Calgary's tourism industry has taken a catastrophic hit during the pandemic

It comes as no surprise to those in the tourism industry that COVID-19 has delivered a devastating body blow to the local economy — but some new numbers reveal just how deep the wounds are.

Tourism Calgary CEO says COVID-19 nearly slammed shut the city's tourism industry

The Peace Bridge over the Bow River to downtown Calgary. The city's tourism industry is facing a long and challenging road to recovery. (Getty Images)

It comes as no surprise to those in the tourism industry that COVID-19 has delivered a devastating body blow to the local economy — but some new numbers reveal just how deep the wounds are.

Calgary's $2.5-billion tourism industry, already facing an economic downfall, now has a much longer and challenging road to recovery, says Calgary Tourism CEO Cindy Ady.

"This impact was from top to bottom. It was almost like the slamming shut of the industry," Ady said.

Air travel

When the pandemic first hit, airport arrivals dropped by 97 per cent. With some now feeling more comfortable to travel by air, that now sits at 80 per cent below normal.

With such a drop in demand, companies like WestJet and Air Canada have laid off thousands of workers.

After its June layoffs, Calgary-based WestJet said it planned to consolidate and contract out much of its operations.

Hotel occupancy

When the pandemic began, hotel occupancy in Calgary plummeted to just three per cent, but it has since risen to 18 per cent occupancy, largely due to the use of rooms by those who are quarantining. 

Those numbers are much lower than last year, when hotel occupancy in Calgary was listed at 70 per cent.

In March, the Hotel Association of Canada said the pandemic had forced hotels across the country to close and thousands of workers to be laid off.

Stampede revenue

In April, the Calgary Stampede was cancelled for the first time in a century, having been deemed unworkable given the ban on large gatherings and the need for physical distancing.

Ady said Tourism Calgary lost roughly 25 per cent of its revenue as a result of the Stampede's cancellation.

The Calgary Stampede has brought in $79.2 million in gross revenue on average over the past five years, turning a profit of $21.4 million after expenses. It draws more than one million visitors to the city each year.

Path forward

Ady said Tourism Calgary is implementing strategies to get through the pandemic.

"We're looking at sports bubbles right now. No fans, but you're able to at least have some economic activity based on a bubble of sport coming together," Ady said. "They're kind of able to manage COVID in that environment."

Tourism Calgary is aiming to market a vision for the year 2024, with new infrastructure projects planned to attract visitors.

And despite the challenges, Ady said she is confident that a better future is on the way.

"I do think that science is going to conquer things eventually for us, and that we will restore," she said. "So, yes, I am hopeful. But it doesn't mean that this hasn't been difficult, deep and hard."

With files from Hala Ghonaim


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