Alberta tour operators prepare for a year of losses

Alberta’s tourism industry has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with international visits limited to only essential travel.

Shelley Grollmuss, the vice-president of industry development with Travel Alberta, said that a recent survey of tour operators shows just how much the industry stands to lose.

“[Travel Alberta] found that about 67 per cent of [operators] have indicated that they expect to lose 50 per cent or more revenue, basically from May through to the end of the year,” she said.

Even if hotels and restaurants start to reopen, limited flights and mandatory quarantine makes international travel nearly impossible.

“We’re making adjustments to plans for visitors who were coming into the province for this summer,” Grollmuss said. “The Rockies are going to be significantly impacted with the international visitation.”

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Travel Alberta is hoping to replace some of the loss in international travel with local tourists by launching a new campaign in the summer.

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“It’s around our “Worth the Wait” messaging,” said Grollmuss. “[The campaign] will be starting in June as well and it will be promoting that expectation in your own backyard, find those hidden gems and places that you’re able to go as travel is permitted in the province.”

There will also be some financial help for tour operators with the launch of a co-operative investment program.

“It’s going to take a two-phased approach,” said Grollmuss. “Part of it will be funding for product development, so, those [operators] that need to make changes to their existing products. And part of it will be available for marketing.”

Businesses will be able to apply for the program in June.

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Travel Alberta said the industry generates $8.9 billion in revenue every year and that plans to bring that up to $20 billion by 2030 are now on hold.

Feeling the hit

By late spring, Rocky Mountain Sidecar Adventures would normally be showing off southern Alberta to tourists.

But owner-operator Warren Cummins said the COVID-19 pandemic means his engines are silent.

“It’s basically taken our tourist season down to zero,” he said. “We do a very small percentage of local tourists from within [Calgary]. Ninety-five per cent of our business comes from abroad.”

Cummins doesn’t believe that easing restrictions will help his business.

“We’ll have no revenue this year whatsoever,” he said. “And I don’t expect it’ll be very much better in the next two years.”

Cummins said even if he starts marketing to locals, the lack of disposable income means tours are most likely at the bottom of the list of priorities.

“Lots of people don’t have any extra money, they’re paying their bills,” he said. “So to have that extra income [for tours] is challenging, and we recognize that.”

Cummins said he will keep a handful of sidecars ready for local tourists, and he’s working on securing PPE for his drivers and customers.

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