Businesses in Banff and Lake Louise are seeing a surge in tourism thanks to the low Canadian dollar, but they're struggling to find enough workers to meet the demand. 

Darren Reeder is the executive director of Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association and says the labour shortage is widespread in the tourism industry, according to a recent survey of area businesses.

"For every Canadian we were able to hire there was one position that remained advertised and unfilled. What that works out to on a per-business level is about 21 workers per business that weren't available this summer," he said. 

One of the major issues is changes to the federal temporary foreign worker program brought in by the former Conservative government, including increased administrative fees for hiring foreign workers, and restrictions on working holiday visas that prevent workers from returning each year. 

Impact on ski hills

That last restriction, limiting workers to one two-year stint, is having an effect at local ski hills where Australian accents often outnumber local dialects. 

"That's pretty concerning ... and more importantly they are some of our most important brand ambassadors. They are the people that go home and talk about our values on the environment, about the economy," said Reeder.

Dave Riley, with Sunshine Village, says that hill is also struggling to find workers, including instructors. He says Canadians don't want to do the work. 

"Why wouldn't you want to be a ski instructor at a beautiful place like this?" he said, adding the hill doesn't have the staff to be able to accommodate reservations for classes on weekends and peak times. 

The process for hiring temporary foreign workers has become onerous and expensive, said Riley.

"There's no guarantee that you'll actually get through it, so you know you end up having to make the decision: Should I even invest in this?"

Proposed solutions

The labour shortage study and survey — conducted by the hospitality association along with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Banff Lake Louise Tourism, the Hotel Association of Canada and the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Commission — proposes both long- and short-term solutions to the shortage:

Short term:

  • A tourism stream for the temporary foreign worker program
  • Moving some occupations, including rafting guides, into the skilled labour category
  • Investments and subsidies for housing
  • Reopening the working holiday visa program
  • Subsidies for public transit

Long term:

  • Immigration reform allowing a pathway to citizenship for lower skilled workers
  • Expand and increase awareness of provincial employment programs
  • Provide a guaranteed annual income