Alberta’s tourism industry faces daunting path to rebuild lost workforce

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Alberta’s tourism industry faces daunting path to rebuild lost workforce
The tourism sector said staffing challenges are being felt right across the country and it will take time to rebuild. Tom Vernon takes a look at how Alberta's industry is faring. – Jun 9, 2022

Before the gates were even opened at Fort Edmonton Park on a sunny and warm Thursday morning, hundreds of kids were lined up waiting to get in. A flurry of field trips late in the school year means the park is in high demand, making for busy days right from the get-go for its staff.

“It’s kind of been all hands on deck,” senior vice president of customer experience Renee Williams tells Global News.

“Our full-time team, our crew that are here year-round, tend to jump in at those moments when we don’t necessarily have all the staff in place to help get the job done.”

Every summer that full-time team is supported by a large group of seasonal staffers — mostly high school and college students, plus retirees, who get into period-specific costumes to act as interpreters, operate the train and work in other support roles.

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This year, they have been hard to come by.

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“Cashiers, admissions, in some of those areas we definitely did see a bit of a lag in terms of the recruitment process,” Williams said.

Fort Edmonton Park isn’t alone in this challenge. The tourism sector says these staffing challenges are being felt right across the country, and it will take time to rebuild.

READ MORE: Alberta’s tourism industry faces bumps in road to recovery plan

“It could take up to ten years to get back to where we were pre-pandemic,” said Darren Reeder with the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta.

The tourism industry was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with lengthy closures and other restrictions leading to layoffs.

Many of those workers have moved on to other sectors, and Reeder warns that will impact the ability of tourism operators to fully reopen.

“This is a business model built on the foundation of people, so not having people at the root of what we have to sell means we’re not able to generate the economic impact we were pre-pandemic,” Reeder said.

The federal government is currently in consultations on a new tourism growth strategy, and the industry says rebuilding the workforce has to be a central theme in the final report.

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“Through, say, immigration for example,” said Philip Mondor, the President and CEO of Tourism HR Canada.

Travel restrictions have played a role in the staffing crunch, with many workers from Europe and Australia simply not coming to Canada to work in areas like the mountain parks. Mondor says there are options here at home as well.

“More investments in programs to help groups that are not so represented in the labour market, like Indigenous workers and people with disabilities,” Mondor said.

There are jobs available, the industry hopes it can fill enough of them to kickstart the rebuild of the damaged sector.

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