Banff tourism on rebound
Tourism in Banff appears to be rebounding from an economic downturn with a big boost in visitors this summer and predictions tourists will keep on coming into the winter.
According to statistics released by Parks Canada, the number of visitors to Banff National Park from April through September increased 2.3 per cent over the same period in the previous year.
“This is an iconic Canadian destination and I think the tourism industry is rebounding after a couple of hard years,” said Kara Sherrard, visitor experience manager for Banff National Park. “Certainly we’re rebounding to levels of previous years and it looks like we’re on target for a good season this winter.”
Parks Canada has a target to boost visitation in Banff by two per cent a year.
The number of visitors in 2011 was up 2.4 per cent over the previous year and officials say the summer numbers are leading them to believe they will meet that target in the Banff management plan again this year.
The number of visitors through the park gates this spring and summer was up every month, except for July, which saw a drop of 6.1 per cent to 516,157 visitors over the previous year.
However, visitation was up 0.1 per cent to 213,131 people in April; up 3.9 to 243,388 in May; up 3.6 to 265,572 in June; up 12.1 per cent to 563,638 in August; and up 0.7 per cent to 383,204 in September.
Albertans account for about 30 per cent of visitors to Banff.
Sherrard said there are many reasons why visitation numbers go up and down, but believes the wet start to July may have affected people’s travel plans in that month.
The warm, dry weather in August played a big role in drawing visitors to the mountains, but she said events like GranFondo and the Banff Bike Fest, as well as park programming, also helped attract people to the park.
“We do our best to offer a very full schedule of programs, events or activities that are appealing to visitors to either get them to visit for the first time or make a repeat visit,” Sherrard said.
“August was full of events and programs and activities and we do some strong promotional efforts in the Calgary market, as do Banff Lake Louise Tourism and other organizations.”
As a result of the number of visitors, hotels and restaurants are said to have been busy throughout the summer, though the retail sector doesn’t appear to be rebounding quite as quickly.
Tourism officials are also hopeful the region will continue to see strong visitation into the winter. Mount Norquay opened last Thursday (Oct. 25) and Sunshine and Lake Louise are slated to open Nov. 9.
Stuart Hart, director of sales and market development for Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said summer was good for the most part, noting the most recent bumper year was 2007-08.
He said it’s a little harder to predict how the winter will go, saying the short-haul market – regional, Canada and U.S. visitors – tend to book trips a little further out.
“Skiers and snowboarders tend to wait based on snow conditions,” he said.
Hart said it’s also tougher to make predictions about international visitation, especially given Europe’s economic struggles, but he said the tourism industry has been working hard to promote Banff/Lake Louise overseas.
“Overall, it’s a little bit early to tell, but the long-haul market may be better than we expected,” he said.
Banff Lake Louise Tourism is also hopeful increased frequency in Air Canada’s flight from Sydney to Vancouver and a winter schedule for Air Canada’s Tokyo to Calgary flight will bring more visitors.
“There’s certainly opportunities there with those increased flights,” Hart said.
The number of meetings and conventions – which accounts for 11 per cent of the area’s visitation and 17 per cent of economic impact – is also on the rise.
“It certainly is coming back,” Hart said. “After the global economic crisis, corporations have to be particularly vigilant with meetings, but we’re very established in that marketplace and that’s done us well.”
The 2007-08 season was considered a bumper year, when 3.348 million visitors passed through the park gates. The 2011-12 fiscal year saw 3.226 million.
“We’re still not far behind where we were, but we still have work to do,” Sherrard said.
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