Some businesses in Montana, near the Canadian border, are offering steep discounts as Alberta's slumping economy, coupled with the low loonie, is having a negative effect on cross-border tourism.

"There's not as many Alberta cars around. You just don't see the Alberta plates around anymore," said Dale Dennis, who manages three motels in Whitefish, including the Chalet Motel.

Chalet Motel Whitefish

The Chalet Motel has seen a drop in Alberta visitors this winter. (Chalet Motel)

The town of about 6,600 near Glacier National Park is a popular destination for all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing, fishing and golfing.

"As the Alberta economy goes into the soup in the downturn, there's just so much affecting this tourism or trade across the border right now that it's just sickening," Dennis told CBC News.

Dennis estimates about 30 per cent of his customers come from Canada. With many of those visitors now gone, he says vacancy rates at his motels are getting close to 50 per cent.

'At par' deals

In order to stay competitive, some businesses are openly advertising an "at par" conversion rate, which amounts to about a 30 per cent discount.

And those that are still receiving bookings from Alberta visitors say they're feeling the pressure to lower prices even further.

'You can still get a beer for a buck. The gap may be widening but the cost of enjoying a vacation is still quite low.'

- Lisa Jones, Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau

"The emails that I'm getting are always asking for more of a discount," said LuAnn Morrow, who runs Walking Bear Resort, a five-bedroom cabin near the national park.

"They're saying it's not only the conversion rate that's hurting them. We usually get groups of 10 or 12 friends and what they're saying is that their friends are also not working," she said.

Despite the drop in revenue, many Whitefish business owners say they're happy to offer big discounts because Canadian visitors helped save their economy during the last U.S. financial crisis.

Central Avenue Whitefish in the winter

Whitefish, a town of about 6,600 near Glacier National Park, is a popular getaway for Albertans — especially over Christmas. (Chuck Haney/Explore Whitefish)

"Bring back Canada! They saved us back in 2008," exclaimed Kent Taylor, owner of the Hidden Moose Lodge.

"It was huge," he said. "We have to thank you."

For all the Albertans who are still undecided about making a trip to Whitefish this year, a local tourism promoter has one more incentive up her sleeve.

"You can still get a beer for a buck," said Lisa Jones with the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The gap may be widening but the cost of enjoying a vacation is still quite low."


  • An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed Dale Dennis' statements to another Whitefish hotel operator.
    Jan 18, 2016 10:06 AM MT