A check-in on Alberta’s tourism industry shows a rocky road ahead to recovery.
From hotels to event operators to small, unique tourist offerings, the industry continues to feel the pain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel Alberta CEO David Goldstein told a large crowd at a tourism-based townhall Wednesday that there is a plan for the embattled industry, but it doesn’t come without challenges. Something he isn’t surprised by.
“First industry affected (by COVID-19) — last one to recover.”
The crowd heard how the industry went from generating $8.2 billion pre-pandemic to a low of $4.7 billion when there were strict public health measures in place. It is expected to rebound somewhat this year, bringing in about $5.2 billion.
But Goldstein added that is only if travel to Alberta rebounds, especially when it comes to much sought after American visitors and other international travellers.
“There’s a ton of pent-up demand,” he said about travel to the province. “But there’s also going to be a lot of competition.
“There will be destinations around the world trying to compete for that visitor dollar.”
Darren Reeder with the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta agreed travellers and the tourism sector are optimistic, but he added everyone is also cautious.
“People are ready to go, they’re excited to go and the shift in attitude is palpable the last couple of weeks,” he told Global News. “But I don’t think anyone is naive to the fact that things could change.
“This is the industry — more than any other industry — that has had to adapt multiple times.”
Nicole Egli knows all about adapting. She started Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures, billed as a unique way to see Calgary and area, in 2015.
“If you’re riding in the sidecar of my motorcycle, you can look around, get the wind in your face, smell what this place is like,” she described. “And we’ll tell you the history and we’ll tell you some great little secrets.”
She was hoping her home-based business would take off, and it did — up until COVID hit and she had to hit the brakes.
“It was tough. It was really tough,” she said.
“Every time, we tried to reboot, then had to pull back again. Then tried to reboot, then had to pull back again. It’s unfortunate.”
It’s been a financial and emotional hit to Egli and her husband, but they persevered and are now starting to slowly see bookings again heading into the fall.
Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures would like to see the province provide marketing dollars to showcase small, unique tourism businesses to draw attention to them as well as the larger ones.
Tourism Alberta told Global News it is working on marketing the industry to bring visitors back and has a three-year plan for a full recovery by 2023-24.
But Reeder said getting visitors isn’t the industry’s only challenge. It is also facing a huge labour shortage and workers are needed to service those visitors.
“It’s going to be monumentally hard (to find qualified staff),” he said. “People left the industry entirely and others have left the industry to go to other areas of the country. Still others have gone home to their home country.”
Reeder said the provincial government and other levels of government have to invest in bringing workers back to stay.
He’s asking for a “well-publicized plan” so everyone knows which road to take to recovery.