Banff hit hard by pandemic but the tourist town pushes on

The morning sun casts a warm orange glow on Mt. Norquay, foreshadowing the season ahead. Labour Day marks the final long weekend of the summer.

“Everyone has been suffering,” said Andre Quenneville, the resort’s general manager.

“Our number are down for sure. It’s mostly Calgarians, Edmontonians.”

Banff’s tourism industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Mt. Norquay has had to tighten up spending but is pushing through to the ski season ahead, with high hopes of having enough snow made to open by Halloween.

“We are going to be hiring a lot less staff because we are planning on not as many snow school programs this winter, not as many other things,” Quenneville said.

Banff Avenue has been closed to vehicles to give pedestrians more space. Businesses have filled up the road with tables and chairs, creating temporary patios.

Everyone must wear a mask on this popular strip — even outside. But the strip will go back to vehicle traffic mid-month and uncertainty hovers in the air along with the crispness of autumn.

“We have rising anxiety,” said B Watson, owner of The Radiant. The lounge and stage opened its doors for the first time in June. Launching a new business in the time of global pandemic has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride.

“It’s been really disconcerting. We really don’t know what to expect going forward.”

According to Banff Lake Louise Tourism, vehicle counts through the park gates decreased only about 15 per cent in July compared to 2019. But the numbers are much lower when counting the number of vehicles actually coming into the Banff townsite, down 69 per cent in July and 24 per cent in August compared to the summer before.

Fewer vehicles mean fewer people staying overnight.

“When we look at our hotel occupancy numbers, July was about 46 per cent. Typically, it’s 90-plus per cent in July and August so obviously it decreased quite a bit from last year,” said Angela Anderson with Banff Lake Louise Tourism.

“So what we saw was quite a few day visitors coming in enjoying the outdoors but not as many people staying overnight or staying for their vacation.”

But many are just happy they are open after being closed in the spring.

“It has been a hard time compared to previous summers but we are going to move forward,” said Peter Dubeau, general manager of Banff Lodging Co.

“Larch season is coming, bike season is still awesome, the mosquitoes are all dying,” he said with a laugh.

Banff businesses are hoping Canadians will take advantage of the lower rates, fewer people and choose to tackle the next season, the next mountain, in the Canadian Rockies.

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