How do you promote tourism amid a global pandemic that has restricted travel and encouraged people to stay home as much as possible?
For the City of Airdrie, it’s meant looking inward.
In May, the municipality’s economic development department launched a new marketing campaign titled Summer Stop: Airdrie. According to Shauna Quinn, the City of Airdrie’s tourism development officer, the campaign encourages Airdrie residents to plan “staycations” this summer and rediscover the amenities and attractions that exist in their own proverbial backyard.
“There are lots of things you can do to enjoy the moment here in Airdrie and I think that’s what tourism is going to be important for this summer,” Quinn said.
With restrictions continuing to ease and social gatherings once again permitted in Alberta, Quinn said Summer Stop: Airdrie will also encourage travellers to consider visiting their friends and family who now call Airdrie home – or, to use the city as a stop-over destination before they continue on to other tourist hot spots, whether it’s Drumheller to the east, the Rocky Mountains to the west or Calgary to the south.
“Airdrie is a great destination for the visiting-family-and-friends market, where we can invite those we know and love, who we maybe haven’t seen for many months,” she said. “We have a great opportunity to have this nostalgic throwback feeling, whether it’s a picnic in the park, flying your kite, drive-in movies... or renting a bike and trying some road biking.”
While not typically thought of as a tourism destination, Quinn said Airdrie’s status as a hub for visitors is continuing to develop. She said the city boasts a wide array of restaurant options, unique businesses and trendy boutiques that make for a fun afternoon of shopping and dining.
“We have many specialty shops and collectibles shops in Airdrie that people may not know about, where they can find some unique products,” she said, citing examples like Muk-Luk Magpies Stained Glass Emporium and, Snap! Collectables. “We also have great outdoor shops, like Cranked Bikes or the kayak stores.”
In tandem with its suburban, family-focused feel, Airdrie also boasts plenty of parks, where festivals, outdoor concerts and other public events abound during the summer months.
According to the City of Airdrie, outdoor attractions in the city include 1,500 acres of park space, 76 playgrounds and approximately 130 kilometres of paved pathways for bike riding, roller-blading and more. Airdrie’s parks and neighbourhoods feature a variety of outdoor amenities, including hockey rinks, sports fields, tennis courts, beach volleyball courts and more.
Another reason for out-of-towners to visit Airdrie this summer is to check out the Airdrie Farmers Market, which is held every Wednesday afternoon from 3:30 to 7 p.m. at Jensen Park and the parking lot of the Plainsmen Arena.
This year, the market is offering its biggest markets yet, with more vendors and food trucks selling their wares than ever before.
“It’s going to be a sensational event this year,” Quinn said “I know they’re also planning some auxiliary events like Food Truck Frenzy, so it’s definitely worth stopping in for.”
Other reasons for tourists to visit Airdrie are to sample the city’s wide variety of restaurants and patios. Amidst the back-and-forth nature of operating a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a sublime patio experience has been crucial.
One local business owner that recognizes that is Kyle Wudrich, who co-owns 948 Brewing – one of three micro-breweries in Airdrie. Wudrich and his crew have soldiered on through the pandemic, and opened their makeshift patio in the business’ parking lot in August 2020, after receiving approval from the City of Airdrie, Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and Alberta Health Services.
He said having the ability to offer a patio was "extremely" helpful last year.
“We’ve already got a small enough taproom as it is – we can only have 20 people in here – so having that ability to move all those people outside when we were closed, it made our summer,” he said. “Having beautiful weather throughout the fall just carried it through.”
Above all else, Quinn said Airdrie’s continued growth as a city and as a destination for visitors bodes well as the municipality prepares to manoeuvre its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really looking forward to working with our businesses and figuring out what some experiences are that we can grow and develop here in Airdrie so we can continue attracting people for that small-town feel that Airdrie offers,” she said. “We’re never going to be a mass destination, but we can still offer people quality and friendliness at all times.”