Post May long weekend and it is that clear, silly season has officially begun.Like welcoming chaos-prone houseguests into your home each year, the Bow Valley hosts the world every single day, but never is it more acute than during the busy, or as some say, silly season.
It is simple math, more people means more things happening. More people outside on trails, on sidewalks and in intersections, more wildlife activity and conflict, more rescues and emergencies, more traffic and less parking – cumulatively it puts a strain on our communities, our emergency services and our patience at times.
It is officially National Tourism Week in Canada and as officials at provincial and federal levels of government take the time to celebrate this industry and the people who work hard everyday to be successful, perhaps we should also reflect on the complex issues we face as tourism-based communities.
Three specific examples are top of mind – Banff, Canmore and Jasper. Together with approximately a 30,000 population base, these three destinations and resort communities generate one third of visitor spending in the province of Alberta each year, to the tune of around $3 billion.
Both the federal and provincial governments receive the benefits of the tax revenues from this economic engine – taking 97 per cent of all government income generated from tourism spending, according to reports commissioned by our communities to better understand this issue.
But when it comes to the lion’s share of services, programs and infrastructure that tourists use while they are in the Bow Valley, it is the municipal governments that are responsible for providing them. While municipalities can obtain grant funds from federal and provincial governments for projects, and there are fees for services. Residents are the primary source of funding for covering operational and capital costs as property taxpayers.
Despite more than a decade of lobbying, studies and repeated meetings with ministers and mayors to advocate for a better system – the only traction achieved so far was as a result of the 2026 Winter Olympic Games bid – and that didn’t last very long either.
While National Tourism Week is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the success of this industry, it should also be an opportunity to engage higher levels of government in the conversation around how we can improve and do better together.
Conversations that acknowledge the complex issues that face an industry of industries, like understanding the cumulative effect of increased human activity on the landscape, the effects of climate change and the social costs of amenity migration.
The Bow Valley and our situation in the world puts us in a precarious situation when it comes to the future, as there are many layers of implications from these challenges. We are at a greater risk of extreme weather, including wildfire, and there seems to be no shortage of wildlife conflicts as humans and animals try to share the same spaces. While the most expensive place to reside in the province is our home and there is great wealth in this community, we struggle with a lack of affordable and available housing and watch a slow erosion of our social fabric as people choose to relocate to towns where they struggle less to survive.
And yet we persist. As communities full of people who have deep pride and love of place, we struggle to see the effects of tourism on our lives and values.
There is still hope and we have many who are working toward building a community where everyone is welcome and able to thrive.
It would be nice to see other levels of government share this complex, and at times overwhelming workload and do more than just pay lip service to the tourism industry one week of the year.