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COVID-19: Optimism in Banff’s tourism industry for a busy summer ahead following slow year

Click to play video: 'Hotel operators in Banff optimistic for a busier summer' Hotel operators in Banff optimistic for a busier summer
Foot and vehicle traffic is returning to the tourist town of Banff, with hotels seeing an increase in bookings. As Jayme Doll reports, they still face huge uncertainty and some say the province’s messaging around COVID-19 restrictions isn’t helping – Mar 18, 2021

As the sun beats down on the snow pack it brings a promise of spring and a much-needed air of optimism to Banff’s tourism industry devastated by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

“Definitely, business is starting to pick up and I think the weather has a lot to do with that — spring fever is starting to kick in,” said Trevor Long, general manager at The Rimrock Resort Hotel.

Read more: Kenney clarifies he doesn’t encourage travel during pandemic despite thinking it’s safe, good for the economy

Hotel vacancies for 2020 were down 46 percent compared to the year before. But day visitation for 2021 is starting pick up to pre-pandemic levels on the weekends.

“Weekends we are definitely steady. Weekdays, it’s a bit up and down but it’s a good sign considering last year at this time we had no one coming through the door,” said Alex Howarth with The Old Spaghetti Factory.

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Hoteliers are starting to see an increase in demand in bookings from not only people from eastern Canada, but the United States and Britain.

“We are receiving calls every single day from people looking to come up to Canada in the summer months,” Long said, adding many had booked a year in advance and are still hoping borders will re-open by this summer.

It’s a hopeful trend others are also seeing in town.

“We are hearing from our partners in the UK, there’s a lot of demand there. They have money they have saved up, they are chomping at the bit and the Americans always want to come to the mountains,” said Cathy Geisler with Banff Lodging Co.

Between March and May of last year, Banff’s unemployment rate hovered around at 85 per cent. Many businesses are now looking to “bulk up” in anticipation of a busier summer.

“We are definitely looking to hire. We think that staffing could be a bit of a challenge so we are working hard now to do the recruiting,” said Geisler.

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

But the Alberta government is still urging people to stay close to home at least for now.

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“I strongly recommend against interprovincial travel for spring break,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Wednesday.

“It’s clear that in many other provinces, spread of COVID-19 and variant cases in particular are escalating and traveling at this time outside of the province risks further escalating that kind of spread.”

That is not the messaging those in the tourism industry were hoping for.

“It’s so hard for us to hear that,” said Leslie Bruce with Banff and Lake Louise Tourism.

“We respect the restrictions and what is being asked of us but we are so desperate to welcome people back to Banff and Lake Louise and that clarity of where we can go in and ask and invite people to come to visit that would be so helpful to us right now and it would give people a sense of hope,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Extended border closure another obstacle for Alberta Indigenous tourism industry' Extended border closure another obstacle for Alberta Indigenous tourism industry
Extended border closure another obstacle for Alberta Indigenous tourism industry – Sep 18, 2020

Long said it’s been challenging because some provinces aren’t giving the same advisories. Geisler said trying to make progress within the parameters of the restrictions has been the greatest hurdle.

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“Economically it’s critical, we need to get things moving again. We need people working, we need businesses generating money,” Geisler said.

For now, hotels will continue to take the bookings from anyone interested, and many businesses grateful to Albertans who have been coming, hope more will decide to stay a few nights as well.

“If Canadians would even spend two-thirds of what they would normally spend outside our country and travel within our own country, we can actually shave an entire year off of our recovery in this industry,” Bruce said. “Our plea across this country is to stay within this country and travel when restrictions are lifted.”

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