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Waterton Lakes National Park open for summer amid tight labour market

Click to play video: 'Waterton National Park business owners concerned' Waterton National Park business owners concerned
The summer tourism season at Waterton National Park is quickly picking up but a few local hotels and restaurants are having troubles. Jaclyn Kucey spoke with owners about their concerns – May 15, 2022

Waterton Lakes National Park has faced many challenges recently, from recovering from the Kenow Wildfire in 2017 and now the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a tighter than normal job market, some business owners in the town are finding it unusually difficult to fill seasonal roles.

“It’s been probably one of our most challenging years,” said Shameer Suleman, Bayshore Inn Resort and Spa owner.

Read more: Waterton Lakes National Park welcomes back bison displaced after Kenow wildfire

His hotel is one of the largest employers in the town and he usually hires around 155 workers. But Suleman said his hotel is less than 50 per cent staffed as of right now.

“Without foreign workers, I know all the parks are struggling,” said Suleman. “I know Banff and Jasper and Lake Louise, they’re struggling.

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“We’re all trying to get the same staff from the same place.”

He said he’s spent close to $70,000 posting advertisements on job search platforms, even offering increased wages and benefits for new hires but he hasn’t had much luck.

Click to play video: 'Waterton residents ready for summer tourist season' Waterton residents ready for summer tourist season
Waterton residents ready for summer tourist season – May 14, 2021

Wieners of Waterton’s Max Low said he’s seeing year-round businesses trying harder to retain employees who usually leave for the summer positions in Waterton.

“I’ve hired and lost employees before we’ve even started, many times already,” said Low.

Most smaller businesses like Tamarack Outdoors have been able to fill roles with locals, but owner Aynsley Baker said her concerns lie with tourism from the U.S.

“I feel like for Waterton, the business community is very symbiotic, we all need to be working and successful to do well,” said Baker. “If one piece is struggling or missing, that will affect us all.”

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Read more: Alberta’s tourism industry faces bumps in road to recovery plan

Last week, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced Chief Mountain Border Crossing will remain closed to manage wait times at busier ports of entry. Chief Mountain has been closed since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“People need to come through that border in order to get to Waterton in a timely fashion, and that’s affecting day-trippers, that’s affecting people coming to stay in hotels,” said Baker.

“I don’t think we’re alone in saying that this is very serious.”

Even with these challenges, the town of Waterton is excited and hopeful for a busy season.

With construction nearing the end of the rebuild after the Kenow Wildfire, Parks Canada advises travellers to plan ahead and avoid coming during peak times on weekends to have the best experience possible.

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