Cindy Ady’s tenure at the helm of Tourism Calgary was bookended by two crises: a flood and a pandemic.
In both cases, the city managed to come out on top of those challenges. When the flood hit Calgary in 2013, putting on a successful Stampede was her first major achievement.
“Even though we stuffed some things under the sofa … it worked,” she said.
Ady, CEO of Calgary Tourism for the past decade, will retire at the end of the year, kicking into gear a national search for her successor.
During those 10 years, she saw hotel occupancy dip to six per cent at the height of the pandemic. Yet, under her decade-long watch, Calgary’s tourism industry has gone from contributing $1.6 billion to $3.1 billion to the local economy, while its organization’s membership has increased nearly 60 per cent.
With the BMO Centre’s expanded convention hall slated to open in spring 2024 — a facility she advocated for since the start of her time as CEO — Calgary is on the verge of being able to host major events that compete with Canada’s largest cities, Ady said. It will be opening at a time when group travel is up, which she called a “fortuitous” development. Calgary will have hosted six “city-wide” conventions (those that bring in more than 600 hotel guest rooms) by the end of 2023, the agency said.
“The fact that we now can compete with the likes of Vancouver and Montreal and Toronto when it comes to the size of a convention centre, we have not had that opportunity,” she said.
The city has seen eight straight months of record numbers of hotel rooms being used, Ady said. “I actually, in 20 years, haven’t seen numbers like this before.”
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And she marks upcoming developments such as the $205 million Glenbow Museum overhaul, the multimillion-dollar Arts Commons refresh and the Saddledome-replacing events centre as major upcoming landmarks that will add thrust to Calgary’s tourism industry, she said.
Missing links are remaining, Ady added, including a major hotel near the BMO Centre and eventual event centre that can support the crowds that come with them. Ady said the Calgary Stampede board of directors and the Calgary Municipal Land Corp. are actively working on that file.
“Now we really all need to focus on the sand between the rocks — the interconnectivity, the transportation opportunities,” she said.
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When the city hosts major events, it needs to improve at connecting visitors to its range of transportation and other tourism opportunities, she said, given more than half of convention visitors also engage in the tourism economy during their stay.
“You can hurt your brand by not being ready,” she said.
The city has seen eight straight months of record numbers of hotel rooms being used, Ady said. “I actually in 20 years haven’t seen numbers like this before.” The city agency will be releasing its new 10-year strategy in the approaching months.
“We got to make sure we can deliver now. That’s the key. You can put the facilities up but you have to deliver.”
Ady’s optimism toward the city’s trajectory makes her retirement bittersweet.
“It’s time for that next set of legs to kind of pull it into its activation,” she said. “Within six years, this whole downtown core is going to be renewed and different than it is today.”