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Banff hit hard by pandemic but the tourist town pushes on

Click to play video 'COVID-19 Pandemic: Canada’s tourist ghost-towns' COVID-19 Pandemic: Canada’s tourist ghost-towns
WATCH: The loss of foreign nationals due to COVID-19 and the Canada-U.S. border closure is driving a downward trend regarding tourism, particularly in Banff, Alberta. Jayme Doll reports.

The morning sun casts a warm orange glow on Mt. Norquay, foreshadowing the season ahead. Labour Day marks the final long weekend of the summer.

Read more: Coronavirus: What does Banff look like without international tourism?

“Everyone has been suffering,” said Andre Quenneville, the resort’s general manager.

“Our number are down for sure. It’s mostly Calgarians, Edmontonians.”

Banff’s tourism industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Mt. Norquay has had to tighten up spending but is pushing through to the ski season ahead, with high hopes of having enough snow made to open by Halloween.

“We are going to be hiring a lot less staff because we are planning on not as many snow school programs this winter, not as many other things,” Quenneville said.

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Click to play video 'COVID-19: Banff looks at mandatory masks after unanticipated busy summer visitation' COVID-19: Banff looks at mandatory masks after unanticipated busy summer visitation
COVID-19: Banff looks at mandatory masks after unanticipated busy summer visitation

Banff Avenue has been closed to vehicles to give pedestrians more space. Businesses have filled up the road with tables and chairs, creating temporary patios.

Everyone must wear a mask on this popular strip — even outside. But the strip will go back to vehicle traffic mid-month and uncertainty hovers in the air along with the crispness of autumn.

Read more: Quiet Canada Day in Banff as businesses struggle to stay open

“We have rising anxiety,” said B Watson, owner of The Radiant. The lounge and stage opened its doors for the first time in June. Launching a new business in the time of global pandemic has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride.

“There [have] been some weeks that’s been great. The response is really wonderful, we get so many visitors. And then there [are] some weeks it’s been so dead quiet.
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“It’s been really disconcerting. We really don’t know what to expect going forward.”

According to Banff Lake Louise Tourism, vehicle counts through the park gates decreased only about 15 per cent in July compared to 2019. But the numbers are much lower when counting the number of vehicles actually coming into the Banff townsite, down 69 per cent in July and 24 per cent in August compared to the summer before.

Click to play video 'Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces' Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces
Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces

Fewer vehicles mean fewer people staying overnight.

“When we look at our hotel occupancy numbers, July was about 46 per cent. Typically, it’s 90-plus per cent in July and August so obviously it decreased quite a bit from last year,” said Angela Anderson with Banff Lake Louise Tourism.

“So what we saw was quite a few day visitors coming in enjoying the outdoors but not as many people staying overnight or staying for their vacation.”

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But many are just happy they are open after being closed in the spring.

Read more: Alberta tourism industry report highlights urgent need for help

“It has been a hard time compared to previous summers but we are going to move forward,” said Peter Dubeau, general manager of Banff Lodging Co.

“Larch season is coming, bike season is still awesome, the mosquitoes are all dying,” he said with a laugh.

Banff businesses are hoping Canadians will take advantage of the lower rates, fewer people and choose to tackle the next season, the next mountain, in the Canadian Rockies.