William Slenders is the Executive Director of the newly formed Lethbridge Destination Management Organization. (LDMO) I thought it would be nice to get to know him a little better and what he sees for the future of Lethbridge.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I grew up around the whole of Southern Alberta. Home was always Scandia, but between the involvement in 4-H and sports we were always traveling to events and other communities. I met many of my friends throughout the cities of Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Brooks and as soon as I had my driver’s license I was gone for every weekend. Growing up as a farm kid always had its fair share of work and trouble making. To this day, March is not a month I look forward too just because of calving and my fair share of running away tail firmly between my legs from an angry mother cow. Beyond the work, the farm was a place of education and trial and error. Learning how to make things work when you did not have the tools was a common skill I enjoyed using in many day to day activities. I can’t imagine a better place to grow up than here in Southern Alberta.
You got your degree at the U of L. What was the degree and what was that experience like?
I double majored in International Business and Marketing and received two minors in Japanese and Corporate Social Responsibility. The University of Lethbridge Faculty of Management was an outstanding place to obtain that education and in many ways a second home. Overall, the university offered amazing opportunities to engage with other students and community. I particularly enjoyed the business case competitions where we would compete among other universities for top place.
What were you doing before getting the new job with LDMO?
I had my own consulting business where I focused on helping other organizations do marketing and research. I enjoy research and helping other organizations so it was an excellent opportunity to do something I really enjoyed with the community. I had also returned to the family farm for a time where I was helping to develop enterprise processes to current programs they were operating.
What attracted you to applying for the position?
My wife encouraged me to apply for the position. She & I love Lethbridge and she encouraged me to try. I was also the managing director for another tourism group, the Newell Regional Tourism Association (NRTA) in Brooks Alberta for a great many of years, and loved every minute of it. I thought that this would be an excellent area of industry to become involved with again, and I enjoy helping communities grow and succeed.
It’s just beginning but what has been your first impressions of the new organization?
Absolutely fantastic. The board of the LDMO is incredible. Each one of the board members are incredible people with a deep passion for this community and it shows in the planning and direction that they have provided in the early stages. The city and the staff at the city has been an incredible partner to this as well and are deeply passionate about the success of our community.
In your mind what has been missing in recent years in terms of promoting Lethbridge?
Lethbridge is an incredibly authentic place to be. Every time I see Lethbridge, I am hoping to see more of what makes Lethbridge a fun and original place to be. This is going to be one of the bigger parts of my strategy moving forward. I think the biggest missing piece is communication. Lethbridge always has so many events going on and before we know about them they happen and we don’t get a chance to see if we can make them bigger. I think the biggest part of the puzzle moving forward will be to bridge communication between all of the events rights holders, businesses, accommodations, and industry to make a bigger and better Lethbridge event/destination.
Does Lethbridge need a new convention centre? If so, where should it be built?
I believe that a new Convention Centre would be something to look at. If not, then certainly an enhancement to an already existing facility, for example, Exhibition Park to cater to larger events would be in order. My concern with a Convention Centre is that they typically need to be built next to hotels and service industry ie. restaurants. I believe that the best utilization of a facility such as this would be located in the downtown core. I believe that a Convention Centre overlooking the magnificent view of our coulee and high level bridge would certainly be a memorable experience for visitors coming to our community. In short, I think there are many places to locate a Convention Centre in Lethbridge, but finding the right area will be a challenge.
Is a Performing Arts Centre an important part of attracting people to Lethbridge? And again, where should it be built?
Culture is a major attraction in Lethbridge and one that I believe will continue to be a major attraction into the coming years. I believe that a Performing Arts Centre would make for an incredible enhancement to the already existing arts & culture portfolio in Lethbridge. As with the Convention Centre, I too believe that this should be built downtown. Many people/tourists are looking into the downtown and are desiring a vibrant place to be a part of (hangout) [Roger Brooks- rogerbrooksinternational]. I believe that adding Convention Centre and a Performing Arts & Culture Centre would add a new level of vibrancy to the downtown and push the Downtown core into a new unique place to be.
What improvements would you like to see at the airport?
A longer runway for bigger planes (bigger planes equals capacity for more people) and some additional flights coming into the community from other airports. There is a great deal of interest in aboriginal culture from international markets. If we can create more flights from Calgary to Lethbridge, instead of internationals boarding a bus from Calgary and driving to Lethbridge for the experience, I believe we will continue to grow the services and potential of both the airport and the tourism industry as a whole within this region.
What is your overall vision for making Lethbridge a tourist destination?
I believe that Lethbridge has to focus on what makes it authentic. Lethbridge is incredibly relaxed and has a ton of great events, festivals, and attractions that will people from all over Canada and internationally will travel to see. Lethbridge is also incredibly competitive, and the sports in this community are testament to that fact. I believe that the key to making Lethbridge a destination of choice is to activate our residents and let them tell the authentic story of why Lethbridge is the destination of choice. In so doing, many new festivals and events, volunteers, and opportunities will continue to grow Lethbridge as a destination of choice.
Top 5 albums of all time.
Can’t really say. I listen to so many things nowadays with Spotify and YouTube I don’t pay attention to albums as much as Individual Songs or some Artists. Old Dominion, Spacehog and Live as artists have been in my playlists a little bit more than normal now.
Top 5 movies of all time.
Top Gun, Jurassic Park (1), The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, The Illusionist
As you look into your crystal ball what is going to be the most significant thing you’ve accomplished after one year?
Becoming a dad! (Baby due in April). In all seriousness, getting partners and groups to work with me on exciting new programs and new interactive technologies will be a big win for the LDMO.
And final thoughts….?
Hopefully not, I just got here!