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Growing rural tourism, increasing air and road access part of new Alberta tourism strategy

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The Alberta government launched a new tourism strategy, aimed at achieving its goal of reaching $25 billion in yearly visitor spending by 2035.

On Tuesday, the province announced a new immigration stream as part of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP). Wednesday's announcement expands on how Alberta plans to increase visitor spending in the coming years.

"Since our earliest days when the railways opened the Canadian interior to visitors, Alberta has drawn people in huge numbers to see what makes our province so special," said Premier Danielle Smith at a news conference in Jasper.

"In every corner of Alberta and in all four seasons, visitors can discover welcoming communities and unforgettable experiences."

The new strategy aims to grow tourism opportunities in rural communities, increase air and road access, expand and diversify tourism products and ease labour shortages.

"This strategy also includes measures to continue growing Indigenous tourism opportunities across the province and make it easier for Indigenous operators to access capital for large scale projects," said Smith.

"Indigenous tourism can be a tool for reconciliation and action, allowing for Indigenous people across Alberta to share their story and culture authentically through their voice," added Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta.

Growing tourism in rural Alberta is another "focal point" of the strategy, according to Tourism and Sport Minister Joseph Schow.

"We're working with industry and through the consultations for the last several years, we have come up with what we feel is a strong plan to develop rural Alberta tourism with 10 tourism development zones," said Schow.

"I would suggest it's a continuation or working document, in the sense that as we continue along this path of building towards our goal of $25 billion by 2035, that we'll see the results that come in and adjust if necessary."

The province also plans to work with post secondary institutions to "guide more students" into careers in the tourism sector, added Schow.

New stream doesn't mean more workers: lawyer

The new Tourism and Hospitality Stream aims to fill labour gaps in those industries, but it doesn't mean Alberta will be able to bring in more workers through the program overall, according to an immigration lawyer.

"The provincial government gets an allocation from the federal government as to how many individuals they can support for permanent residents through this provincial nomination program," said Nathan Po.

In 2024, Alberta will be able to nominate just over 10,000 people for permanent residence, added Po.

"Whenever they introduce a new program that falls under the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program… that means that fewer applications are going to be allocated for people who don't qualify for those new programs," said Po. "So people outside of the hospitality industry might see some other opportunities become a little bit more difficult when it comes to trying to stay in Canada and become permanent residents."

"The main thing that I'm looking at is whether there's some unintended consequences in terms of creating some incentives for people to take on work that they might not otherwise take on or leave jobs that they might not otherwise leave just because there's some immigration incentive to being in a different industry."

The Alberta Opportunity Stream currently has a requirement of 12 months full-time work experience in a worker's current occupation in Alberta in order to qualify. The new immigration stream will have a six-month work experience requirement.

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