News / Calgary

Banff booms, but trouble looms

Labour shortage could put brakes on banner tourism year

Banff and Lake Louise have seen a sharp year over year growth in tourism. It's continued into the winter and is expected to continue to show strength in 2016.

Paul Zizka / Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Banff and Lake Louise have seen a sharp year over year growth in tourism. It's continued into the winter and is expected to continue to show strength in 2016.

There's a labour shortage in Banff - one that's the result of a strong greenback, favourable weather and changes to national immigration policy.

And it's only expected to get worse.

It's one of the bright spots in Alberta's struggling economy, as tourists continue to flock to the Banff and Lake Louise area, a boon for local businesses.

Darren Reeder, executive director of the Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association, called the last year in the national park "rock solid," and they expect that trend to continue in 2016.

"It was an electric atmosphere along Banff Avenue this summer. There was hustle, there was bustle, it was a reminder of those days when people arrived from the UK and other international markets… it felt very international, very festive," he said.

Reeder said room occupancy saw a four per cent growth year-over-year, an important indicator in showing not only visitation from tourists, but that visitors are staying in the area and spending dollars. They're even seeing growth in overnight stays during their so-called "slower months."  

Of course, a weaker Canadian dollar has helped the area "reconnect" with the US tourism market, and anecdotally Reeder said they've seen a greater number of US license plates showing up in the area through the summer and into the fall.

It's expected the strong growth will continue in 2016 and even 2017.

According to information from the Canada West Ski Areas Association, who represents 134 ski areas and 157 ski industry suppliers, they're enjoying some of the best revenue in years. Some resorts have seen a 200 per cent increase in US business alone.

Kurt Schroeder from Banff & Lake Louise Tourism said early numbers show 2016 could be stronger than 2015.

"I go back to all the trigger points in September, October, November - I go back to those and they continue to reflect, I would dare to say, potentially significant double digit growth.

Despite the boom times, Reeder said there's trouble on the horizon. Labour shortage continues to be a problem in the area and a 1/3 increase in attrition rates in their management ranks exacerbates it.

"Despite being an incredibly strong year for tourism, despite the fact we've had a lot of jobs to fill, we've had to make do with fewer and fewer people as a part of our labour force," he said.

He said money isn't the issue. As many are service industry jobs or in the housekeeping area, the response they get from applicants who don't take the open spots is often that they found something easier to do.

Further restriction from the government's changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program have limited the number of people willing to work in the Banff and Lake Louise area.

While they've managed to maintain a high level of service, he said it may not be sustainable. And it could turn one of the province's good news economic stories into a sorry tale.

"If we don't stabilize our labour force needs, then us being the bright light in the Alberta (economy) might start to diminish a little," Reeder said.