BANFF, ALTA. — Businesses in the Bow Valley rely on the millions of visitors that jam their roadways and towns each year, most of them visiting from outside of Canada.
Of course that all stopped abruptly last spring as the pandemic took root and nations around the world implemented travel restrictions.
In an area where rental vacancy for residents is typically close to zero, an estimated two per cent of long term rentals are now vacant. Despite significant discounts at hotels, there is an overall vacancy in excess of 80 per cent.
“We’re sitting at about 18 per cent occupancy in the hotels and normally we’d be in the mid-50’s for the December period, which shows you how quiet it is and the community just sort of lines up behind that,” says Leslie Bruce, president of Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
Nearly 11 months later, even some of the most successful businesses are struggling to hold on.
Discover Banff Tours once kept 27 busses full for much of the year, but last March the company was forced to lay off nearly 50 employees. They’ve since brought some back, now hovering around 20, but government subsidies are still one of their largest revenue streams.
“I would love to be spending my time doing things to drive the business rather than save the business, and that’s the situation we’re in right now,” says Daymon Miller, general manager for DIscovery Banff Tours.
“It’s not fun doing applications for subsidies.”
The tour operator is one of just a handful of companies that still has access to Johnston Canyon this winter. Despite its usual popularity, it’s now remarkably quiet. On Thursday just one guest was booked for a walk in the breathtaking canyon, on a tour that would normally be full.
Leslie Bruce, president of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, says that while there is no replacing the loss of international and out-of-province travellers, Albertans should think about the experiences that maybe they’ve overlooked in the past.
“Think about things like dogsledding — people come here from all over the world to experience it, but how many Albertans have ever done it?” she says.
“It’s also a chance to train the trainer by going with a local guide, maybe discover a new nook and cranny, or learn something you didn’t know.”
When friends and family start to visit again, Albertans can make their visits that much better by learning more about their own spectacular backyard.