Now more than ever, the Bow Valley needs to invest the time and effort into determining the economic future of tourism in this region.
With a new coronavirus pandemic grinding regional, national and international travel to a halt mid-March, the future of tourism is a topic of conversation that has never been as important to our communities as it is now.
You can tell how important it is by the fact there are multiple task forces being struck at all levels of government to chart a strategic direction for this $10 billion industry in Alberta.
Research has found that one third of visitor spending in the province happens in the mountain communities of Canmore, Banff and Jasper. That means tourism in our valley is a billion dollar industry. Millions of dollars in spending per day by visitors has evaporated due to COVID-19 restrictions, and understanding what the future plans for the industry will be is the best way elected and tourism officials can support our local economy.
Our local business owners are struggling, but being able to reopen with the phased relaunch of the economy is a good sign, even though it comes with a host of complicated social distancing and sanitizing requirements at the same time.
For those who would choose to keep businesses shuttered to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading further, the reality is that if many were not allowed to open now, they may close for good. The survival of our small business economy is also an important factor for consideration, as well as ensuring vulnerable populations are protected from infection.
We can do both. Our business community is hard-working and resilient – they will adapt to meet the requirements of this new reality.
One way the community can support that is by engaging in the discussions of what tourism should look like post-COVID-19. We have an opportunity as a valley to be innovators and leaders in this multi-billion dollar global industry.
The vision put forward for Canmore, for example, is to become a global leader in sustainable tourism over the next 10 years. But what that looks like depends entirely upon the community getting involved, engaged and willing to work hard to achieve our shared goals.
Banff is exceptionally well positioned already as a leader in this industry – nationally and internationally. But that community's history as service centre for visitors has been long established and its destination marketing organization has what others envy – a secured long-term funding source through the business registry.
As this valley engages in this conversation, however, it is worthwhile to note that if sustainability and the environment are cornerstones of our local tourism product, the UCP government is working hard to put a dent in it. The greatest threat to tourism may just be our current provincial government's environmental record.
Earlier this month, the government repealed legislation from the 1970s that prohibited open pit coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This week, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage remarked now is the right time to build a pipeline, because measures to prevent an infectious disease from spreading in the general population prohibits protesting.
These are just two examples of how our province's reputation on the world stage is at risk. Just like foreign investors are reconsidering putting their money into Alberta's energy industry, international visitors will also be asking whether or not this is where they should be spending their dollars on future vacations.
This valley is situated within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the crown jewel of our provincial tourism industry. But visitors come here to experience nature and that core product won't look as good sitting on the shelf next to open-pit coal mines and increased energy exploration in adjacent natural areas.
With this kind of environmental leadership out of Edmonton, Bow Valley residents should get ready to engage in some blunt discussions around the future of tourism.