Prairie Post (West Edition)
Infighting between tourism groups detrimental to Lethbridge, SPC hears
Two organizations involved in promoting Lethbridge as a tourism destination have agreed to mediation to settle their differences after a tense meeting in council chambers on Wednesday.
Tourism Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Lodging Association will be provided with up to $10,000 of City funds from council contingencies to address problems the two organizations have with each other.
That allocation was approved by city council acting in its capacity as the Economic Standing Policy committee on Oct. 19.
The motion, approved unanimously, also calls for continued engagement to understand issues and identify solutions and to ensure alignment with the work being done on the Regional Economic Development and Tourism Strategy.
An update is expected to be given to the SPC at its Dec. 21 meeting.
Councillor Jeff Carlson had made a business motion in July to share with the SPC any recommendations regarding the city’s tourism model, Jason Elliott, director of Customer, Corporate and Commercial Services told the SPC.
Elliott said there are a number of key tourism partners in the city and conflict exists between Tourism Lethbridge and the LLA.
Elliot made a presentation prioritizing a path forward toward better collaboration between Tourism Lethbridge and the LLA.
He said there is agreement that tourism is a critical component of the regional economy and now maybe more so than ever.
“There’s also agreement that the current situation is divisive and not as successful as it could or should be,” Elliott said.
He said there is a low level of co-operation between the LLA and Tourism Lethbridge which is agreed to be a problem. There is also a high level of overlap in activities and events, Elliott said.
“It creates potential confusion, not only for stakeholders in the community but for travellers and visitors as well. The result of this problem, if you will, is that there’s competition between the organizations impacting image and reputation of the city.
“There’s also potential that we’re not seen as being coordinated in our efforts and potentially lose out on additional funding opportunities,” said Elliot.
“Ultimately this leads to a tourism product for the southern Alberta region that everyone agrees is not where it should be,” said Elliot.
The LLA approached the SPC Oct. 19 with a submission seeking to take a leading role in promoting tourism in the City.
The LLA’s pitch proposed to contribute $250,000 annually to destination marketing funds provided by the City to “enable a co-ordinated, collaborative approach totalling nearly $900,000 annually for marketing Lethbridge under the LLA’s leadership. The association says the City already contributes $630,000 to marketing funds.
But before Bruce Primeau of the LLA began to speak, councillor Rajko Dodic issued a statement saying in his terms on council he’d never seen one organization impugn another during budget presentations.
One issue of contention the LLA has with Tourism Lethbridge is the amount it spends on salaries, $442,090 in 2021.
During the meeting, Primeau told the SPC that the lodging association can’t work with Tourism Lethbridge because it has no faith in its governance model.
Erin Crane, CEO of Tourism Lethbridge, told the SPC that organization is moving away from a wage-based organization to one focusing more on contracted services in the future.
Primeau also asserted that Tourism Lethbridge has rejected its efforts to have a member on various boards, to which Crane responded the organization is open to inclusivity and welcomes everyone at the table who is interested in promoting tourism here. Both sides said they would be willing to meet to discuss their issues. “It went exactly as we expected today. Hotels bring in excess of $2.4 million up to $4 million for the entire industry,” said Primeau after the meeting, adding his organization doesn’t feel Tourism Lethbridge markets effectively or efficiently.
“Any organization spending 70 per cent of their city given monies on labour doesn’t leave a lot for marketing,” said Primeau after the meeting.
Primeau said “the mediation will be interesting. The question will have to be asked and Councillor Carlson brought it up, why now, why two years after the fact are they ready to sit down at the table? Is it because they were, according to Councillor Dodic, called to the carpet by our presentation? Maybe. If the end result is something positive as a result of what we’ve done, then obviously everybody benefits and everybody wins. A solid effective tourism strategy is what’s required,” Primeau said.
Crane said afterwards about mediation “I’m actually looking forward to that. I was sincere in my thanks to them for offering their feedback. Again it was very difficult to hear but I always believe that feedback is the best thing for moving forward and making things better. And it’s only when we have that we are able to do that. So we don’t want to close ourselves off to that.”
Crane said Tourism Lethbridge wants to be open and transparent in what it’s doing and inclusive on everyone’s ideas.
Crane said “we have opportunity and growth potential from this region and it is going to take all the partners coming together in order to make that happen.”
Elliott told media “in general, we’ve got a great tourism model here in southern Alberta and one of the keys was making sure that some of our critical partners are working all together. So the purpose of today was to essentially bring those partners together to start to talk about the issues and to see if there’s a path forward. And we’re happy to say that as a result of the discussion today, there is a path forward that all parties are agreeing to and we look forward to having those discussions.”
The best case scenario is “everybody has agreed on what the future model could and should look like and there’s some commitment to moving that forward for the support and betterment of the tourism product in the region,” Elliott said.