Hicks on Biz: Looking forward to the Indigenous People’s Experience BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, MARCH 10, 2017
My wife and I are off to Winnipeg for a few days this summer. We’ll visit relatives and see the city. But our primary motivation will be visiting the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Opened in 2014, the museum cost $350 million. It is already a civic icon. Think of Winnipeg and you think of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Blue Bombers, the Jets and now the human rights museum.
Maria and I will spend about $1,000 on airfare, accommodations, meals, getting around and admissions. Winnipeg Tourism will love us – proof tourist dollars are flowing into Winnipeg thanks to the museum.
That’s why I am so excited, in so many ways, about the now fully-funded $42 million Indigenous People’s Experience exhibit to be built at Fort Edmonton Park.
The exhibit will be the crown jewel of a $150-million upgrade (a three-way split between the Edmonton, Alberta and federal governments) to our top historical attraction. Fort Edmonton’s aging utilities will be overhauled and other interactive historical attractions added.
But the Indigenous People’s Experience is a biggie, a national and international tourist attraction.
It can be justified on multiple levels – recognizing the region and country’s First Nations people as part of the reconciliation process, partnerships with Metis and Treaty Six First Nation groups, year-round cultural tourism jobs for indigenous people, educational value and so on.
But this is a business column. I’m most interested in one nuts-and-bolts question. Will the $42 million put in the Indigenous People’s Experience offer a decent financial return for our taxpayer dollars?
Will this attraction generate hundreds of millions of new dollars coming here, from international/national tourists who otherwise WOULD NOT COME to Edmonton?
The answer – as long as the exhibit lives up to its hype as a world-class attraction, and is properly marketed at a global level – is yes.
“Indigenous experiences” are a hot commodity in the tourism world. Europe remains fascinated by America’s first peoples. Germans are known to fly into Calgary, rent RVs to do the mountain loop to Vancouver and back. Now they’ll have a reason to include Edmonton.
This one attraction – properly done – will make Edmonton a recognizable place to visit during a Canadian vacation. Not just Germans, but from all over the world – especially Americans attracted by our cheap dollar.
We know and love our festivals and regional tourist attractions like Fort Edmonton Park, Elk Island, Ukrainian Village, the Reynolds Museum, Telus World of Science, the new Jurassic Forest, the Devonian Botanic Garden (now the University of Alberta Botanic Garden), the soon-to-reopen Royal Alberta Museum and the Art Gallery of Alberta.
But as international/national tourism attractions, other than West Edmonton Mall they are all small potatoes.
The Indigenous People’s Experience gives us a crown jewel – a unique, compelling reason for tourists other than friends and relatives to visit Edmonton, to then take in other city attractions, to include Edmonton/Northern Alberta stops on various eco-tours, cultural tours, canoeing packages and so on.
Other parts are filling in the local tourism puzzle. Ice District, Rogers Place and the revitalized downtown already make for an urban draw. The downtown Touch the Water promenade, with its access funicular now being built, will eventually be a reality.
Numbers from elsewhere are encouraging: Winnipeg Tourism can safely say some 200,000 “new” tourists are coming every year to the Museum for Human Rights.
In the U.S., the Connor Prairie Interactive History Park near Indianapolis – a concept similar to the Indigenous People’s Experience – is drawing 350,000 visitors a year.
Fort Edmonton’s own attendance projections – doubling its current 250,000 visitors a year by 2020 – actually sound cautious. If a fifth of those represent “new” tourism, an industry has been born.
One last caution: Let’s not kid ourselves about year-round tourism. Out-of-town tourists disappear once its -10C for months on end. What a surprise.
And one last sarcastic note: In too many ways, Edmonton still lets down its tourists. A few years ago, public bus service was finally extended to the airport from the Century Park LRT station. But the Route 747 bus still only runs once an hour, save for half-hour service during the four-hour afternoon peak. The driver only takes cash for the $5 fee, and doesn’t give out change.
Welcome to Edmonton! But should you arrive as a backpacker from Reykjavik or London or Amsterdam with no Canadian money or no $5 bill … TOO BAD!!!!