Banff’s hotel association is calling on local politicians and the tourism industry to work together to create a new carnival event to draw tourists to town in the dead of winter.
Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association (BLLHMA) wants the Town of Banff to approach Banff Lake Louise Tourism to build and establish a new carnival in February, along the lines of ‘Jasper in January’.
Officials say February is an ideal time to create a month-long celebration for the destination, capitalizing on Valentine’s Day, Family Day weekend and Reading Weeks at the Universities of Calgary and Alberta.
“February is a needs period. You could really put an emphasis on the month as a whole and drive more demand,” said Darren Reeder, BLLHMA executive director.
“The regional traveller at that time of year is coming to ski for the day and leaves in the evening, and we’re trying to create new and compelling reasons to make them stay the night.”
The tourism industry has gone through big changes in recent years, seeing more day-trippers making the trip to Banff, but less of the bigger spending long-haul travellers who spend four or five days here.
“On the one hand, we’re getting fewer of the destination travellers and they would spend at a rate of three or four times the regional market,” said Reeder.
“On the other side of this, we have the regional market who come through the park gates in tough economic times, but their propensity to stay overnight continues to decrease,” he added.
“We know they love Banff, but there’s just no sense of urgency to make this weekend the one to stay. The idea for a winter carnival is it would be something new and exciting and they can’t afford to miss it.”
The proposed winter carnival for February comes at a time the almost century-old Banff Winter Festival held each January faces an uncertain future.
The 10-day festival started in 1917 with a $500 grant from the federal government, while Canadian Pacific Railway scheduled trains from Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
It was a top winter festival that has evolved through the years, and at one time featured an ice palace, a women’s hockey tournament and the only outdoor swimming competition in Western Canada.
But the festival, which includes such events as the Mountain Madness Relay, the Lake Louise Loppet and the Jon Whyte Spelling Bee, is on the verge of collapse as there is no organizing committee.
In recent years, The Town of Banff has taken on responsibility of promoting many events in the festival, but last November a report from administration recommended cutting costs and staff time.
For 2011, council decided to provide advertising support for organizations promoting festival events and provide adequate resources for the coordination of Mountain Madness as well as support the organizers of the Lake Louise to Banff Cross Country Ski Loppet.
As well, they will further consider the coordination and support the Town may provide for future winter festivals.
“Banff has the opportunity to expand our Winter Festival. I encourage Tourism, BLLHMA, the community and Council to work together to enhance and build this event which can be promoted to visitors in a ‘need period’ like early February,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
Reeder said he believes the municipality could be a catalyst to launch a winter carnival that has the brand familiarity of “Jasper in January’.
He said BLLHMA recommends the Town should work through Banff Lake Louise Tourism to ensure its own visitor experience objectives are being met. “There are tremendous opportunities here,” he said.