From the downtown Calgary hotels that went days without power to the Kananaskis golf courses and Bragg Creek gift shops that remain shuttered even now, Alberta’s $7.8-billion tourism industry – which depends on the busy summer months – has not escaped unscathed from the floods of 2013.
“There’s no question that we’re going to see a reduction in the number of visitors and a reduction in terms of revenue,” said Bruce Okabe, CEO of Travel Alberta. “About 33 per cent of that $7.8 billion in tourism revenue is generated in July, August, and September. These three months are absolutely critical months for us.”
Okabe said it’s too soon to put a dollar value on the losses. But he said when the numbers are tallied at the end of the year, the results may be better than anyone who spent the last week of June watching flood images on the news could have anticipated.
“I’ve been very happily surprised at how quickly this industry has bounced back here in Alberta,” he said. “We are open for business – that’s the message we’re sending.”
At this stage in the game, much of the evidence is purely anecdotal. But Calgary hoteliers say their vacancy rates are basically back to normal.
“Going into this, there were a lot of unknowns,” said Calgary Hotel Association president Leanne Shaw-Brotherston. “But from the hotels perspective, we are not seeing a slowdown. Most of the hotels are back to what they would have forecasted before the flood.”
Gisele Danis, vice-president of marketing and communications for Tourism Calgary, said local attractions like Heritage Park and Calaway Park are reporting strong numbers, and visitor numbers from international and national markets look good.
“We took a hit during the 10 days of the flood – there were definitely people who shifted their travel – but we’re seeing that rebounding. In fact, our partners at Air Canada are also recording a positive comeback in travel,” Danis said. Still, there are challenges remaining.
While travellers from afar are visiting Alberta, Albertans themselves appear to be staying closer to home. Danis said the decline in the regional travel market may be because Albertans are simply too busy cleaning up their own homes or helping their neighbours.
Then there is the issue of the Calgary Zoo. The city’s biggest tourist attraction (a record 1.45 million visitors passed through the zoo’s gates in 2012) remains closed as it works to repair an estimated $50 million in damages. One portion of the zoo is expected to reopen at the end of the month but, while the facility remains closed, it is losing an estimated $160,000 per day.
“It is our signature, iconic tourism attraction,” Danis said. “So we’re doing whatever we can to help them. We’re so happy they’re opening in stages, and we’re so happy they didn’t lose the penguins, because that was their most popular attraction.”
Outside of the city, Tulene Steiestol – Director of Marketing and Communications at Tourism Canmore Kananaskis – said there are ‘no vacancy’ signs on many of the region’s hotels.
“The hotels are seeing a bounceback, but what we would really like to see is more people coming into the downtown core and visiting our restaurants and stores. I think they’re the ones who are still feeling a bit of a pinch,” she said.
Rose Dallyn – owner of the PowderHorn Saloon in Bragg Creek – recently reopened after being closed for 22 days and replacing the bar’s flood-damaged kitchen, office, floors, and walls. Dallyn said the saloon has been busy, but most of the faces she’s seeing are locals, not out-of-towners.
“Tourism is down for sure. People think Bragg Creek is closed,” she said. “The summer’s half-gone already, so all the gift shops and everyone else are working desperately hard to get open.”
Valerie Knowlton, owner of the Canadian Artisans Bed and Breakfast in Canmore, said the community’s downtown looks busy. Still, she had five cancellations in July. She said she thinks some tourists are still a little leery.
“I know people who have come and have said, ‘oh my gosh, it’s much better than I expected.’ But there was just so much coverage at the time (of the flood),” Knowlton said. “I had some of our past B and B guests from England calling us to see how we were. They were worried about us, because there was even coverage in England about our little town. So it has definitely impacted us.”