Planning for ‘post-COVID’: Lethbridge event organizers in limbo with cancellation decisions

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Canada, large gatherings and travel are being discouraged, impacting the tourism industry in southern Alberta.

The International Air Show announced earlier this week they won’t be going ahead this year, which is a disappointment as the organizers also postponed the event in 2019.

“It’s been a bittersweet experience, it’s been… a long process of making that decision,” said Stacy Green with the International Air Show Association.

The Air Show welcomed an average of 8,000 people each year in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Green says they were very busy planning the 2020 event, but knows postponing another year was the right decision.

“We thought it would probably be in our best interests, as well as in the interest of those that support us,” he said.

Another popular summer activity for many in the Lethbridge area is Whoop-Up Days, offering family-friendly events, including a parade and midway for five days in August.

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The event is mainly held at Lethbridge’s Exhibition Park, bringing in 30,000 to 40,000 visitors each year — amassing an estimated $2-3 million in revenue every summer.

Rudy Friesen, CEO of Exhibition Park says they are following the health situation closely and have not yet cancelled or postponed the events associated with Whoop-Up Days.

“The focus right now is, what the next 30 to 60 days are going to look like,” said Friesen.

“That’s critical to us at this point.”

According the Tourism Lethbridge, around 400,000 hotel rooms were occupied last year in Lethbridge, in part thanks to the city’s attractions.

“Realistically, these large events bring in substantial numbers of people,” William Slenders, executive director of Tourism Lethbridge said.

He says their principal message for southern Albertans is to look to the future.

“Plan your summer vacation, maybe buy some gift certificates ahead of time to support your local economy,” he said.

“Get everything planned for post-COVID.”

The Lethbridge Jazz Festival could not provide comment on whether they will continue this year or not, but said it had an attendance of around 2,000 people in both 2018 and 2019.

Lethbridge Pride Fest is also in limbo, and estimates nearly 6,000 people participated in the festival in June 2019.

The Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism, and Status of Women did not respond to request for comment on the fate of the Alberta Summer Games at time of publishing.

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