Big events mean big tourism business for Edmonton

Hosting the Junos in March was a watershed moment for Edmonton and Alberta in 2023.

It’s a night Alberta musicians didn’t take for granted. Playing the Junos — the annual awards showcase for Canada’s music industry — in their home province is a big deal.

“The fact that it’s in the home province, that’s icing on the cake right there,” frontman Chad Kroeger of multi-platinum-selling band Nickelback, whose members hail from Hanna, Alta., told reporters during the event held at Rogers Place.

Getting the awards extravaganza to Edmonton took time.

“For Junos, we’d been working to get that event to our city since I want to say 2016,” Janelle Janis, the executive director of events and business development for Explore Edmonton, the city’s tourism arm, told CTV News Edmonton in a year-end interview.

Explore Edmonton is one of the organizations that works to bring major events to the city, such as this year’s Junos, the Heritage Classic featuring the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames in October at Commonwealth Stadium and the Style Experience, a FIS Snowboard Big Air World Cup event, in December, also at Commonwealth.

It decides which ones to pursue based on its three key pillars: economic impact, image and reputation, and social and community benefits.

“It is the people that make Edmonton a special place and we just support events like no other city,” Janis said. “We are one of the best fanbases in Canada, in my opinion.”

That local support is what helped Edmonton see an economic impact of $165 million, support 46,000 jobs and book around 115,000 hotel stays during events throughout the year.

“(Tourists are) coming in Friday or they’re coming in Thursday night and they’re making a weekend of it,” Jordan Beatty, the operations manager of four Edmonton-area pubs that make up the Sherlock Holmes Hospitality Group, told CTV News Edmonton. “That’s the sort of thing those big events do for us, and we see it and plan for it.”

He said the bigger the events that come to Edmonton and “the more people that come to town, the busier we are.”

“When Garth Brooks was in town (for back-to-back shows at Commonwealth in 2022) or Luke Combs was in town (in June 2023, also at Commonwealth) — for those stadium tours, these hotels are full, which means we’re busy for lunch and in the afternoon,” Beatty said. “People go shopping, they’re pre-concert drinking, they’re post-concert drinking, they’re getting off the (LRT) train to go back to their hotel. The bigger the event, the busier we are. It’s just that simple.”

Puneeta McBryan, the chief executive officer of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, says making sure these rushes occur year-round is important to its members.

“If we can do that enough times throughout the year, January to December, then we can make sure that even if offices are a little slower, even if it’s not hockey season, we’ve still got a steady flow of people coming in and using downtown for social purposes, entertainment purposes, business purposes,” McBryan told CTV News Edmonton.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, McBryan said tourism and major events for downtowns in Edmonton, across North America and even globally is a “major part” of any revitalization strategy.

“Every downtown that I’ve studied, which is a lot of them, that’s doing very well, tourism and events are a big part of their strategy,” she said. “It’s getting people into hotel rooms, into bars and restaurants, walking around shopping, making our city into a bit of a destination for a trip, so they may be coming for an event but they’re probably going to stay a few extra days.”

The city is back to enjoying a full slate of events following the pandemic, even rising above numbers seen before it, Janis said.

“Right now as it stands, we have surpassed the levels that we were at in 2019, which is pretty incredible to be able to state,” she said. “I think Edmontonians are major sports fans, so when it comes to hosting the major sports events that we bring to the city, people are going to come out in droves, people are going to come out and cheer.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a summer night or a freezing cold winter day, people are going to come out and support major events.” 

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