Today is the last day of Tourism Week across Canada. Here in Alberta the theme for the week, the summer and the year for that matter is – Worth the Wait. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all done our part to flatten the curve by staying home. Now, we are inching towards the restart phase of tourism and it’s estimated it will take two to three years to rebuild the industry to its 2019 level.
Tourism in 2019, was an $8 billion dollar industry for Alberta. That money usually comes from a combination of domestic and international visitors. Canadians usually spend approximately $2.7 billion dollars in our own country and $4.7 internationally. So, the focus in tourism this year is to inspire Canadians to spend that extra $4.7 billion here at home.
This is crucial because two-thirds of tourism businesses in Alberta are currently closed. And, a recent poll by Travel Alberta found that if seasonal operations are forced to miss the summer season, a full third believe they will go permanently out of business.
U of A Botanic gardens pivots with style
So, this is why it’s exciting to see tourism business pivoting and re-imagining their offerings. I am doing that with my own company – Alberta Food Tours – and now that I’ve settled on what that will look like, I will have something fun to announce in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, as part of the Alberta (RE) Bound, my colleagues at The University of Alberta (U of A) Botanic Gardens in Devon, Alberta are out in the front of the pack with their pivot. From its usual 70,000 visitors annually, the gardens will scale down to admittance by reservation only this summer so that physical distancing in accordance with Alberta’s Health and Safety regulations will be possible. You can make a reservation for your group of 15 or less here. The garden opens June 1.
And, here comes the exciting part of their pivot. Starting Friday, June 5, you can reserve a picnic box to enjoy while you are visiting the 240 acres of gardens with 8000 species of plant life.
Along with about 30 others, I was a guest of the gardens to experience their “Exclusive picnic experience for two” plan. It was delightful.
We arrived at the gardens and followed the signage with ease. There was a “touch-free” registration desk. We enjoyed a self-guided tour of the Kurimoto Japanese Garden and the Aga Khan Garden. Then, after about an hour’s stroll where it felt like our very own secret garden, we walked back to the designated picnic spot and got our picnic box.
Georgina Bull and her colleague Colson of the garden’s team, sourced the ingredients from as many local food producers as possible. The list included Greenmunch for sustainable food packaging, Steve and Dan’s Fresh B.C. Fruit, Natural Kitchen Delights and Jacek Chocolate Couture for chocolate treats, Munoz Roastery for coffee, The Happy Camel for pitas and hummus, S4 Greenhouses for vegetables, Meuwley’s Artisan Food Market and Menno’s Sausage for charcuterie meats, LaBoule Patisserie and Bakery for rustic sourdough and fine pastry treats and Sherbrooke Liquor for wine, beer and cider options.
There is a minimum $50 order for a picnic box. Georgina Bull says, “Guests will be able to order their gourmet picnic box filled with local and Canadian goodies, then embellish their experience with luxury add-ons (think champagne, think caviar), and picnic essentials like blankets and flowers. We’ll be able to customize packages for those special occasions, like anniversaries and engagements. We’re confident many happy memories will be made with this experience.” You can find answers to all the FAQ and how to order here.
Our box is pictured above. It was more than ample. We even packed a bit of it for the drive home. My husband loved the juicy strawberries and the toothsome, flavourful Miche breads from LaBoule.. I loved the Labeneh yogurt cheese spread and a cookie that was two shortbreads with a raspberry filling. I think it was called the Cardamom Bite. It was delectable and I’ll be thinking of it for sometime to come.
A Photo Visit for you
We felt safe, keeping physically distant from other visitors was easy and it was a joyful outing. I hope you’ll try it out for yourself this summer. And if you can’t get there in person, you can always follow the hashtag #uabgpicnic to see how people are enjoying this new offering. As we toted our lawn chairs back to the car, padding along, my husband and I felt as satisfied as Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.
I’ll leave you with some photos from yesterday and also some photos of the Aga Khan Garden from when it first opened in the summer of 2018. The Aga Khan gave the University of Alberta $25 million dollars in 2009 to build this garden. It has already doubled the annual visits to the garden as people come from all over the world to experience it.
As you can see in the photos above, secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces all lead to still pools that reflect Alberta’s ever-changing Prairie skies. A waterfall tumbles over textured stone leading one further into the gardens. Fruit orchards extend around the paths circling the large Calla Pond. The garden contains more than 25,000 trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and wetland plants, selected for fragrance, beauty and the ability to thrive in Alberta’s northern climate. It will be a joy to watch this space in nature mature.
And for one more bit of inspiration, that Alberta and all its tourism offerings are worth the wait, I”ll close with the latest video from my colleagues at Travel Alberta. We are all waiting to explore this great province again. It will definitely be worth the wait!