Tourism industry optimistic about summer, but businesses need to find staff

After struggling through the pandemic, Alberta’s tourism sector is looking towards summer 2022, while trying to regain the staff it lost.

A town hall on the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector in Alberta took place Tuesday, with many optimistic.

“I see a lot of positivity. A lot of restaurants I’m talking to since the REP program has been lifted they say they have been busier, which is a great thing to hear,” said Vanessa De Oliveira, with Chef Table Living.

“They said they haven’t been as busy like that in a very long time.”

International visitors are expected to return to Alberta in the summer, which will be a welcome boost to the industry.

“The first point of true optimism we’ve had in nearly two years, we have enough predictive policy to work with that we understand international visitors will start to come back this summer,” said Darren Reeder, board advisor with the Tourism Industry Association of Alberta.

“This is what the industry has really been seeking the last two years, an understanding of when and under what conditions we’ll be able to open our borders to welcome people back so this is going to allow us the predictability we need to start to rebuild the labour force.”

Before the pandemic, tourism was an $8.2-billion industry. In 2020, that number dropped to around $4.7 billion and rose to just over $5 billion in 2021.

“The international visitor, when they come, they stay longer than people close to the assets they’re visiting and they spend close to six to seven times more on trips to Alberta,” said Reeder. “An average Albertan might spend in the order of $157 per trip where somewhere from overseas will spend $1,100.”

“Right now we’re working with the airline industries to re-establish routes bringing people into Alberta for those direct flights,” added Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s jobs, economy and innovation minister.

“We have a plan that we call Project Bootstrap, that’s what Travel Alberta has called it and right now we have a road map to get our tourism industry back to where it was before the pandemic in the next two to three years.”

Reeder expects it will actually take longer for the industry to recover in Alberta. Part of that is because of how many people left the workforce during the pandemic. Before 2020, the industry directly and indirectly supported around 2.1 million workers, now there are less than 1.6 million.

“It’s been often said, this has been the hardest hit sector. It was the first to experience the results of the new policies and the last to recover,” said Reeder. “So when we hear the prime minister announce that we’ve recovered all the jobs lost since the pandemic began, it does not speak to what has happened in our sector.

“It could take up to ten years to rebuild the tourism labour force.”

Part of the recovery plan he suggests is making the industry more appealing to potential employees, making tourism and hospitality careers “enviable.”

The industry is also advocating for the federal government to maintain the current subsidy rate through to the fall and increasing debt forgiveness.

“We need more liquidity supports for businesses until the real demand drivers, which are international travelers, start to arrive in this province.” Said Reeder.

“There are a lot of businesses that sit precariously close to not being able to cash-flow their operation for this summer.”

Ontario introduced its Staycation Tax Credit program at the beginning of 2022. It gives Ontario residents a tax credit on eligible accommodations within the province.

Reeder believes the province should implement a similar program to support the industry during the slower times of the year for international travel.

“At this point in time, it might not be as needed as it was over the last two years, but we can’t forecast what the future is going to look like and certainly as we hit slower demand periods after the summer, there may be a need for fiscal stimulus like that,” said Reeder.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson


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