Banff is crowded, but lack of international visitors leaves many businesses struggling
BANFF, Alberta. – A stroll along Main Street can make it seem like all is well in Banff’s tourism hot spot, where restaurant patios are full and nearby hiking trails are crowded on weekends.
But even as Alberta plans to drop nearly all COVID-19 restrictions on July 1, local businesses and the Banff National Park tourism board say they will be sorely lacking in international tourists for a second summer season of consecutive peak.
The sheer numbers are not the issue – there were 1.1 million visitors to the national park in the first half of 2021, just below the 1.2 million visitors in 2019 during the same period.
But many of those visitors in 2019 were from overseas, and Banff Lake Louise Tourism said Canadian visitors to the national park just don’t spend their money the same way.
“Albertans and Canadians as a whole are much more confident in exploring their own national parks, so they don’t seek this support like an interpretive guide or a bus tour,” said Leslie Bruce, President and CEO of the management of the tourist office.
Bruce said tour operators who guide visitors through the park have struggled to stay afloat throughout the pandemic, despite their efforts to attract Canadian consumers with new guided activities like electric biking and cycling. of Mountain.
She said hotels have also faced a drop in bookings as many visitors to Banff come from nearby cities like Calgary and will be taking a day trip rather than staying multiple nights.
While more Canadians may travel outside of Alberta this summer, the length of their stays is not yet clear.
“International visitors tend to stay longer and the big question we always ask ourselves… is how long will people be staying? Will they stay five nights? Bruce said.
“Or are they just passing through? I think that remains to be seen.
The effect of the border closures has been palpable at the Beaujolais Boutique B&B just off the city’s main road, Banff Ave.
Albert Moser, owner of the bed and breakfast, explains that his four-room property was booked during the summer in previous years.
This summer, it only managed to attract visitors on weekends after lowering its rates by 20%.
It receives several cancellations calls per week, as people who have optimistically booked from within the United States or overseas realize that Canada’s borders may not open in time for their end-of-year plans. summer.
On weekdays his property is empty and the 69-year-old said the current situation is only possible because he and his wife are the only people running the business.
Moser said he was grateful the widespread vaccination allowed him to open his doors after months of empty rest, and said locals were excited to return to his bed and breakfast several times over the course of ‘one summer.
But he said real change for the sector will only happen when borders are opened.
“As many bookings as I get, I also get cancellations – today I had 3 cancellations because people in the United States don’t know what’s going to happen,” Moser said.
“At some point, they have to make their plans, they won’t wait until later in the summer” for their moves to be confirmed, he added.
Meanwhile, for area restaurants, the onset of summer brings a sense of optimism, especially with Alberta’s plan to reopen quickly, meaning they can open with no capacity limit. ‘here the end of the week.
But most people in the Banff tourism industry use the phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” with a sense of dread.
Stéphane Prevost, chef and managing partner of Block Kitchen and Bar and Shoku Izakaya, said he felt things were improving last summer as well. The winter proved difficult, especially when Alberta entered a two-week lockdown in the spring.
This most recent lockdown “was a kick to the bottom zone for everyone,” he said.
“There was a feeling of resignation and frustration for most of the companies. “
He said 2020 ended with around 60% of the traffic they expected, but there is a real sense that things are moving forward now.
Each period of lockdown has had a huge impact on Banff, where about 90% of the economy is directly or indirectly linked to tourism, according to Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
Many tourism jobs disappeared immediately at the onset of the pandemic, sending foreign workers back to pack their bags and many Canadian workers to their hometowns.
Unemployment has skyrocketed to 85% at some point in the start of the pandemic, and hotel vacancy rates have jumped to 15% after falling to 0% at the start of 2020.
Despite the drastic impact on international travel, Bruce said very few companies have actually closed in the past year and a half, and only about four companies have officially told the board they are closing.
Looking ahead, she has a sense of optimism about Banff’s future as a destination, especially with how the pandemic has changed people’s relationship with the outdoors.
“The number of people who want to be outside has increased, and most importantly, we have the infrastructure to support that. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 27, 2021.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press