2019 is a year where Alberta Food Tours is recognized for our ability to create unforgettable moments for visitors. First, in February, Destination Canada designated our Inglewood Edibles: Made by Mavericks tour as a Canadian Signature Experience (CSE). Now, in partnership with the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (FBSH), our Eat the Castle tour has just received the same designation.
This means that these tours are part of Destination Canada’s permanent collection of must-see, must-do experiences for visitors to Canada. Travel Alberta explains that “CSE is a curated collection of over 200 unforgettable travel experiences offered by Canadians who are passionate to share their extraordinary part of the country with international visitors. The program helps change international perceptions of travelling within Canada and broaden the view of what Canada has to offer.”
Marty Eberth, Vice President of Travel Alberta adds, “Visitors are looking for unique and memorable experiences. ‘Eat the Castle’ is an example of how innovative industry partnerships can result in something really special—one of those goosebump moments we talk about that inspire the world to visit Alberta.”
How it all started
In 2017, I was doing research for a book called Food Artisans of Alberta. Mostly that book is about Alberta’s food producers but there are a few chefs included because of the degree to which they support our local producers. When I interviewed several food producers in Southern Alberta and found out that one of their best customers was the Fairmont Banff Springs, I decided to learn more about the hotel’s sourcing practices.
Executive chef, at the time, JW Foster toured me through the kitchens of the hotel (there are many!). He shared his list of over 25 local suppliers. The hotel has between 125 to 150 chefs on staff and 25 apprentices. There are 754 rooms, hundreds of weddings and conferences and 1100 team members to feed each year. The culinary team prepares about 2 million made-from-scratch meals per year. 85 per cent of the food in those meals comes from Alberta, B.C. and Canada.
I was astounded at what I learned. Foster and I discussed that very few guests or visitors would know about what a great culinary institute the hotel really is. Their story, the quality of their food and the setting of the Castle in the Rockies would make for a great food tour, I suggested. He loved the idea.
Making it happen
Loving an idea and bringing it to life are two different things. I spent months in meetings and chasing emails with the castle’s food and beverage, public relations and culinary team. But, by the nature of our shared values and dedication to quality food and guest experiences, we were all thrilled that a plan came together.
The hotel had the setting and the talented culinary team to produce the tastings. Alberta Food Tours worked with the communications team to develop the stories that would bring the walls alive. We also integrated the history of the castle in Banff National Park and the work of the culinary team. And, we also took on the risk of selling all tickets and the majority of marketing and promotions of the tour.
We trained our guides for months and launched the tour in June 2018. It takes a while for a new tourism product to gain traction. Many planned tours had to be cancelled in the beginning because of lack of subscription. Finally, by November and December of 2018, tours started to sell out. We were able to start up again in mid-January. Now we run the tour every Thursday and Friday.
A little more magic
Executive chef Robert Ash joined the FBSH in July of 2018. He’s been a delight to get to know and brings a wealth of culinary savoir-faire and leadership skills. Having the chance to co-lead a VIP media tour with him, the conversation came round to what would I change or add to the tour. A chance for guests to be hands-on with a chef in the kitchen was top of my wish list. Chef Ash is a person that only sees possibilities. He quickly added that touch of magic that our guests adore on the tour. I don’t want to give it away what that involves. You need to come on the tour and experience it yourself.
We began getting great reviews of the guests’ experience on the tour. Just after our Inglewood tour was announced as a CSE, the team at FBSH congratulated me and said how much they’d love to have such a designation. I suggested that since they own the castle and provide the food and we are partners that they might submit an application for our Eat the Castle experience to become a CSE. They did and the rest is history in the making.
It’s been a complete joy to have partnered with the Fairmont Banff Springs to create this Eat the Castle tour and achieving Canadian Signature Experience status completes the fairy tale we’ve written together. The tour is important because it not only provides important access for locals and visitors from around the world to experience this iconic National Historic Site, but it creates the absolutely unforgettable moments that turn a vacation into an indelible memory of time well spent in Alberta.
Eat the Castle
The tour currently runs from 3 to 5:30 pm every Thursday and Friday. The group size is small at 12. Guests meet our storytelling guide and enjoy four premium food and beverage tastings. They have private access to venues and culinary team members. Our guides provide a complete historical, art and architecture tour and of course, there’s that magical hands-on fun. The tour is $175 per person and is seamless for our guests because the price includes tabs, tips and taxes to our partner and their team.
We hope that Eat the Castle gains in popularity so that we can offer it seven days a week. We enjoy running it for many private and corporate groups as well.
While the FBSH is sold out from May to October each year, as well as over the holiday season, this tour allows anyone, guest or not to gain access and enjoy the royal treatment. I hope you’ll all come to Eat the Castle with us.