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Summer review: Tourism hit hard in Alberta and Saskatchewan

According to the tourist organization Travel Alberta, accommodation, catering and transport were the three categories most affected by the pandemic this summer, during a tourist season that took a long time to start… so as not to really take off. In Saskatchewan, the President and CEO of the Hotel and Hospitality Association, Jim Bence, has meanwhile confirmed a catastrophic 2020 summer season for the province. In short, a summer hit in the heart by the pandemic, despite the small aid from governments.

Inès Lombardo – Local Journalism Initiative – APF – West

If the tourism actors in the two provinces find themselves on one point, it is this one: no profit was made by the various tourism sectors this summer.

While local campaigns have been launched to urge Albertans and Saskatchewanians to rediscover their region locally, visits from Canadians from other provinces have been timid in Saskatchewan. Alberta would have attracted more, thanks to the famous Canadian Rockies. There were many aspirations for the great outdoors during the pandemic.

“Very few companies have been able to pull their pins out of the game.”

According to the director of tourism development and entrepreneurship of Alberta Economic Development Council (CDÉA), Julie Fafard, “the terraces saved the season”. However, she stresses that even the businesses that were functioning could not make a profit, since none was open to its optimal capacity because of the measures that we know. “Very few of them have been able to pull out of the game. If they did, it is because they had a certain reputation and strong enough backs to get through”, explains the director.

The Director of Tourism Development and Entrepreneurship of the Alberta Economic Development Council, Julie Fafard. Credit: Courtesy

Receipts from food and beverage services began to decline significantly as early as March. In April, the level of loss was 58.4% compared to 2019. However, despite a rebound in June-July with respective declines of 25.8% and 19.4% compared to the 2019 figures issued by Statistics Canada, all the same, these services recorded nearly 27% less revenue than last year. The employment rate also fell in the hotel and restaurant industry, especially in June with 34.7% compared to 2019 data.

In Saskatchewan, where Regina and Saskatoon are the busiest cities, income per room has fallen by half, as Jim Bence points out. As of July 2019, the income was $ 67 in Regina and $ 77 in Saskatoon. These two figures rose to $ 34 and $ 39 respectively.

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Government aid: “It’s already very good to have had something. “

These falls are explained more by the fact that in Alberta as in Saskatchewan, visitors from other provinces came in scattered clusters, given the measures and apprehension of traveling out of province during a pandemic. Then, the cities would have been deserted in favor of the countryside, as Julie Fafard and Jim Bence have observed, each in his own province. “The city centers have suffered the most,” testifies the latter.

Jim Bence. Crédit photo   courtoisie
The President and CEO of the Hotel and Hospitality Association, Jim Bence. Credit: Courtoise

The Government of Saskatchewan provided the provincial tourism industry with $ 35 million in mid-August. “A real effort, when the government was grappling with priorities in terms of health, support for income. But we certainly expected more support, ”says Bence.

For its part, Travel Alberta would have received $ 17 million from both levels of government. “It’s already great to have had something, but it’s not enough,” says Travel Alberta vice-president of business development Karen Soyka.

“In 2016, the government strongly believed in diversifying the Alberta economy through tourism,” continues Julie Fafard. A big subsidy gave fuel… We were in a good position to better discuss with the big players. The government has since changed and a month ago it deleted the tourism section of the ministry. Tourism is now included in the jobs, economy and innovation portfolio. It demotivates us. The big players in tourism in the province are upset ”.

Preparation restricted by the situation

Both provinces are trying to prepare for the fall / winter 2020 season, as best they can. Those who want to spend the winter in warm parts of the United States will not be able to do so this year. While the CDÉA will soon promote webinars to continue to be in contact with tourism operators, the director of the Hotel and Hospitality Association of Saskatchewan sees the near future with a dismal eye. “Normally this is the busiest season for us, as conferences and trade shows are restarting… I especially believe that the first quarter of 2021 will be a disaster,” predicts Jim Bence. He adds: “We continue to work, especially with the government. “

As for Julie Fafard and Karen Soyka, they explain that according to the guidelines set out by the provinces on travel restrictions, it would be inappropriate to push people to travel outside the province. “We will continue to address ourselves locally to tourism networks, perhaps evoke special days or a festival … We will adjust,” they say.