The 2018 Growing Rural Tourism Conference Presents: "Experience the Change"

"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." — Albert Einstein

More speakers. More ideas. More tourism.

Growing Rural Tourism 2018 will feature a great selection of speakers and experts from across the country. Each of our speakers have been specifically chosen because they are exciting, dynamic and invested in using their sessions to educate our attendees.

Keynotes Speakers

Chris Fields

Community Builder, 13 Ways Inc.

Session: "Do The One Small Thing"

How powerless we can feel in a world of change, 24/7 go-go, and negative news. How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking there’s no way to make a difference despite our hearts that ache to do exactly that. Now is the time to take control. Train your mind to see the beautiful all around us – and tap a powerful ability to effect big change from small things we can do – including the design of exceptional tourism experiences.

A Little Bit About Chris Fields:

What if we could achieve the exceptional? In his 25 years of award-winning marketing, communications, and economic development experience, Chris has challenged his government, not-for-profit and enterprise workplaces and clients to step beyond norms and average….for the sake of residents who want to love the communities they live in, or customers who want extraordinary experiences. As a professional speaker, Chris is known for his dry sense of humor and no-nonsense approach to topics that include municipal marketing & branding, community development, governance, and attitudes.

Sunny Lenarduzzi

Broadcaster, Speaker, Radio Host & Social Media Rockstar

Session: "Small Town, Big Presence: A Digital Roadmap for Attracting Customers for Life"

How should tourist destinations navigate the digital space and turn a small town into a big attraction? What are the latest and greatest trends? And how do you turn online buzz into offline sales? Sunny will show you how to attract your ideal customers by creating content that converts and how to 5x your viewership and brand awareness by leveraging your social channels. In particular, you will learn how to get traffic, leads and sales in your sleep using the power of social video marketing. You'll walk away from this session with a clear understanding and actionable tips for how you can start using social video for your business today.

A Little Bit About Sunny Lenarduzzi:

A born broadcaster, Sunny’s work all centres around connecting to an audience through authentic communication. After reporting at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, she shifted her focus and began working with entrepreneurs, personal brands and corporations to to help them bring their business online through social media and video marketing. Sunny has nearly a decade of experience as an award winning video, social media and online business strategist.

Alberta Rural Success Stories

Loretta Thiering

Edmonton International Raceway

Session: "Why Don’t We Take Over the Raceway in Wetaskiwin"

When Loretta Thiering’s Healthcare position was abolished in 1995, her husband Ron presented (what he thought) was a great idea, “Why don’t we take over the Raceway in Wetaskiwin”? Certainly a far stretch from what she knew, she gave in and has been operating Edmonton Int’l Raceway in Wetaskiwin since that time. Moving forward to 2018 – Loretta and Ron Thiering have transformed this speedway to International acclaim, the first & only NASCAR Sanctioned Raceway in Western Canada, the only Raceway in Western Canada to offer a 10 Lap Stock Car Test Drive Experience and in 2017 was named Business of the Year in Wetaskiwin. In 2018 Edmonton Int’l Raceway in Wetaskiwin (Sunset Speedway) will celebrate 50 years of success!

Hazel Anaka

Babas & Borshch

Session: "The 9 Not-So-Easy Steps to Small Town Festival Success: The Babas & Borshch Story"

Hear Festival Coordinator, Hazel Anaka recap the Babas & Borshch story from concept pitch to planning for year six. How does a festival hosted in a community of fewer than 400 people win an award for marketing excellence? How does a rural Alberta tourism event attract talent, sponsors, volunteers and visitors? How does a small town festival ensure it stays fresh and fun, relevant and respected year after year? This session promises frank talk, some counter-intuitive advice, and a dose of ‘Can Do’ encouragement!

A Little Bit About Hazel Anaka:

Hazel Anaka brings a depth and breadth of experience and talent to the exciting position of Festival Coordinator. And being a passionate, committed Baby Boomer workaholic who loves a challenge doesn’t hurt, either. As the person who pitched Lamont County on the idea of a 2-day Ukrainian Festival, she’s very invested in its continuing success and loves sharing the lessons learned.


Rachel Kraay

Owner/Operator Kraay Family Farm

Session: "Living the Dream: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Awesome of a Family Agritainment Business"

Settled in the heart of Alberta, with over 40 attractions and amenities, is the Kraay Family Farm: your destination for world famous adventures and Farmtastic fun all season long. Farmyard, Corn Maze, Jumping Pillow, Mini Golf & more, the fun never stops at Kraay Family Farm.

A Little Bit About Rachel Kraay:

Rachel & Reuben Kraay are two of the four Owners of the Kraay Family Farm, Home of the Lacombe Corn Maze Inc. The Kraay Family Farm is a family tradition in Central Alberta offering hours of agri-tainment fun for all ages, including their world famous corn maze, pumpkins galore, and all the cute farm animals you can handle, including the rapidly expanding Bunny-ville. Rachel and Reuben and their 3 kids along with Reuben’s parents, open their farm to the public every year from the end of July until the middle of October. Rachel grew up in the big city, has a degree in Marketing and Communications and takes care of all the advertising, marketing and communications for the farm but never dreamed she would be using her degree there. Reuben grew up on the farm and now does anything and everything on the farm - building, buying, ice cream scooping, corn planting, pig racing and pumpkin picking as well as cooking up special treats like cotton candy, hot roasted nuts and doughnuts, and their famous kettle corn for the thousands of guests the Kraay family welcomes to the farm each year. Come and hear their story and all the ups and downs of working with family and living and working on a farm open to the public.

More Speakers Will be Announced Soon!

The 4th Annual Entrepreneurship Challenge features a 1st place prize of $10,000, free conference registration for 2018, and on year of mentoring from a Business Coach including one promo video. In order to be eligible to win you must fill out the application form by clicking the link below. Rule and eligibility are also contained in the form below.

Please click here to download

Conference Scholarship


The Growing Rural Tourism Conference supports continuous learning and innovative educational opportunities for rural Alberta business. This year we will partially sponsor individual business owners or managers to attend the Growing Rural Tourism Conference.


Individual business owners, managers and full-time students who:

  • Presently own and operate a full-time tourism business in rural Alberta or businesses looking to incorporate tourism products or experiences into their existing business
  • Students enrolled in a full-time tourism program
    Students must include which post-secondary institution and tourism program (s) they are enrolled in
  • Are committed to lifelong learning
  • Willing to write a summary report and share their ideas and experiences with their community partners, consortia, chamber, colleges, etc.
  • Must be a first time applicant


The scholarship will pay 50% of a regular conference registration. All travel and accommodation expenses are the responsibility of the participant.


Applications are available here. All requests for funding support must be received by January 31st, 2018. Funds will be paid on your behalf directly to the Camrose Regional Exhibition.


Space is limited to 25 participants, and will be offered on a first come, first served basis to eligible applicants. The conference committee will review the applications and notify the successful candidates.

Our Partners

The Growing Rural Tourism Conference would not be possible if it was not for the generous support of our partners. We are extremely grateful for their help in making the Conference possible!

If you are interested in becoming a Partner/Sponsor of the Growing Rural Tourism Conference, please see the Partnership form by clicking here.

Please join us in thanking the following organizations:

Take a look back at last year's conference.

Last year's conference was a huge success with the theme "Ignite the Change". We are extremely excited about this year's conference where we will "Experience the Change".

11th Annual Awards Gala

The following awards will be given out on Wednesday February 21st during the 11th Annual Growing Rural Tourism Awards Gala:

  • Rural Champion Award
  • People's Choice Award
  • Rural Tourism Operator of the Year Award
  • Rural Tourism Community of the Year
  • Online Marketing Campaign Award


You can download the application for the 2018 Rural Champion Award by clicking here. Please note that the application deadline is February 1st, 2018.