In any normal year, travel and tourism is rarely thought of as a business because it is so synonymous with enjoyment, relaxation, excitement and fun. By any measure, 2020 was no normal year but as life, the economy and business move forward into the light at the end of a very long and stressful tunnel, the badly battered business of tourism is readying for the new normal, including the already popular trend of staycations.
It’s been a challenging year-and-a-half and, particularly in Alberta, dealing with COVID has taken an enormous toll on everything from social and family life, workplaces, the economy and almost every business sector and industry. It’s no secret that Alberta travel and tourism has been hit hard.
“The pandemic has impacted businesses of all stripes but the numbers show that tourism has been disproportionately affected,” says the plugged-in David Goldstein, CEO of Travel Alberta. “There has been an unprecedented a nearly 10 per cent drop in active tourism businesses across the country, compared to the average national decline of five per cent for all business sectors. Nationally there is a 91 per cent year-over-year decline in air passenger transport revenues and a 71 per cent year-over-year decline in accommodation revenues.”
He points out that most provinces, including tourism-rich Alberta, have been badly broadsided by a perfect storm of public health concerns and government-imposed travel restrictions and lockdowns. With an estimated $1.6 billion in lost international travel revenues, Alberta is the fourth hardest hit province behind Ontario ($5.2 billion), B.C. ($4.6 billion) and Quebec ($2.6 billion). “From last January to October, Alberta tourism business is down some 9.5 per cent.”
Goldstein emphasizes an important but sometimes overlooked aspect about the business of travel and tourism. “Almost 99 per cent of Alberta’s tourism-related businesses are small businesses and self-employed entrepreneurs. And although the recovery has begun, coping has been a long haul and a bridge too far for many small businesses.” Stats show the business bottom line that Alberta experienced a 33.5 per cent year-over-year decline in direct and indirect tourism employment.
The hardest hit tourism sub-sectors with the most significant 2020 losses included Food & Beverage (restaurants, banquet and convention centres) as well as Transportation and Accommodation. According to Travel Alberta’s recent COVID-19 impact survey, Alberta hotel revenues are down by as much as 58 per cent.
A surprising stat for some but the most recent tourism numbers show that 94 per cent of Alberta visitors were Canadian. Only six per cent were international. “Albertans have always been an important market for tourism, accounting for almost 52 per cent tourism revenues and 82 perncent of total person-visits before the pandemic. Albertans have always been critically important to the health of Alberta’s tourism economy.
“While incredible tourism experiences are essential, and we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches here in Alberta,” he notes with pride and enthusiasm, “it takes visitors to ensure tourism destinations and experiences survive. With international travel restrictions still in place, most of the province’s experience-seekers right now are Albertans.”
The public and business morale and worry fog is lifting and the outlook (although gradual and slow) is encouraging.
The business of travel and tourism is scrambling to recover. Undoubtedly jet-setter globetrotting, traditional favorites like Vegas and Disney and faraway beaches and resorts will likely continue as parts of the new travel and tourism normal. For Alberta, and especially Calgary, there are bound to be altered vacation perspectives leaning toward staying home and relaxing, weekend and day trips and the industry insiders predict the trend of staycationing will likely continue to grow.
In Calgary, staycations have been steadily catching on for several years. Not only inner-city attractions like Olympic Park, rafting down the Bow River, the Calgary Zoo, Stampede, the rides at Calaway Park, the two-hour drive south to Lethbridge, west to Banff or staycationing to the west and southwest of Calgary in any of the many beautiful and scenic, provincial parks nestled in the foothills, the unique campsites and cabin options and hundreds of kilometres worth of staycation hiking and biking trails.
“Lethbridge is poised to increase visits to the city as travellers discover the convenience of staying in one spot while exploring the diverse landscapes of Southern Alberta,” says the upbeat Stephen Braund at Tourism Lethbridge. “Many people have used this challenging time to rediscover the natural opportunities in our province and we have noticed an increase in RV traffic.
“Lethbridge is fortunate to be at the centre of both the Rocky Mountains, prairies and the badlands. So not only are we able to offer RVers a central place to refuel and shop, with our range of accommodations, we’re ready to host staycationers from Calgary, Edmonton and beyond.”
He highlights some popular Lethbridge attractions like “the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is a real gem and has been a popular connection to Japanese culture for 50 years. And the Galt Museum, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, the High Level Bridge at the heart of the city is the longest, high trestle train bridge of its kind in the world and our outdoors is extremely popular with more than 200 km of walking and hiking trails within the city.”
For some, staycation is a state-of-mind, and an increasingly popular lifestyle option, especially for Calgary boomers and snowbirding boomers.
The enjoyable, “staycation state-of-mind” is a key feature of Lyric, the new leased residences at Calgary’s Westman Village. “The Lyric concept is a maintenance free resort lifestyle rental with a lakeside living feel, concierge service, lock and leave and other year-round staycation kinds of features,” explains Jayman’s Brittney Mack. “Lyric homes include exclusive access to the Village Centre, with over 20 rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of amenities, from a swimming pool to a theatre and a golf simulator and includes the walkability of year-round lake access and the convenience of stores and restaurants in easy walking distance from home.” It’s staycation-friendly.
“Before the lockdowns, many people compared our Lyric and Westman Village community to a cruise ship but on land,” adds Jayman’s Corilee Keryluk. “Now that restrictions are gradually lifting, there’s an even greater appreciation of the resort, staycation style of living. Of course summer is here but, even in Calgary winter, our amenities make Lyric residents feel like they are at a resort, particularly with features like our indoor pool, waterslide and hot tub!”
David Goldstein is revved and positive about the reboot of tourism. “The Alberta government has identified tourism as a priority industry sector to contribute to economic revival, growth and job creation. With an expanded mandate as a destination management organization responsible for tourism development and promotion, Travel Alberta will now have more tools in our toolbox to support economic recovery and sustainable growth that will provide meaningful jobs for Albertans and benefit businesses and communities for decades.”
He specifies that Travel Alberta is in the process of mapping out a new business plan that focuses on outpacing Alberta’s competitors to regain and grow market share post-crisis.
The plan will have a strategic focus on three critical areas – Access (enhancing air service partnerships to grow direct flights from domestic, U.S. and other target international destinations and attract higher-yield visitors), Place (building on iconic destinations through strategic product development) and Marketing (starting with an Albertan staycation focus and then other domestic markets to get Alberta tourism’s cash registers jingling).”