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Up to 70% of Alberta tourism businesses could close without help, report predicts

The pandemic has decimated the travel industry in Alberta and the weeks and months ahead appear bleak, says a new report from the Tourism Industry of Alberta Association.

Tourism employs more than 72,000 people in the province

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., on March 24. According to a new report from the Tourism Industry of Alberta, 70 per cent of tourism businesses in the province could close forever if help does not arrive. (The Canadian Press)

The pandemic has decimated the travel industry in Alberta and the weeks and months ahead appear bleak, says a new report from the Tourism Industry of Alberta Association.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that popular travel destinations such as Banff and Jasper have not seen their usual influx of visitors, with international travellers staying away due to border restrictions.

Though both Banff and Jasper have since reopened to day-use domestic visitors, the difficult road ahead is expected to continue without more help from the government and from other organizations, said Alida Visbach, board chair of TIAA.

"There are some projections with the modelling that we've done through this research that as many as 60 to 70 per cent of our small and medium-sized businesses could be closed down if things don't start to change — and we're talking by 2021," Visbach said.

"Some have already closed, because they just can't survive."

The business community in Banff National Park expects revenue somewhere in the range between 30 and 40 per cent compared to last year, according to the town's mayor. More than half of the visitors who visit the national park yearly are from outside Canada.

The mountain town of Jasper, located west of Edmonton, has been similarly decimated by COVID-19. In April, Councillor Jenna McGrath told CBC News that the drop in tourism had been "devastating" for local business.

Calls to action

The new report from the TIAA puts forward 40 calls to action to try to save tourism enterprises in the province, directed towards the province, municipalities, Alberta tourism agencies and Alberta Health.

Visbach said Alberta's tourism industry needs continued financial support, even beyond existing federal stimulus commitments.

"There are so many areas where we have opportunities. We need to look at those opportunities," Visbach said.

"We've talked about diversifying our economy. Now is a serious time to look at our visitor economy and see how important it is — not just to our recovery, but to our future."

According to statistics provided by the TIAA, the tourism industry in Alberta represents more than 23,000 businesses, generating approximately 72,500 full-time equivalent jobs.

With files from Elise von Scheel, Kyle Bakx and Erin Collins

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