Features

Prairie hospitality: Infrastructure and the visitor experience

BROADWAY AVENUE FRINGE THEATRE AND STREET FESTIVAL. DISCOVER SASKATOON, CAREY SHAW PHOTOGRAPHY.

An eventful city is home to strategic and sustainable long-term partnerships, policies, and investments in infrastructure that enhance the quality of life for residents and entice visitors from around the world to explore and enjoy a new destination.

Hosting infrastructure attracts millions of visitors every year

The City of Saskatoon welcomes nearly three million visitors annually who generate $425 million in spending throughout the community. Steph Clovechok, CEO of Discover Saskatoon, points to the city’s facilities as a critical driver of success. “[Saskatoon is about] the visitor experience,” she explains. “Hosting infrastructure is critical to enable a city to not just grow in size but grow in vitality and vibrancy. Everything that relates to the visitor economy creates economic prosperity and a deep sense and experience of social well-being. [Saskatoon has] world-class facilities! For example, Gordie Howe Sports Complex—there is no other sports hosting facility like that in the country. Another example is in 2023, we’re hosting an international nuclear medicine conference, and it’s happening in Saskatoon because of the Sylvia Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation.”

Further south, Regina welcomes approximately 2.5 million visitors annually, and its total tourism and hospitality sector accounts for $500 million a year in economic activity. The capital city is home to over 3,200 sports venues and, as of 2021, was ranked number four for sport hosting in the country by Sport Tourism Canada.

The REAL District sees 3.5 million guests annually through its 100 acres of venues—including Mosaic Stadium, Viterra International Trade Centre, and the Brandt Centre. More than 700 sporting events, industry conferences, awards shows, and cultural and musical events occur at REAL each year. Because of its central location, just a stone’s throw from downtown and mere minutes from the Regina International Airport, it serves as a central gathering place.

Erin Stankewich, business development manager for the Regina Hotel Association, says, “People feel welcome here. Regina is compact and easy to navigate—you can leave the airport and be in your hotel room in 20 minutes.”

Downtown gathering spaces

The size of Saskatchewan’s two largest cities and the ease of commuting are major selling features when attracting events. Other significant advantages are the amenities near event spaces and guest lodging. Clovechok notes, “Many groups are committed to having their events in the downtown core where they have the proximity between an event centre, hotels, and dining experiences within a five or 10-minute walk.”

The City of Saskatoon plans to invest approximately $250 million into a downtown arena. This is a welcome investment for Clovechok. “It’s important we focus on the idea of a gathering place for all community members,” she says. “Let’s think about the visitor experience for a minute. Imagine walking out into a beautiful event district with restaurants and live music. That facilitates the growth of our city, where we enable such a quality of life in our community that’s accessible to everyone.”

Agribition in Regina. Photo by Shane Luhning.

The City of Regina’s recent steps toward approving mega-projects valued at $490 million are proposed to help reshape the downtown core and maintain its reputation as a prosperous event city.

Other projects the City of Regina will be exploring include:

  • a revitalized central library (with an estimated price tag of $125 million)
  • a new arena to replace the Brandt Centre (approximately $156 million)
  • a walking trail connecting downtown event infrastructure (a $20 million investment)

The possibility of these facilities could boost Regina’s event marketability. “We work closely with Destinations Canada to position Regina as a host city for international business events related to the agribusiness and natural resources sectors,” says Stankewich. More event infrastructure means more opportunities for visitor experiences.

We can expect an eventful future

In 10 years, what will we be seeing? Clovechok is optimistic for the future. “Saskatoon will have infrastructure that matches our excellence in a downtown core, active transportation that enables ease of access for residents and visitors alike, heightened air access, Indigenous voices leading the way, and residents who are proud to live here because the world wants us and we have an abundance of experience for everyone.”