Banff National Park was busy over the Heritage Day holiday long weekend as thousands of tourists flocked to the mountains to make the most of spectacular weather.
Hotels and campgrounds were full and restaurants were packed, although some of Banff’s retailers were not as busy as hoped, saying visitors were perhaps more inclined to play by lakes and go hiking instead of shopping.
“It looked to be very busy. It appears most of the hotels were sold out and I hope that spins off into the food and beverage and the retail sectors,” said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen.
“The weather helped a lot. It was very beautiful. I was out at Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka and it was busy, busy. People were really enjoying the park.”
The temperature in Banff hit 27.2 degrees on Saturday (Aug. 4), reached 28.8 degrees on Sunday (Aug. 5) and climbed to 31 degrees by Monday (Aug. 6).
According to Environment Canada, the highest temperature ever recorded in Banff was 34.4 on July 28, 1934. The daily maximum in July averages 21.9 degrees and 21.3 degrees in August.
Bill McMurtry, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the record temperature for Aug. 6 was 31.7 degrees in 1971. Records for Banff go back as far as 1893.
“Monday got awfully close to the Aug. 6 record, but not quite; it got to 31 degrees in Banff,” he said.
Making the most of the great weather, campers flocked to the mountains. At certain times, cars were backed up at least three kilometers eastbound toward Harvie Heights with tourists waiting to get into Banff National Park’s east gate.
Campgrounds in Banff National Park were full, including Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack Lake, Castle Mountain and Johnston Canyon. Those campsites account for 1,756 sites.
Patti Vickers, visitor experience operations manager for Banff National Park, said there are some sites that can be reserved at Tunnel Mountain, but the rest are on a first-come, first-served basis.
“They filled up early Friday morning and we opened the overflow on Friday night at about 6:30 p.m.,” she said.
Vickers said 20,000 vehicles passed through the kiosks at the park’s east gate, not including the drive-through lane, over the four-day period Friday through Monday. That’s up 530 from last year’s Heritage Day long weekend.
“We did have a lot of day trippers,” she said. “All in all, it was a pretty good weekend for us.”
Hotels in Banff were packed, too.
“We were extremely full, sold out all weekend,” said Pascal Mongeau, general manager of the Banff International Hotel.
Mongeau said at least 60 per cent of hotel guests were from the Calgary region.
“We had quite a few two-night stays and a few that stayed for the entire long weekend,” he said. “We were lucky to have such a fantastic weekend with the weather.”
Tunnel Mountain Resort also had all rooms booked for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“There’s been a noted increase in demand this summer for sure. Tunnel Mountain Resort is seeing nice increases,” said Paul Baxter, the resort’s general manager.
“We’re still not back to historic highs; however, we feel we’re going in the right direction and, barring any major events, we should see continued growth at the hotel and throughout the destination.”
Baxter said most of Tunnel Mountain Resort’s visitors are regional, with a mix of last-minute vacationers and visitors booking their holidays months in advance.
“We’d like to see a few more American licence plates in town, but we’re definitely thankful for the regional business,” he said.
Banff’s restaurants were also busy over the holiday weekend.
Stavros Karlos, who co-owns the family-run Balkan Greek restaurant and represents the food and beverage sector on Banff Lake Louise Tourism’s board of directors, said summer has been solid, including the long weekend.
“Overall, the summer has been very strong across food and beverage. I don’t think we’re quite seeing 2008 numbers, but we’re getting back up there,” he said.
“I’m optimistic the strong trend will continue into September and into the fall. I still think there’s work to do for the winter, but I’m more optimistic about the winter than I have been for the past couple of years.”
Retailer Amy-Rose Sigouin, of District Clothing on Bear Street, said the weekend was not as busy as she had hoped.
“It wasn’t anything spectacular and it’s hard to say overall because I’m on Bear Street and not Banff Avenue, but from a couple of other retailers I’ve spoken to, it wasn’t what we expected,” she said.
“Especially with the amazing weather, I think the last thing people want to do is go shopping; they’re out there by the lakes and walking around.”
Julie Canning, president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said the organization is pleased with the rebound the national park is seeing in summer visitation.
That being said, Canning said the summer is only half way through and the months of August and September are critically important to the region’s overall economy.
“And while we are pleased to see our numbers continue to rebound, different areas of our tourism fabric are rebounding at different paces and stages,” she said. “Retail across Canada continues to struggle as consumers continue to be very reserved in terms of their discretionary spending.”
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