BY RYAN WELLICOME
A Visitor Friendly Assessment (VFA) of municipalities located within Lacombe County is currently being undertaken by Clearthink Consulting Group.
The project’s goal is to determine the appeal of elements of ‘community and site visitor friendliness’ in order to identify areas that the three leading municipalities can improve upon to boost tourism.
“The tourism operators that are in Lacombe County, the City of Lacombe, and the Town of Blackfalds were definitely looking forward to getting recommendations from this assessment that are actionable. Recommendations that we can put in place so we can enhance visitor experience throughout our region,” said Economic Development Officer for the Town of Blackfalds Jennifer Hartigh.
The Town of Blackfalds and Lacombe Regional Tourism (representing the City of Lacombe and Lacombe County) partnered for the summer-long project.
The project was funded by a $30,000 contribution from Alberta Culture & Tourism and each participating municipality was given $10,000 of the initial sum. Following the provincial government’s sponsorship of the project, the VFA Project Steering Committee was given two options to complete the assessment.
The first is the participating municipalities would be given a workbook and could complete the assessment themselves or second, the committee could choose to contract a third party to complete the assessment.
The committee believed that a more productive assessment could be completed by a third party.
“We all really felt that there would be definite added value to having people who are not from our communities come in and really look at our community with fresh eyes and different perspective,” said Hartigh. “We felt that we would get a lot more value and more unique recommendations.”
Clearthink has been working with the committee since May.
In order to become more acquainted with the region’s communities, Clearthink has, between June and August, reviewed municipal documents, spoke with the projects’ stakeholders and conducted site visits throughout the region.
From the site visits, the firm is looking to assess visitor friendliness.
Elements of visitor friendliness that the firm will assess are way-finding and signage, service levels, accessibility and pedestrian convenience, merit of public services and amenities and general aesthetic and visual appeal.
The three project partners were part of the Central Alberta Destination Management Plan (DMP) steering committee that oversaw creation of a 10-year DMP in 2015.
The DMP provided the communities of Central Alberta with direction on developing local tourism in addition to marketing and managing over the next 10 years. The DMP recommended that collaboration between communities on projects such as VFAs can help those involved achieve their goals in terms of regional tourism.
Clearthink presented its initial findings at a meeting with committee members this past Tuesday.
The meeting gave the committee members an overview of what they might expect in the assessments as well as a brief rundown of where and what was seen.
Clearthink will provide the committee with their assessments of each community by the end of August, at which point the committee will work with the consulting firm to create an action plan for the communities.
“The action plan provides us with the basis for what we need to do next,” said Executive Director of Lacombe Regional Tourism Marie Péron.
A final report will then be created by the committee and taken to the municipal councils for adoption, possibly by the end of September. “(The report) will allow us to share with (council) what actions we hope to take and what the overall vision is in terms of the direction (council) needs to take for visitor friendliness,” said Péron.
The VFA is being completed on the City of Lacombe, the Town of Blackfalds, Lacombe County and the regional municipalities of Alix, Bentley, Clive, Eckville, Gull Lake and Mirror.