Tourism and GeoTourism
Southwest Alberta offers immediate opportunities to invest in existing businesses, start a new venture or explore partnerships with established firms in the thriving tourism sector.
This unique region is an ideal location to live, learn and invest due to its:
- Low Business Costs – one of the most competitive tax environments in North America - The combined federal/provincial corporate income tax rate is 27% for general businesses and 14% for small businesses;
- Strategic Location and Access – $845 million in major provincial projects announced for the Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement initiative; and
- Entrepreneurial Spirit – a skilled, young and productive workforce populates this stunning area.
Today, tourism is one of the leading industries in the province of Alberta, employing over 114,000 Albertans and generating over $7.4 billion in annual expenditures. It is supported by a range of tourism, hospitality and service-related businesses that cater to the needs of Albertans traveling in their own province as well visitors from other parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico, Europe and Asia.
Tourism is big business – and not only in Alberta. The federal government estimates that tourism contributes as much to Canada’s wealth as agriculture, fishery and forestry combined.
Regional Industry SectorsSouthwest Alberta has three
Download a detailed, printable, PDF version of the Invest In Southwest Alberta Tourism profile.
The Alberta SouthWest Region includes 16 municipalities and covers an area of 15,446 square kilometers, larger in size than the state of Connecticut. The region accounts for 2.4% of Alberta’s land mass and its population of 36,700 represents 1.0% of Alberta’s population.
The Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance is a partnership of 16 communities working together on initiatives to facilitate sustainable economic growth for all member communities. The region has significant geographic diversity; from prairie grasslands and foothills, to river valleys and the majestic mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Big sky starry nights free of light pollution, and 333 days of annual sunshine add to the appeal of this spectacular region.
A Diverse Economy
The tourism industry is an economic mainstay in the region, vibrant and growing with a breadth of opportunities relating to the abundant natural landscapes, historic landmarks, and a variety of cultural influences. In addition to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump), this region offers historic sites, golfing, delightful campgrounds, beautiful provincial parks, western and cowboy themed activities, and spectacular outdoor adventure and recreation including hiking trails and ski hills.
The region has a diverse and visible heritage from coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass, prairie pioneering, the Northwest Mounted Police, a strong and vibrant agricultural tradition and the cultural richness of First Nations.
This creates a region of wide open spaces that is very attractive to visitors and represents potential for continued growth. The communities in the region are within a 150 km radius and vary in size from full service centers of over 5, 500 people to charming villages of 200-450 people.
The varied and stunning landscapes and historic town sites have made this region a “living movie set”. Southwest Alberta is one of Alberta’s top film location sites where cinematic masterpieces such as Little Big Man; Betrayal; Days of Heaven, Unforgiven, and Brokeback Mountain were filmed. Technology-led enterprise could also extend into the video/film and digital media sector.
Southern Alberta’s beautiful vistas and mountain views have been captured in dozens of films over the years. The industry is positioned to grow in the next five years as the building of Alberta’s new $23 million dollar film studio in Calgary will be completed in 2015.
Crown of the Continent
Southwest Alberta also forms the northeast corner of the “Crown of the Continent,” which is a larger transboundary region encompassing the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and the surrounding areas of British Columbia and Montana.
In 2007 National Geographic identified the Crown of the Continent as a significant “geotourism” destination that is particularly attractive to the traveller who is interested in experiencing the unique character of place, in terms of landscape, culture and historical significance.
The region has continued to partner with National Geographic and the transboundary partners to develop tourism product and market the region with a geotourism map guide and the Crown of the Continent website.
In 2012 Pathways to Prosperity was published illustrating how the Crown’s appeal has emerged as one of the area’s most important economic assets. Success stories of entrepreneurs are shared, demonstrating that locating to areas within the Crown “is no longer a trade-off between livelihood and lifestyle; today’s entrepreneurs are having their scenery and eating it too.”
Sample of Experiences
A sampling of cultural, natural, historic, recreational, outdoor, entertainment and just plain fun experiences have been provided below:
- Remington Carriage Museum
- Courthouse Museum
- Crowsnest Pass Walking Tours
- Frank Slide Interpretive Center
- Hillcrest Mine Disaster Cemmetary and Park
- Crowsnest Museum
- Leitch Collieries
- Bellevue Underground Mine
- Nanton Bomber Museum
- Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre
- Empress Theatre
- Fort Museum of NWMP and First Nations
- Pioneer Place/Kootenai Brown Village
- Heritage Acres Farm Museum
Recreation & Outdoor Adventure
- Riding/ranch vacations
- Canoeing & Kayaking
- White Water Rafting
- Climbing & Hiking
- Cycling - Road and Mountain
- ATV Trails
- Golf (Courses in Cardston, Claresholm, Crowsnest Pass, Fort Macleod, Granum, Pincher Creek, Nanton, Stavely, and Waterton)
- Skiing - Downhill and Cross Country
Cultural & Natural Destinations
- Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
- Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
- Windy Rafters Barn Dance
- Great Canadian Barn Dance
Entertainment and Attractions
- Live Music
- Art galleries
Major Tourism Industry Employers
Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co.
Step aboard the historic M.V. International, cruise along the shoreline of the beautiful Upper Waterton Lake and cross the international border to Goat Haunt, Montana. In addition, water shuttles cross the lake to Crypt Landing daily; the gateway to a breathtaking hiking trail. Enjoy some of the most spectacular mountain scenery the Rocky Mountains have to offer. View majestic towering cliffs, unique geological formations, beautiful waterfalls, snow clad mountain peaks and the international border. Bring your camera; tour boats make photographic and wildlife stops. Bald eagle, bear, moose, deer, mountain sheep and mountain goats are often seen.
The Western lifestyle is a staple in the region. Riding and ranch style experiences are offered by the following operators in the area. Learn what it takes to be part of an operational cattle ranch or simply enjoy riding through the stunning landscapes with your equine partner. Each of these operators is extremely welcoming and offers an unforgettable experience.
- Rangeview Ranch Vacations
- Lucasia Ranch Vacations
- Centre Peak High Country Valley Adventures
- Sierra West Cabin & Ranch Vacations
- Oxely Ranch Vacations
- Alpine Stables
For families and high-performance skiers alike, the two ski hills in the region are sure to satisfy.
Pass Powderkeg Pass Powderkeg offers night skiing and challenging terrain parks. In the summer the trails are open for mountain biking.
Castle Mountain Resort Castle Mountain Resort has some of the longest vertical runs in North America (nearly 3,000 feet) making it a mountain worth visiting for avid skiers. At the same time they are able to maintain a family-friendly focus to make everyone and every level to feel welcome. Castle is the only ski hill in Alberta to offer the unique experience of Cat-skiing!
White water rafting/kayaking
Incept Adventure Company is the place to contact if you’re looking to kayak, white water raft, or want a knowledgeable fishing guide. Whether you’re an “experienced adventurer” or just want to give one of these experiences a try, Incept Adventure Co. is the place to go.
Southwestern Alberta is the perfect place to experience world-class fishing. The following operators offer equipment and guided fishing trips, as well as directions to a number of rivers to find the perfect location.
- The Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop & Guide Service
- Alberta Fly Fishing/Crowsnest Café & Flyshop
- Incept Adventure Co.
Sinister 7 Ultra
If you’re a runner looking to push yourself to the max, the Sinister 7 Ultra is a race that may be the greatest challenge of your life. The 100-mile (161km) course will take you through the most rugged, remote and beautiful terrain in Alberta's stunning Rocky Mountains. With 5,687m of elevation gain across the course, this race will punish those who are not prepared.
- Castle Mountain Resort
- Crowsnest Pass Cabin/Resort Development
- Cardston County “The Great Canadian Barn Dance” Lodge Development
- Cardston RV Campground Expansion
- Belly River Teepee and RV Campground Development
- Sentinel RV Resort Development
- Waterton Eco-lodge Resort Development
- Crowsnest Pass Ski Resort Expansion
- MD of Willow Creek Cowboy Action Shooting Facility
- Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass or Castle Mountain Zip line Development
- Pincher Creek RV Park and Campground Development
For a more in depth review of these opportunities please consult the following document: Government of Alberta investment document
Access to Markets
- Highway 2: CANAMEX trade corridor extending from Alberta to Mexico.
- Highway 3: connects Medicine Hat, through southern Alberta, to Vancouver which has Canada’s largest and most diversified port.
- Highway 1: the TransCanada is the major east to west highway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
- Major port of entry to the USA: 1 hour south of Fort Macleod is the Sweetgrass/Coutts border crossing, the 9th busiest across Canada and open 24/7.
- Encompasses one of Alberta’s longest community runways, managed by the Municipality of Pincher Creek, which rests at 1190 metres (3,903 feet) in elevation and is 2012 metres (6,600 feet) long .
- Within 1 hour to the Lethbridge airport, a key entry point for people, goods and services in Southern Alberta.
- A 2-hour drive to the Calgary International Airport, Canada’s third largest airport. Calgary connects passengers, with over 100 global flights per day, to international destinations and serves as a major cargo hub for Western Canada.
- The Canadian Pacific Railway mainline ships products from the freight handling facility in Lethbridge in all four directions. Whether it is north to Calgary, south to the USA, east to Ontario or west to Vancouver, southwest Alberta is part of an international transportation network.
Alberta is strategically located in the growing western Canadian market, offering overnight or less than 24-hour delivery to a market of over 50 million consumers including the US Pacific Northwest. The southwest region is connected to a network of corridors running from north to south and east to west. The area is also within an hour’s drive of Lethbridge, an important regional hub for businesses.
A Competitive Business Environment
Southwest Alberta’s competitive advantage lies in its vast land resources, affordable cost of business and cost of living, as well as access to markets:
- Low Business Costs
- Lower than provincial average labor costs
- Small business owners pay lower taxes (total of personal and business income tax, sales tax, gas tax, health premiums) in Alberta than they would in any other province
- Average house price approximately 58% lower than the Alberta average
- Municipal property taxes roughly 25% lower than the Calgary Region
- Lower taxes than Calgary Region for comparable enterprise operating space
- Municipal commercial taxes are roughly $1500/$100,000 of assessment with much lower assessment values than the Calgary Region
- The tourism industry is growing and has breadth including culture, recreation, outdoor adventure, and all season destinations. Tourism infrastructure, service and operator opportunities are present.
- The agricultural character of the region contributes to a stable economic base. Communities are effective service centers, and quality of life amenities are attracting technology and knowledge workers and entrepreneurs who can choose where to establish.
Southwest Alberta supports existing, expanding and new businesses through its strategic network of 16 regional communities. Collaborative initiatives with each other, the City of Lethbridge, Lethbridge County, the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College encourage budding entrepreneurs, and provide access to market and investment opportunities.
Tourism Market Monitor
The monthly Alberta Tourism Market Monitor highlights travel, accommodation and attendance statistics:
- Accommodation occupancy rates and average daily room rates
- Air passenger enplanements and deplanements
- National Park visits
- Historic sites and museum attendance figures
- Employment in food and accommodation sector
- Restaurant receipts
- Highway traffic counts
The 2014 annual Tourism Market Modifier can be viewed here
If you would like to receive an email that informs you when the updated Market Monitor is available, please email email@example.com
Cooperative Marketing Investment Program
The mission of the Cooperative Marketing Investment Program is to increase the marketing capacity of our industry partners. Their strategy is to grow tourism revenues by investing in industry-led marketing partnerships that foster collaboration, drive return on investment and align with Travel Alberta’s business strategy. Cooperative Marketing funding is available to Alberta’s tourism industry whose projects comply with the Cooperative Marketing Guidelines and Eligible Expenses.
Certified Destination Management Executive Scholarship Program
Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) is a recognized leader in the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) industry and their Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) program is designed to help DMO leaders effectively adapt and manage increasing change and competition.
The Canada’s West Marketplace Scholarship Program
Travel Alberta’s strategy is to target high potential international markets with export-ready experiences. The Canada’s West Marketplace Scholarship Program is designed to help industry showcase Alberta travel experiences to international tour operators at the annual Canada’s West Marketplace. Attracting more than 120 international tour operators and wholesalers from Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, Canada’s West Marketplace is the most effective way for Alberta tourism suppliers to present their products, experiences and services to tourism buyers from around the world.
The Canada’s West Marketplace Scholarship Program is an innovative program that assists Alberta-based tourism businesses that offer export-ready products or services. The program provides financial support and coaching to attend Canada’s West Marketplace.