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Letter: Park management versus business management

Editor: No question that popular destinations around the world are suffering from increased crowding.


No question that popular destinations around the world are suffering from increased crowding. Cathy Ellis correctly cites some of the contributing factors, “retired boomers, regional population growth, … [increasing] middle class incomes,” etc. But there is another critical basis for the unresolved conflicts among visitor numbers, visitor experience, and park protection in Banff National Park. And that is the—so far—irreconcilable difference between two dominant ideologies:  park management principles and business management basics.

Businesses serving visitors to Banff National Park seek to maximize their profits; and that means maximizing the number of daily customers. Ideally, hotel beds and restaurant tables would be filled to capacity every day of the year. So travel associations and tax-payer funded agencies seek to attract enough visitors to ensure just that. What happens if there are no beds or tables at a particular tourist venue when a family arrives? The proprietor doesn’t suffer, and likely just sends them somewhere else. So, Banff’s businesses aim to attract enough customers to ensure they are bursting at the seams. And a fully-booked motel or restaurant—a joy to the proprietor—doesn’t pose any particular inconvenience to the traveler.

But “bursting at the seams” is exactly the problem that exasperates—and turns away—travelers and locals at Johnson Canyon, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Larch Valley, and at a growing list of other park destinations on a regular basis.

So, until Banff businesses recognize the obvious downsides of their ideological goal and that “bursting at the seams” isn’t particularly good for park vistas, trails, parking lots, wildlife, and ecological wonders, this “grappling with high visitation” will go on. And overall visitor satisfaction will continue to decline. So, after the latest addition of 170 beds in Banff, what else is in the works?

Best regards,

Jim & Valerie Pissot