Tourism in Banff National Park is at a crossroads. The region depends on visitors to fuel the local economy. But as throngs of visitors take in the scenery, there's a sense that a better balance is needed to carry this community into the next decade.
This is where Tourism Together comes in. The plan brings together Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, the Town of Banff, Parks Canada and an Indigenous working group to brainstorm a 10-year vision these groups hope will guide a more intentional way forward.
"We're feeling and seeing the need for us to really come together as a community to focus on the right kind of tourism," said Banff and Lake Louise Tourism CEO Leslie Bruce. "The kind of tourism that we can sustain and the kind that really helps share this wonderful place and protect this place for generations to come."
At an open house on Monday, more than 200 people met at the Banff Park Lodge to look at what the working groups have come up with so far.
Many of the main hurdles identified in the process will sound familiar.
The private vehicles that descend on a daily basis are an unsustainable way visitors are exploring the park — many believe the focus should be on sustainable transportation options instead of circling parking lots.
Then, there's the age-old housing crisis, which is creating barriers for businesses and those who work in the tourism sector. Not only that, one of the points this report underlines is that the housing scarcity, and cost, are contributing to a loss of community. People aren't able to build a life in town and are often moving on before starting a family or moving up their professional ladders.
Of course, wildlife conservation and conflict are top of mind in these communities, as well as ensuring those who visit these parks know how to leave no trace, or leave them better than they were found.
"Community well-being is at the heart of our desire for successful tourism," Bruce said. "We're hearing over and over again that we need support with housing. We need to rethink transportation in the national park, and I think that the key here is that none of us can do it alone."
Authentic Indigenous tourism
One of the focuses Monday was a presentation from the Indigenous tourism working group. While there's a rich Indigenous history in the region, it's often overlooked in Banff.
The working group's Kirsten Ryder says the demand for authentic Indigenous experiences is something that needs to be front and centre.
"They want meaningful indigenous experiences that are authentic, and then also they want to support indigenous business owners and entrepreneurs," Ryder said.
Some barriers preventing Indigenous entrepreneurs from establishing in Banff, she said, are those same transportation and housing issues — but it also comes down to truth and reconciliation.
"Getting to know who are the local Indigenous people, what are their contributions, what is their history and how can we move forward to support them and include them in the Indigenous tourism plan here in Banff?" Ryder said.
The final 10-year plan will be released in 2023 once it is polished and all stakeholders are on the same page. Then, Bruce said, the next steps are about looking at that plan and having conversations about how to implement hundreds of ideas that came out of these consultation and working group sessions.
"What we saw today was all of the hard work and research of over 2,000 people that had committed time and input into making this a genuine and really frank conversation," Bruce said. "The next step is for us to really get acceptance and adoption through the major organizations."