Banff ready to roll out welcome mat, after economy 'devastated' by COVID-19 pandemic

·2 min read
'Our economy has truly been devastated; we have lost some businesses over this crisis,' Mayor Karen Sorensen said of the pandemic's impact on Banff tourism. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC - image credit)
'Our economy has truly been devastated; we have lost some businesses over this crisis,' Mayor Karen Sorensen said of the pandemic's impact on Banff tourism. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC - image credit)

Once Alberta's hardest-hit COVID-19 hotspot, officials with the Town of Banff say it is now ready to invite out-of-town visitors back to Bear Street and beyond.

Tourists were previously discouraged from visiting the popular destination as it grappled with surging case counts.

Banff became home to the highest per-capita rate in the province in April, when it topped more than 1,070 active cases per 100,000 people.

But active cases are now in decline across Alberta and that includes Banff — as of Friday, Mayor Karen Sorensen said it only has three.

Officials are now rolling out the welcome mat.

"It feels so, so good," Leslie Bruce, president and CEO of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, told The Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

"Our town was built to welcome visitors to Banff National Park. It's in our DNA, and we just can't wait to keep moving forward with this reopening plan."

'Save the summer'

In early 2021, some business owners told CBC News that they worried about closing their doors permanently if severe public-health restrictions continued into the summer.

On Friday, Sorensen told The Homestretch some businesses have indeed been shuttered.

"Our economy has truly been devastated," she said.

The situation improved when Alberta Health Services launched a vaccination centre in Banff and, according to Sorensen, 80 per cent of residents got their shot.

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen is seen in this file photo from 2015.
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen is seen in this file photo from 2015.(Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

"There was just a real desire by our community to get vaccinated, as our community is completely dependent on tourism — and during this third wave, it became very much the message of, 'save the summer,'" Sorensen said.

Over the May long weekend, Sorensen said vehicular traffic coming into town was lower than previous years, signalling that Albertans respected the request to limit tourism at that time.

'These next few months are crucial'

While things were quiet in Banff, Bruce said the town also worked hard to develop new experiences for visitors when they do return.

These include expanded outdoor patios, an extended Bow Valley Parkway for cyclists, guided e-biking tours to enhance accessibility and the reopening of Bear Street in July.

"The town itself is going to feel like a really refreshed and new place to visit, with different ways to experience the park," Bruce said.

After a tough year, Sorensen said the atmosphere is now more hopeful but, for many business owners, the season will be make-or-break.

"Revenue from the months of June through September are really what gets businesses through the entire year," Sorensen said.

"So, these next few months are crucial for our businesses to survive."

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