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Embracing Openness: Australian Travel industry leaders explore Alberta, Canada

A select group of Australian travel industry leaders recently embarked on a transformative and strategic journey to Canada and snow-covered Alberta to connect with tourism partners and experience the wonder of the Canadian Rockies and its open minds, hearts, and spaces. Karryon's MATT LEEDHAM chronicled the journey.

A select group of Australian travel industry leaders recently embarked on a transformative and strategic journey to Canada and snow-covered Alberta to connect with tourism partners and experience the wonder of the Canadian Rockies and its open minds, hearts, and spaces. Karryon’s MATT LEEDHAM chronicled the journey.

Destination Canada hosted the purpose-driven trip in partnership with Alberta Canada’s Destination Marketing offices in Banff-Lake Louise, Jasper, and Calgary, as well as Air Canada.

Needless to say, our group of eight was warmly welcomed and introduced to the inclusive and spirited locals who call Calgary and the Canadian Rockies home and to many of the captivating attractions and experiences on offer for Australian visitors.

We also had the privilege of staying in four magnificent Fairmont properties, sampling the Fairmont Gold experience, including downtown Fairmont Palliser Calgary, Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.

Transferring through Vancouver with ease

Flying into Calgary on the Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Flying over the Rockies and into Calgary on the Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham

Our collective journey commenced at Vancouver (YVR) Airport after we had departed Australia separately from Brisbane and Sydney and flown directly across the Pacific in style with Air Canada.

Clearing immigration and connecting at Vancouver Airport was perhaps the easiest and quickest process I have ever experienced at any international terminal. It was literally only 12 minutes from gate to gate.

Thanks to our bag already being checked through to Calgary (YYC) from Australia with Air Canada, we were spared any additional X-ray screening when we transferred to the domestic terminal.

As we departed Vancouver for Calgary, the group anticipation was palpable, fuelled by forecasts of heavy snow. Thanks to the lengthy Canadian winter season, which begins in December and stretches until mid-April, a quintessential winter wonderland was on the cards, and we couldn’t wait.

After boarding our onward flight, a sub-one-hour hop, we weren’t disappointed and were soon marvelling at the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies before descending into what felt like a frozen fairytale, with a snow-flurried Calgary below us and teeth-chattering temperature of minus twelve degrees on arrival.

Calgary is cool

Destination Canada Heritage Park
Starring in a fairytale at Heritage Park Historical Village.
Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Meeting Elder John Snow Jr at Heritage Park Historical Village.

Showcasing Calgary as the gateway city to the Rocky Mountains opened up everyone’s appetite to explore, especially on the arts and culinary scene, with likely the best honey crème brûlée ever eaten served with Alberta Food Tours at forage-to-table Rouge Restaurant and a visit to craft brewery, Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Co.

Cosmopolitan Calgary is, of course, famed for its annual Calgary Stampede in July. While this event only happens for two weeks of the year, we got a taster of all things Western traditions with a behind-the-scenes tour of the legendary Alberta Boot Company and a snow-filled visit to the fascinating Heritage Park Historical Village on the outskirts of town.

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Alberta Boot Company. Pic: Matt Leedham

Layering up a little more as the snow continued to fall, our journey began to highlight how beautiful the Canadian Rockies townships of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper can be in winter. So many Australians visit in summer and have yet to discover the magic of winter in the Canadian Rockies National Parks beyond Christmas.

En route to the Rockies near Cochrane, we met, fed and made furry friends at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, where we learnt all about wolfdogs and wolf conservation. Founded in 2011 by Georgina De Caigny, the 160-acre sanctuary was created to drive public awareness and education surrounding wolfdogs and wolves in the wild and offers a variety of daily tours.

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, Alberta. Pic: Matt Leedham
Webready Canada 138
Lizzie Doyle, Georgina De Caigny (Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary founder) and Neil Rodgers

Commenting on the experience, Neil Rodgers, Manager Director of Adventure World, said, “I’m big into wildlife and conservation, so it was a real privilege for me to go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary and see firsthand the work that they’re doing with rehousing with Wolfdogs and the role they play in the local environment.

Then, it was time to relax and experience the epic vistas of the famed Icefields Parkway on the road to Banff. This spectacular drive is renowned for being one of the most beautiful in the world, and for good reason.

Beautiful Banff

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
The view from my room at Fairmont Banff Springs. Pic: Matt Leedham

The iconic “Castle in the Rockies” that is Fairmont Banff Springs hosted a magical two-night stay. During this time, the group attended a strategy day hosted by Destination Canada and connected and shared insights and trends with marketing teams from Tourism Calgary, Banff-Lake Louise Tourism, and Tourism Jasper.

While at UNESCO World Heritage Banff National Park, we also experienced bluebird skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing at Sunshine Village Ski Resort, an indigenous plant medicine walk through a snow-covered pine forest with Mahikan Trails, a spectacular dinner at Rimrock Resort Hotel’s Eden and a trip on Banff’s Gondola to sample the Nightrise indigenous experience, which honours the magic of the sacred mountains.

Sunshine Village Destination Canada
Hello Sunshine Village Ski Resort!
Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Mahikan Trails Plant Medicine Walk. Pic: Matt Leedham

Joy in Jasper

Venturing further along the Icefields Parkway and staying at Jasper Park Lodge, the group enjoyed 360-degree first-hand views of Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper National Park, an ice walk in Maligne Canyon, and a winter wildlife tour where we saw Bald Eagles, Elk and Mountain Goats roaming freely.

We also experienced powerful indigenous story-telling via an informal fireside chat with Warrior Women founder Matricia Brown and friend Theresa Westhaver. We asked questions about the area’s cultural impact and listened to drumming and songs in the local ‘Cree’ dialect, one of Canada’s most widely spoken Indigenous languages.

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Warrior Women founder Matricia and friend Theresa Westhaver. Pic: Matt Leedham

The Revenant, Togo, Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James, Game of Thrones, and Fargo—not to mention Dirty Dancing, where Baby and Johnny practised their dance routines—are all Hollywood movies filmed in the province of Alberta. This is another testament to the spellbinding scenery and storytelling this part of the world inspires.

A night at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Our final stop was Lake Louise, where we stayed at the illustrious Fairmont Chateau. Aside from discovering the hotel’s richly storied history, we relished walking on the ice-packed frozen lake, admiring the brave souls ice skating and playing ice hockey on it.

We also spent an afternoon on the snow at the nearby Lake Louise Ski Resort and savoured a last heavenly night of (too much?!) gooey cheesy fondue at Walliser Stube restaurant.

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Ice skating on Lake Louise at Fairmont Chateau. Pic: Matt Leedham

Sharing his experience, Greg McCallum, Part Owner and Sales and Marketing Director for Entire Travel Group, said, “The trip further opened my eyes to Alberta’s wonderful indigenous tourism experiences, from tasting Bison Pemmican to sipping on Saskatoon berry tea to meeting indigenous elders and embarking on a fascinating medicine walk in the Boreal Forest.

“Each activity offered a unique insight into indigenous culture and traditions. However, the fireside chat with Warrior Women truly resonated with me and enriched my understanding of indigenous heritage.”

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
The summit at Lake Louise Ski Resort: L-R Vic Naughton (Air Canada), Matt Leedham (Karryon), Daniel Walker (Sno’n’Ski Holidays), Casandra Foister (SkiMax), Pete Woods (SkiBig3) and Nathan McLoughlin (Destination Canada/Julie King Associates).

Tim Holden, Business Leader, Tourism Body Partnerships for Flight Centre Travel Group, said of his time in Alberta, “It was an incredible trip that entwined the spectacular scenery of Alberta with the rich culture of the First Nations peoples and the finest of experiences.

“From staying in the most picturesque hotels and lodges to skiing the freshest powder and experiencing regenerative activities such as the wolf-dog sanctuary and the exquisite F&B scene that Alberta has to offer, it was awesome to witness firsthand the range of experiences that are on offer outside of peak travel times.

“It was an honour to participate in the planning session with Destination Canada and the tourism boards and travel with such a fun, high-calibre group. We had the best time, were treated like the Queen, and all came away with an open perception and newfound respect for an incredible destination, Canada… and full bellies.”

Destination Canada Alberta trip. Pic: Matt Leedham
Mahikan Trails walk. L-R: Neil Rodgers (Adventure World), Tim Holden (FCTG), Julie King (Julie King & Associates), Nathan McLoughlin (Destination Canada/Julie King Associates) and Matt Leedham (Karryon)

This trip was a dream experience in many ways, with perspectives shifting and the group opening their hearts and minds, particularly to the eclectic scope of sustainable, regenerative and indigenous experiences Canada and Alberta offer and the role the Australian trade can play in promoting them.

The delegation was strategically led by Destination Canada Australia’s GSA, Julie King and Associates managing director Julie King and the on-ground logistics were co-ordinated by the Australian in-market representative for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, Tourism Jasper and Tourism Calgary, Lizzie Doyle.

Destination Canada
The Destination Canada strategy day was held at Fairmont Banff Springs with the Australian leadership group and marketing teams from Tourism Calgary, Banff-Lake Louise Tourism, and Tourism Jasper.

Delegates on the trip included:

  • Naomi Fisher: Senior Executive Director, Global Marketing, Destination Canada (Host)
  • Julie King: Julie King: CEO and founder, Julie King and Associates and Managing Director, Destination Canada, Australia GSA (Host)
  • Nathan McLoughlin: Account Director Trade – Destination Canada, Julie King and Associates (Host)
  • Lizzie Doyle: Australian in-market representative for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, Tourism Jasper and Tourism Calgary (Host)
  • Vic Naughton: General Manager Australia, Air Canada
  • Tim Holden: Business Leader, Tourism Body Partnerships, Flight Centre Travel Group
  • Greg McCallum: Part Owner and Sales and Marketing Director, Entire Travel Group
  • Neil Rodgers: Manager Director, Adventure World
  • Melissa Warren: Group General Manager – Marketing, Helloworld Travel
  • Casandra Foister: Vice President, SkiMax
  • Daniel Walker: Managing Director, Sno’n’Ski Holidays
  • Matt Leedham: Founder and Managing Director, Karryon

For more information and useful links for all things Canada, head to: – Travel trade resources

Karryon’s acknowledgment of Country: In the spirit of respect, reciprocity and truth, Karryon honours and acknowledges the traditional territories of the many First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Alberta. Alberta is situated within historical and present-day lands that Indigenous Peoples have cared for and lived on for generations. We honour the territories of Treaty 4, 6, 7, 8, 10 and their signatories. We also acknowledge the homelands of the Otipemisiwak Métis Government, including the eight Métis Settlements and the 22 Métis Districts. We acknowledge the many Indigenous Peoples living in urban areas throughout the province. We appreciate that modern borders do not align with traditional land use, and we honour the neighbouring Indigenous communities outside of Alberta who have travelled and inhabited this land throughout history.