Rob: A new report from the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta is painting a pretty bleak picture of the effects of COVID-19 on our tourism industry and the potential for a lot of permanent business closures.

Tanya: It’s scary times for small and medium tourism-based businesses. They are operating at reduced capacity. Their revenues need to hit certain points in order for them to survive and and a lot of them are unsure if that’s actually going to happen.

Rob: There’s a number that are still closed. I’m thinking of, say, tour bus companies. How do you run a tour bus company right now? You can’t. Anything really that involves groups of people gathering together and anything that caters to the international tourism market. We’ve seen a lot more regional visitation, but we’re still at around half the number of vehicle traffic that enters and exits the Town of Banff on a given summer weekend. People might say that’s a great thing, that’s a little less busy for us locals, but really everything trickles down from that tourism traffic to our business community. When you don’t have the traffic that really puts the bottom line of a lot of businesses that pay quite a bit of money to do business here at risk. We’re not talking about the short term, although we might’ve seen some closures already, but we’re talking like by 2021, you could see 60 to 70% of tourism businesses closed down. Maybe there’s some government support that’s needed here.

Tanya: The government did come out with their long term economic recovery plan on Monday, but a lot of it focused on infrastructure spending and capital projects, classic government stimulus. I think the nature of the problems we’re facing require unique solution, so hopefully there’s more work to be done on recovery plans when it comes to tourism in this province. I think we’re going to hear a lot more about that as the summer goes on. The message I am hearing from the industry is we need to act now before closures happen.

Rob: Our local municipal governments are doing their best to try to help some businesses thrive while also letting people physically distance while visiting them. We’ve seen some pedestrian only areas in both Canmore and Banff. That whole Banff Avenue block closure has become a bit of a touchy subject with some of the businesses that don’t get to benefit from it directly.



Rob: The 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue are pedestrian only and we’ve seen businesses really take advantage of that. A lot of restaurants, for example, setting up tents and extra patio spaces to make sure their capacity can stay up. That’s great for the businesses that are located on the 100 and 200 blocks and ground level of Banff Avenue. But what about the rest?

Tanya: The issue here is fairness. This has been put together quite quickly. I would suggest that it’s still one of those works in progress, so I think it’s really great that businesses are providing feedback.

Rob: There’s been businesses on the 300 block of Banff Avenue that are saying “What about us, too?” I think Bear Street is another area. They have a double whammy because that’s under construction to make it a very pedestrian friendly experience, but the whole idea behind making Bear Street pedestrian friendly was to attract people off Banff Avenue onto Bear Street and to help those businesses out. Now, Banff Avenue is the pedestrian friendly experience so it’s sort of having the opposite effect, but this is a very opposite and unusual year.

Tanya: With the slow year that was expected, back in March, council made the decision to move forward with the Bear Street project, thinking that at reduced traffic levels and visitor levels it would be less of a inconvenience, but it further compounds the economic negatives of COVID for those businesses because everyone’s on Banff Avenue still. Bear Street isn’t getting the love, even though everything that’s being done on Bear Street right now is to help it get more love.

Rob: The way I see it, municipal governments can only do so much for so many people. You can’t do everything for everybody, right? You can try to do what you can on the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue, the two busiest areas, to help those businesses with social distancing. I mean, it would be amazing if we could just make Banff all pedestrian only and have some sort of park and ride system. We’re getting close to that point, but trying to implement something like that in a short period of time is pretty unrealistic.

Filed under: Banff, covid-19, Mountain Insider