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BLLT head takes over Holiday on Horseback

Banff’s best-known cowboy, Ron Warner, has sold his large-scale outfitting and guiding operation after more than 50 years of business to Banff Lake Louise Tourism president and CEO Julie Canning.

Banff’s best-known cowboy, Ron Warner, has sold his large-scale outfitting and guiding operation after more than 50 years of business to Banff Lake Louise Tourism president and CEO Julie Canning.

Canning resigned from her position after more than a decade as Banff’s top tourism official, effective April 9. She has started a new company with business partner Jonathan Welsh, owner of Discover Banff Tours, to take over Warner’s Holiday on Horseback.

She said this new venture would allow her to fuse her passion for both horses and tourism.

“I am very, very excited, but I have mixed emotions,” said Canning, who came to Banff from Toronto in 2000 to become executive director of the Association of Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) before getting Banff’s top tourism job in August 2003.

During her time with BLLT, Canning has worked on many initiatives, including the introduction of the Tourism Improvement Fee (TIF) in 2006, which placed a two per cent tax on hotel rooms to boost BLLT’s marketing budget.

She was at the helm as BLLT put more focus on “animation and vibrancy” in Banff, with new and expanded festivals, as well as the introduction of large-scale special events in town and surrounding national park like the bike festival, triathlon and marathon, to draw more tourists.

Canning said marketing efforts for Banff and Lake Louise have come a long way since she began, noting TIF was up 5.4 per cent in 2013 over the previous year, despite the fact the region was hit by severe flooding in the spring of last year.

“The organization has really grown and developed over the last decade,” she said. “We do some of the best marketing in the country, in the world, and it’s something that has resulted in visitation numbers going up, and we have out-performed competitive destinations across Alberta and Canada.”

Holiday On Horseback offers front country trail, sleigh and carriage rides, as well as multi-day backcountry horse trips to Sundance and Halfway lodges. The operation also includes a retail store on Banff Avenue, the Martin Stables, and approximately 300 horses.

The company also runs three rustic wilderness tent camps – Mystic, Flints Park and Stoney Creek – but torrential rain and floods damaged trails and washed away most bridges that access the camps.

The semi-permanent tent camps offer all the basic necessities and canvas sleeping tents. Those tent trips won’t be running again this year, but the new owners say they are working with Parks Canada to get the trails open and bridges replaced.

Canning said the plan is to rebuild the tenting camps, though she had no details on exact plans at this stage.

“We are going to work with Parks Canada to look at those existing locations and just make sure we have a great, safe, authentic backcountry experience,” she said. “Our goal is to work with Parks Canada on what they look like.”

Warner, the founder of Warner Guiding & Outfitting and Holiday on Horseback, was not available for interview at the time the Outlook went to press, but Canning said she and Welsh want to embrace Warner’s legacy.

“We really want to embrace the ‘Canadiana’ and national park authentic and genuine experience. It’s one of the few experiences that allows people to get into the backcountry in a way that is historic,” said Canning.

“Ron has done an amazing job and we want to continue with the legacy of Holiday on Horseback. Ron will be around to be a mentor and guardian and we want to do something he will look over his shoulder and be proud of when he sees where the company going.”

During her time as head of BLLT, Canning also held the positions of chair of the Destination Marketing Association of Canada, vice-chair of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, and vice-chair of the Emerging Markets Committee for the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Canning said she has also been through one of the most difficult decades for the tourism industry as a whole – the aftermath of the 911 terrorist attacks on the U.S., a global recession, SARS, swine flu (H1N1) and local forest fires and floods.

“The tourism industry has profoundly changed in the last 10 years and ranged from consumer attitudes about travel, air travel and air safety, to issues on personal health and safety,” she said. “It has been a difficult 10 years and the fact this organization and destination endured and became more vibrant and strong and successful is something I am proud of.”

BLLT’s board of directors will launch a recruitment search to find Canning’s replacement.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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