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Cochrane in tourism holding its own

While the province makes its way through an economic downturn, the local tourism industry appears to be holding on. “Our occupancy rates were up 5.
Owners at Schooners say hospitality attracts tourists.
Owners at Schooners say hospitality attracts tourists.

While the province makes its way through an economic downturn, the local tourism industry appears to be holding on.

“Our occupancy rates were up 5.5 per cent in July and 10 per cent in August from 2015 (month-to-month comparisons), ” said Joe Komarick, manager of Days Inn and Suites Cochrane.

While the lodging took a small hit last winter with fewer corporate stays (particularly construction crews), the summer tourist overflow from both Calgary and Kananaskis (Banff/Canmore) saw traffic making a detour to Cochrane.

Komarick said he thinks this is largely due to the more affordable hotel rates in Cochrane (versus Kananaskis), the proximity to Calgary and the rise in travel from within the province.

“We saw a lot more staycation tourists this year - people touring their own backyards, ” said Meghan Tayfel, owner/operator of MacKay's Cochrane Ice Cream.

In addition to more Albertan traffic, Tayfel said this spring saw an influx of tourists from Germany and a boost in American tourists - namely from southern states such as Florida and North Carolina (likely due to the dollar).

Overall, however, MacKay's numbers were down this year compared to 2015 - some of which Tayfel attributes to the economy, some to the rainy weather this summer, which doesn't go hand-in-hand with eating ice cream.

A recently released Tourism Economic Impact Study that studied tourism dollars spent in Banff, Canmore and Jasper revealed tourists spent $1 million per day in Canmore in 2015.

This trend may continue next year - resulting in overflow in Cochrane - with the Parks Canada decision to provide free national park passes in 2017 in honour of Canada's 150th birthday (from January 2017-January 2018).

According to Cochrane Tourism's executive director Hillary Richardson website analytics indicate, “84 per cent of Cochrane Tourism's unique visitors are from Alberta ” - further supporting the staycation observations from town business owners.

The Cochrane Tourism Association is the marketing organization for Cochrane and an official civic partner of the town

Few hard numbers for tourists are presently available through the town's economic development, but this may change as the Visitor Information Centre continues to evolve and change; the centre will be open full time beginning in October, through the end of the Christmas season.

The centre is currently in the process of hiring a full-time staff member for operations.

The intention of this is to encourage support of Historic Downtown businesses in the shoulder season through Christmas.

“We had over 4,700 people who came through the Visitor's Centre in June, July and August - more than double than the year before, ” said Robert Kalinovich with economic development, adding that while these numbers are positive it's difficult to compare year-over-year as the centre was in a less visible location before (in the HomeStead building).

Kalinovich said the breadth of dining establishments and businesses continues to draw Calgarians and beyond to Cochrane - separating it from being thought of as a bedroom community.

The town will be rolling out a study later this fall for community businesses to help better measure tourism.

Shelley Glenn has owned and operated Schooners on First for seven years.

The family restaurant is known for its fish and chips, reaping the benefits of the Thursday night summer Farmers' Market and a bustling staycation crowd.

“I was surprised at our numbers from this summer, ” said Glenn, adding that her June and July numbers were up from 2015, with a slight decrease in August.

Glenn sees a lot of benefit in keeping the Visitor Information Centre open for the downtown businesses and is encouraging the community to work together to keep people coming to Cochrane.

“Friendliness and community will bring people in and will keep them coming back, ” she said, adding that this warmth is especially key to small-town hospitality.

The Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (GRPP) Foundation has seen a decrease in family programming this summer season, compounded by a number of factors according to executive director Susan de Caen.

“Alberta Parks decided not to provide an officer to staff the Visitors' Info Centre this year, ” she said, adding that this was the case for other centres in Kananaskis.

Moving forward, de Caen will likely look at “different models to run programs ” to save on costs and keep programs ongoing.

She is also hopeful the City of Calgary will reach an agreement with CP Rail to solve the railway crossing in Haskayne Park; even if an agreement is reached by next year, construction would mean the completion would still be at least two years away.

Once completed, however, this paved pathway that runs from the city park to Glenbow Ranch would open that pathway up to commuters, tourists and recreators and de Caen is hopeful it will have a positive tourist impact on the park.

Richardson said she anticipates tourism in Cochrane to continue well into 2017 - with Canada's 150th birthday around the corner.

“People might be more inclined to feel that Canadian pride and to explore their own country, ” said Richardson.

Cochrane Tourism has been capitalizing on the message that Cochrane is “the base camp of the Rockies ” and encouraging regional tourists to start their adventures in Cochrane.

On top of Stampede overflow from Calgary, an increase in unique events drawing daytime tourist traffic and unique businesses - such as a brewery (Half Hitch) and a coming distillery, Richardson said that Cochrane is becoming more of a “sipping and culinary destination. ”


Lindsay  Seewalt

About the Author: Lindsay Seewalt

Lindsay is a senior Eagle reporter who has transformed her penchant for storytelling into the craft of writing.
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