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UCalgary alum and outdoor tourism company owner says the province needs to start investing more in its parks

By Cristina Paolozzi, May 6 2021—

As the weather begins to warm up, many Albertans flock to the mountains for some fresh air and gorgeous scenery. As a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions, popular hiking destinations such as Kananaskis country become hot spots for outdoor tourism. However, due to a lack of funding from the provincial government, thousands of Canadians are unable to secure reservations over the summer months. 

Last summer was the busiest camping season in Alberta, with bookings skyrocketing more than 5,000 per cent. In an interview with the Gauntlet, University of Calgary alumnus and founder of the outdoor tourism company 10Adventures, Richard Campbell, stated that the Alberta government should be funding the parks system in a way that is sustainable, and can meet the growing demand for facility use. 

Outdoor tourism company 10Adventures — headquartered in Alberta — offers free route guides for people to explore different places around the world that offer exciting and unique hiking experiences. They also partner with local tour operators in 60 countries as well as sharing information about the outdoors through podcasts and blog posts. 

“We just want to make it easy for people to have all these great experiences,” said Campbell. 

Campbell mentioned that investing in Alberta parks is a great way to diversify the economy, as well as respond to the growing demand seen from Albertans each year. Campbell said that bookings for campsites in Alberta are already sold out, and many of these sites are well over 30 years old.  

“There is a huge economic opportunity here in Alberta,” said Campbell. “We’re dealing with an oil and gas downturn that’s likely long-term going to continue, and so looking at different ways to generate economic growth is really important.” 

Campbell also mentioned that there is a higher demand globally for adventure travel, appealing to people who want to explore the outdoors, and that Alberta parklands are known worldwide for their wildlife and lack of development. 

“What we’re seeing globally, is that adventure travel is one of the fastest growing sectors of all of travel,” Campbell said. “People are tired of these bus tours, they want to go experience things in a different way. It’s also a more sustainable way to travel.” 

The BC government has pledged to invest $83 million into its parks over the next three years to expand accessibility to trail routes and update campsites to meet the increase in demand. Campbell said that although there is a lack of investment from the Alberta government, demand for these parks has been increasing by 18 per cent per year over the past decade. 

“Here in Alberta we have two other things — we have a growing population, and we have a growing population that is actually younger, said Campbell. “But if you look at Alberta parks there’s been almost no development. The camping grounds in Kananaskis are the same ones that were there when I was a kid.”

As a tourism company, Campbell speaks with hundreds of people each year about trips in Alberta and the biggest complaint he receives is that there is no capacity. Between the middle of June to the middle or end of September, Campbell said that there’s almost no capacity for hotels or campgrounds, and that camping in the Canadian Rockies is usually high cost. This is mainly due to a lack of proper infrastructure, according to Campbell. 

“If you look at other places in the states or overseas in Europe, you see they’ve built a lot of supply in different ways for people to enjoy the outdoor areas,” said Campbell. “For some reason here in Alberta, we haven’t done that.” 

Campbell also says that building more infrastructure to update provincial parks will generate more income for the government and help to keep jobs in Alberta. 

“Every tourist that comes, if we can extend their stay by two or three days by getting them to maybe go into Kananaskis, visit Waterton, go down to Castle, that’s just more money that’s going to stay in Alberta, and more jobs that are going to be created.” 

Recently, the Alberta government introduced the Kananaskis Conservation Pass which will have visitors paying either $15 per day or $90 in a per vehicle annual fee. When asked if this was the right decision to make to increase investment in provincial parks, Campbell said that the issues isn’t clear cut. 

“One of the biggest issues is that there’s a lack of trust — will this money be incremental money for the parks, or will that money just mean that the government will divert that amount of funds out of the parks budget into their own pet projects?” 

Campbell said that this pass will generate anywhere from $50 – $100 million dollars in revenue each year, and this money could see a huge improvement for Alberta parks, especially in the backcountry. 

“There’s an opportunity for Alberta to really grow our economy if we focus on how we build a sustainable tourism sector in our parks,” said Campbell. “What we need is funding to do that, and so having this park pass it seems to be the least bad option to accomplish this.” 

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