Banff ready to welcome tourists again with border opening


“We are seeing things accelerate, but we know that the domestic market is really not enough to supply the summer income that we will need to survive next winter.”

BANFF – The local tourism industry has had a boost with the federal government’s plan to welcome US visitors again this summer and international travelers in the fall.

Provided vaccination rates continue to rise and COVID-19 cases continue to decline, the Canada-U.S. Border will open to fully vaccinated Americans on August 9 and to fully vaccinated international visitors on September 7.

“I cannot stress how excited we are,” said Leslie Bruce, President and CEO of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism.

“The ability to have a line of sight through August 9 and September 7 is so necessary for us to take a leap of faith to truly rekindle ourselves.”

The Canada-U.S. Border was closed to non-essential travel on March 21, 2020 as the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis began to be felt around the world.

As a result, the tourism industry, including Banff where tourism is the sole economic driver, has been particularly affected.

Bruce said many Americans who had previously booked vacations to Banff and Lake Louise have already transferred them once or twice.

“A lot of companies that have reservations in the US are finally going to be able to say ‘OK, come back’, so that’s really positive,” she said.

“We are seeing things accelerate, but we know that the domestic market is really not enough to supply the summer income that we will need to survive next winter.”

While Banff is crowded, especially on weekends, the lack of international visitors leaves many businesses struggling as they have different spending habits.

According to the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta, international travelers spend about $ 1,180 per visitor per visit, Americans spend $ 900 per visit, and Albertans pay $ 157 per visit.

Hotels have had to deal with bookings below pre-pandemic levels when occupancy was full, as many regional visitors to Calgary and surrounding areas typically take day trips rather than staying multiple nights.

Officials from the Banff and the Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA) said hotel occupancy rates in June almost quadrupled from the number of rooms sold in June 2019 before the pandemic.

In addition, they say that May, as another example as summer approaches, was about a seventh of the registered occupancy for the same period in 2019.

“Without the presence of international visitors at this time of year, the destination sees most of its bookings squeeze on weekends,” said Darren Reeder, executive director of BLLHA.

When the pandemic hit Canada in March 2020, around 80% of Banff’s workforce was laid off, forcing Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and workers from other countries to return home.

As workers from Ontario and Quebec showed up for summer jobs this year, Bruce said the destination is also excited about the prospect of once again welcoming some of its international workforce. .

“It is a very important element to revive the economy,” she said.

“People have been able to find manpower, but as things develop and accelerate we are like everyone else in this country and short of adequate manpower. “

With Canada’s borders reopening, all travelers, regardless of their vaccine status, will still need a COVID-19 molecular test prior to entry.

However, as of August 9, fully vaccinated travelers will not need testing after arrival, unless they have been randomly selected by border officials to take a Day 1 COVID-19 test.

The three-night government-authorized hotel stay requirement will be waived for all travelers arriving by air on August 9.

To support the new measures, five additional airports will open for international flights – Halifax Stanfield, Quebec Jean Lesage, Ottawa Macdonald – Cartier, Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport; and Edmonton International Airport.

“Border measures also remain subject to change as the epidemiological situation evolves,” said the federal government’s statement of July 19.

Reeder said a predictable path to reopen the border and re-invite international visitors is key to the survival of Canada’s tourism industry.

“The announcement is an important step, putting the visitor economy back on the path to economic recovery and allowing our destination to resume its important role of presenting this special place to the world,” he said.

“It’s important for our tourism industry to have clear dates to welcome back customers from all over the world. We are an area that needs time to prepare, although tourism operators in Banff National Park have been safely welcoming regional guests for some time.

Meanwhile, Bruce describes the past 16 months as unlike anything you’ve ever imagined.

“It was pure devastation for all aspects of our industry, all aspects of the supply chain and demand – it completely broke, and I was so concerned with how people are doing. get out of that experience, ”she said.

“It is unimaginable that people have literally shut down or shut down their businesses for a year, which has happened to some people to get out of it and try again this summer.”

While extremely grateful for government financial support such as wage subsidies, rent relief, and loan programs, businesses are beginning to worry that these programs are ending.

“I take that from a number of people, who are feeling, ‘oh my God, am I going to make it? Are we going to do enough this summer and will we get there if those supports are gone? Bruce said.

“We had the third wave, and so for May and June we haven’t seen any improvement over last year, so it now all boils down to July, August and September – and that’s really a high pressure. “

While Destination Canada and Tourism Economics don’t expect Canada’s tourism economy to rebound to pre-pandemic levels until 2025, Bruce said she is confident Banff could rebound sooner.

She said Banff and Lake Louise have what a lot of people are looking for – great outdoors, a safe and secure destination, travel and wellness activities such as hiking, biking, meditation, water sports. consciousness and nature.

“Due to the nature of the place, we are really hoping that the rebound will happen in two two three years, more like 2023-24,” she said.

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