Kneehill County councillors debated two of their number attending a major tourism conference in Edmonton this winter, with the total bill for the event to ratepayers at about $7,500. The debate and approval were conducted at the Jan. 9 regular meeting of council.

Councillors read a report from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen regarding a request to approve attendance of two councillors, Faye McGhee and Wade Christie, at the upcoming Tourism Advocacy Summit scheduled Feb. 4 to 6 at the JW Marriott Hotel.

“The Alberta Tourism Advocacy Summit is the industry’s premier event to learn about current government priorities, to gain political and industry insights from experts and media observers, and for you to share your industry points-of-view with elected and non-elected representatives,” stated a staff memo to councillors.

It was noted the upcoming summit will feature breakout sessions on four main themes, including marketing, place, access and leadership and further include speakers and panels addressing topics such as tomorrow’s traveller, predictive analytics, public lands access and much more.

The staff memo noted registration fees for the event are $899 per attendee plus two nights of accommodation at $240 per night.

During discussion Haugen noted Coun. McGhee and Christie requested council approval to attend this conference, McGhee as part of her Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) work and Christie on behalf of Community Futures.

Haugen further noted funds are budgeted for events such as this. It was noted one staff member is already planning on attending this event, but council attendance has to be approved by resolution.

Coun. Carrie Fobes stated she was opposed to sending councillors to this because, judging by one she attended in the past, these conferences don’t have much to offer rural municipalities. Fobes alluded if it could be shown to benefit rural areas she might not be as opposed. 

She also asked why the opportunity was not open to all councillors.

Reeve Ken King responded McGhee and Christie had voiced interest in attending. It was later made clear during discussion that a resolution to approve this request could include all councillors if they wished.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham stated the conference appeared expensive, and asked if the figures noted were the total cost. Haugen stated the policy that this conference falls under also covers expenses like per diem, mileage and meals.

Machell-Cunningham responded her calculations suggested the conference, all told, would cost $2,200 per person. Haugen quoted a figure of roughly $2,500.

Director of Community Services Kevin Gannon stated the conference held value to Kneehill County based on destination marketing and other strategies to promote tourism.

Machell-Cunningham asked what benefits Kneehill County has reaped from the last conference held in the fall of 2023.

Coun. McGhee responded tourism has been identified as an area Kneehill County wants to promote and added networking and making contacts were important benefits she saw from the previous conference. McGhee stated direct benefits don’t always pop up soon after events like these but take time to mature. As well, she noted topics like public lands access are definitely of interest to Kneehill County.

Coun. Debbie Penner stated she supported Kneehill County attending conferences like this because the municipality can tell its own rural story and agreed with McGhee benefits from such conferences can take years to come to fruition.

Reeve King stated public and private lands access were factors in Kneehill County acquiring the Horseshoe Canyon tourist destination.

Christie added it appears the provincial government wants to shift some of the mountain tourism into central Alberta, and he would like to help steer that move.

Machell-Cunningham noted if Kneehill sends one staff member and two councillors to the conference it would cost $7,500, while earlier in the meeting councillors only approved $3,000 for STARS air ambulance for an entire year, adding it was difficult for her to justify that.

Reeve King declared a motion to approve two councillors’ attendance at the Alberta Tourism Advocacy Summit passed but since some councillors were attending the meeting virtually the exact details of the vote weren’t clear to this writer.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 17, 2024 at 13:20

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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