The number of international arrivals in Canada continues to increase with the easing of travel restrictions and that’s good news for retailers and small business owners operating in tourist destinations such as Banff, Alberta.
And more people traveling within the country is also a positive sign for tourist areas which were impacted in the past two years with business closures and restrictions.
Paul Shaw, Interim Director, Media & Communications, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism, said visitation for 2022 is off to a really strong start as Banff National Park visitation for the first quarter was 666,222, which is the highest number the area has seen in at least seven years.
“Indicators are telling us we are going to have a strong summer season,” he said, adding that visitation overall to the National Park in 2021 was higher than 2020 (3.6 million in 2021 versus 2.9 million in 2020) but not higher than 2019 (3.9 million).
“Closures and restrictions, while necessary at times, took a heavy toll. The lack of international visitors left many businesses struggling and the smaller businesses were hardest hit,” he said. “Tour operators who guide visitors through the park had a difficult time staying afloat through the pandemic, despite appealing to Canadian consumers with new guided activities like e-biking and mountain biking. Hotels had far fewer bookings during the pandemic. Average occupancy was 41 per cent in 2021, compared to 71 per cent in 2019.
“There are good indicators of recovery. Banff and Lake Louise have been recovering faster than some other places, but we can’t be complacent. The industry needs continued support from government, there are labour challenges to address, and we have an important role in marketing the destination. We need the continued return of international visitors for a full recovery, and the signs there are positive. We know there’s a great demand for travel and that travelers are looking for nature, wide open spaces and outdoor activities. That’s exactly what we have to offer, and we expect to be a popular destination this summer.
“A lot of small businesses felt frustrated by the uncertainty the pandemic brought over the past two years. Looking ahead, there’s a sense of optimism about the future. With that in mind, we’re excited to be developing a 10-year Tourism Master Plan, working with businesses and our community to create a shared vision for the future of tourism in Banff National Park.”
Michael Kehoe, broker/owner of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate, who leases retail space in the mountain resort, said the Banff/Lake Louise market is recovering faster than other resort markets in Canada.
“They’re expecting a strong summer with strong numbers of day visitation and they’re also expecting the international market to come back in a robust way,” said Kehoe.
“The regional customer for Banff/Lake Louise has always been the bread and butter, that rubber tire market has always been strong in Banff and they expect that to continue this year. There are continuing challenges with labour in the resort markets.
“On the commercial real estate side, vacancy rates are extremely low. Traditionally, there hasn’t been a lot of turnover. Throughout the pandemic period there’s been very little turnover on the retail and the food service side and rental rates have remained stable and escalated for prime locations. And there’s strong demand for national and international brands for good locations, especially in the apparel category.”
Retailers located in tourist destinations across Canada are buoyed by the increasing numbers of travelers today. According to Statistics Canada, in March, the number of international arrivals to Canada increased compared with March 2021, but remained below 2019 levels, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While residents of overseas countries made over five times the trips to Canada in March 2022 than during the same month in 2021, it was under half (43.0 per cent) of the trips observed in March 2019,” said the federal agency.
US residents made almost five times the trips to Canada in March 2022 than in March 2021. However, this represented less than one-third (31.9 per cent) of the trips taken in the same month in 2019, it added.
“In February, the Government of Canada announced a phased easing of travel requirements issued in late 2021 to combat the Omicron variant. As of February 28, travellers entering Canada were given the option of providing a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test, taken the day prior to their scheduled flight or arrival at the land border,” explained StatsCan, adding that restrictions as to where international passenger flights could arrive in Canada were lifted, and such flights were, once again, permitted to land at all international Canadian airports.
Kehoe said there is a lot of pent-up demand from everywhere for travel and for outdoor adventure experiences, dining and shopping.
“In the resort markets, art galleries have done extremely well and the food and beverage was the first to recover as we emerged from the pandemic. People were out drinking at the bars and pubs, going out for dinner. So that’s been a positive factor that we’ve noticed,” he said.
“What we’ve heard in other resort markets in Canada like Jasper or Whistler or Niagara on the Lake, sales are robust, there’s strong footfall and demand for space is very high.”