Cold snap, COVID team up to slam Alberta mountain tourism before New Year's Eve

·3 min read
The Town of Banff has cancelled all New Year's Eve activities, indoor and outdoor, as a result of cold weather and soaring COVID case counts. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Town of Banff has cancelled all New Year's Eve activities, indoor and outdoor, as a result of cold weather and soaring COVID case counts. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The term 'perfect storm' may be overused, but arguably it describes aptly what Rocky Mountain tourism businesses are facing as the mercury drops and COVID cases soar.

"It was a very difficult decision," Jason Darrah with the Town of Banff told CBC News in an interview Thursday.

The decision he's talking about was to cancel all indoor and outdoor activities planned to celebrate New Year's Eve.

"Banff completely depends on tourism for our economy," said Darrah. "That's why our town exists, to support visitors from across Canada and around the world, and to provide residents who provide those services with a comfortable place to live."

He's not happy, and he's far from alone.

Hundreds of cancellations

The general manager at a hotel in Canmore, just a whisper to the east of Banff, says she's had several hundred cancellations, and the last two weeks have been the worst.

"During that time we typically run 100 per cent full through to New Year's [Day]. Unfortunately, due to cold weather, flight cancellations and health concerns, we did have a lot of cancellations, about 600 room nights. It is considerable," said Donna Trautman at the Quality Resort Chateau Canmore.

Room nights are a metric for measuring vacancies. If a couple rents a room for four nights, for example, that's four room nights.

All those cancellations put the hotel at about 60 per cent capacity, but Trautman adds 80 per cent of those cancellations have happened in the last two weeks, hinting at cold weather being a driving force.

The owner of the French restaurant in the lobby of that hotel now has reduced expectations for what is normally a hectic time.

"Usually New Year's Day is my best day of the year, but I'm expecting it to be a normal Saturday or Sunday," Jean-François Gouin of Chez François told CBC News.

"It's not going to be crazy, crazy busy."

And while his bottom line is taking a major hit, he gets it.

"I would do the same thing. It's dangerous and you don't take a risk. We have less traffic right now and it's a good thing. The roads are slippery and it's cold. You don't want to get stuck with your car."

Owners optimistic about business after the new year

Gouin, however, says it's not the end of the world.

"That's my cost of being in business. Sometimes you gain, sometimes you lose," he said.

Hotel manager Trautman agrees.

"I am optimistic. It's always a little quieter after the New Year but once the weather improves, people are keen to get out and go skiing and come visit the mountains," she said.

"People are ready to be out on a more consistent basis. I think it will be good once we start getting later into January, and certainly into February and March when it's typically really busy here."

And Darrah adds, let's exercise an abundance of caution until we get there.

"It just wasn't a safe decision because of the extreme cold, especially if there is wind chill. That would be a risky situation."

With files from Radio-Canada's Axel Tardieu.

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