Benchmarking Tool
What associations are relevantIndustry Associations
Financial trends and benchmarksAlberta Tourism Market Monitor

The Tourism Marketing Plan

A huge component of starting a tourism business is understanding how to create your messaging, develop or refine offerings, and create a strategic plan, budget and goals. Tourism marketing can seem overwhelming since there are a lot of moving parts.

Travel Alberta suggests 8 P’s of Marketing in your plan in lieu of the traditional 4 P’s, adding packaging, programming, people and partnerships to the mix:

The inclusion of partnerships can’t be underestimated in tourism marketing. Tourism Marketers need to understand the needs, wants, and demands of the customer but also how marketers and consumers interact. It is no longer just one-way, it has become a two-way conversation as the industry trends toward more customer engagement. Content (photographs, videos, written stories) has become a really key element of all Tourism marketing. Travel Alberta offers a lot of resources to help you leverage the existing Alberta Brand and tap into content partnerships.

At Tenato, we have also conceived the idea of a Virtual DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) in order to create an outsourced tourism/economic development office that gives you all the services you need but without the level of overhead of hiring all those talents in-house.  In addition, we work with the resources and talents you do have locally to keep your dollars within your community as much as possible. We look forward to hearing about your tourism marketing efforts, and invite you to contact us should you need support!

Alberta Culture and Tourism (2017). A summary of 2015 Visitor Numbers and Expenditures.

ATB Financial. (2017). Alberta Economic Outlook August 2017.

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About the Author - Jenelle Peterson
What do Oil and Gas, IT, Duct Tape and Dental Products have in common? Seemingly not much, but they've taught Jenelle that great marketing leads to measurable results - regardless of the industry or product. She brings an extensive background in developing strategic plans and executing marketing campaigns on both client and agency sides - from start-ups to multinational organizations.  Jenelle loves the outdoors, making bad art, and all things Sci-Fi. As if that weren't enough, she is also a board member for the Calgary Marketing Association and teaches part-time in digital marketing.