One of the most heavily impacted employment sectors in the COVID-19 pandemic has been tourism-related businesses.
With the sector one of the biggest – if not the largest – in the Bow Valley, the region has felt the pressure as some businesses have closed their doors and others face constant financial concern.
A huge aspect in propping up those businesses has been the subsidy and grant programs from the federal government throughout the last year-and-a-half. Without them, it would have been catastrophic to not only the businesses but the local municipalities. Local aid has also been invaluable in helping assist local businesses.
And as the government looks to ween off the COVID-19 financial support programs, those that are taking the place of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy are still needed for the foreseeable future.
The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery program will aid businesses, allowing for more people to get vaccinated and more time to allow recovery.
The role of tourism has seen greater exposure, with a new federal Ministry of Tourism being created on Tuesday's (Oct. 26) cabinet announcement. The provincial government is also aiming to expand tourism spending in Alberta twofold to about $20 billion a year by 2030.
As international borders are opening, with none more important than the American side, the long road to recuperation will be eased.
However, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis believes it will likely not be until 2023 or 2024 when the tourism field returns to its pre-COVID-19 financial and visitation numbers.
A study in the spring by Destination Canada forecasted tourism recovery is not expected until 2026, but with the Rocky Mountains a draw for tourists across the world, the region may rebound faster than many other locations.
The concern still remains.
Hotels in Banff and Lake Louise were only 27 per cent full in June followed by 53 per cent and 63 per cent full in July and August, respectively. Prior to the pandemic, they would have been at about 90 per cent capacity, according to statistics from Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
A report for the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association found the economic drop for local tourism businesses was between 40 and 90 per cent. It meant economic activity in Banff went from about $780 million in 2019 to $290 million in 2020, per the report.
The opening days of the pandemic saw Banff fall from nearly 100 per cent employment to 85 per cent unemployment almost overnight.
With borders closed, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis turned its attention to attracting visitation from within Canada, particularly from Ontario.
The move saw a significant increase in people coming from eastern Canada, but a return of international travel is still needed.
According to the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta, international travellers spend about $1,180 per visitor per visit, Americans fork out $900 per visit and Albertans contribute $157 per visit.
The 2016 tourism economic impact study launched by Banff, Jasper and Canmore estimated tourism in Canmore and Kananaskis adds about $345 million into the local economies and helps support 4,000 jobs.
The missing international workforce that the valley is reliant on is also decimating some businesses. A shortage of staff means some businesses have to close their doors some days without the employees to fill the hours of operation.
The foreign workforce makes up about a third of all employees in the hospitality field, leading to their lack of presence being felt.
Some employers have increased wages and created a bonus structure to entice new employees, with salaries often the greatest drawback to attaining a workforce.
It’s unlikely the valley’s economy will bounce back as quickly as everyone hopes, but the continued work of all parties is necessary in returning to pre-pandemic levels.