BOW VALLEY – A new report is highlighting the various priorities for the tourism sector in the province.
The Alberta Tourism Industry Association released a report, Labour Market Study of Alberta’s Tourism Sector, that examines the issues being faced by the sector such as labour shortages and retainment, mental health concerns and maintaining infrastructure.
The report outlines several recommendations from raising tourism awareness, potential changes to HR practices and the importance of monitoring the sector to assist with future research.
“It will allow us to really move our industry from recovery to resilience to look at what we can do as an industry to have a more sustainable labour force going forward,” said Rachel Ludwig, CEO of Tourism Canmore Kananaskis. “It also compliments the Town of Canmore labour market recruitment and retention strategy that we are working on in partnership.”
For Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, the report aligned with its own research.
“For us, there was not a lot of new information, but it validated the tactics and strategies we have been taking on behalf of the industry,” said Wanda Bogdane, executive director of Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association.
In Alberta, the tourism sector accounts for roughly 10.5 per cent of employment. The industry, however, was significantly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions that largely led to people travelling less, especially international tourists.
One of the biggest priorities deals with an aging population and shrinking workforce, highlighting the need for immigrant workers.
Across Canada, only 17 per cent of tourism businesses use any form of immigration program to recruit workers. In Alberta, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program exists, but only two per cent of the tourism labour force is comprised of temporary foreign workers.
“We have a really good following here in Canmore where it is acknowledged that tourism is the No. 1 economy for Canmore and Kananaskis,” Ludwig said. “We see it here, but what is little known is that tourism is an industry of industries. It is not just your typical hotel, or your food and beverage.”
Foreign workers have also been relied upon in Banff and Lake Louise for a very long time.
“This is not new for us,” Bogdane said. “In some ways, it is a real advantage because we are used to welcoming workers from other countries and we have a lot of supports on the ground.”
In order to fill tourism vacancies, ATIA recommends increasing the use of the existing immigration programs, adjusting current programs to allow more flexibility with working conditions, and advocating for a dedicated tourism immigration stream.
“What we see in our industry, especially in smaller businesses, is the administrative costs to actively seek international employment out,” Ludwig said. “It costs a lot of resources and a lot of money to pursue a labour market and find workers internationally.”
Ludwig added the current immigration programs could be improved so small businesses could find them more accessible to fill labour needs.
To assist local businesses, Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association offers human resources support to help businesses get information about the options available to them.
“We have actually had a human resources committee that has operated through our association for several years,” Bogdane said. “As a result of that, we have a strong collaborative HR network that is already established.”
Another issue is the decline in enrolment in post-secondary tourism programs. Some programs have suspended their intake as a result of this decline, while others have shut down permanently.
A reason for this is that tourism in Alberta is seen as a short-term job, rather than a lifelong career.
Bogdane said this is due to the tourism industry not promoting itself enough as a viable option.
“We have not done a good job of telling the story,” Bogdane said. “You can look at so many different streams of the tourism ecosystem that are independently understood but people don’t understand that rolls into a larger sector.”
She cited prominent businessman David Bayne, who worked his way up the ladder at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for 42 years and died in March 2022.
“He is the perfect example of a lifelong career in tourism,” Bogdane said. “He is someone who had that lifelong career path where it was not on his radar and by the end of it, he had a huge impact on other workers in his sphere and he mentored a lot of people.”
The David M. Bayne Legacy Fund will now provide a minimum of four students per year $5,000 in a bursary with the goal of selecting 42 students as a tribute to Bayne’s 42-year career.
The ATIA report states there needs to be an effort to inspire young students and provide financial incentives to post-secondary graduates that include loan repayment or forgiveness, government wage top-ups and more.
An underestimation of the importance of tourism to the economy is also an issue, according to the report. Around 50 per cent of Albertans have worked in tourism in their lives, but very few see it as a career opportunity.
As a result, it can be hard to exert political pressure to get meaningful change in government policy and support.
Tourism organizations and companies, as well as the provincial government, the report states, have to make tourism a desired employment destination, raise the profile of the tourism sector and professionalize tourism jobs.
In the Bow Valley, one of the biggest issues is the lack of affordable housing and transportation, something tourism organizations in the area are working on.
“We are working with the Town of Canmore on the labour market and retention strategy,” Ludwig said. “We need all levels of government to get behind the needs in the study to get us to a more sustainable workforce.”
Tourism Canmore Kananaskis is also working to help its members work with staff to improve the Bow Valley tourism industry as a whole.
“What we will implement this year is we will launch an online academy that will allow our members to train their staff on customer service, destination knowledge, Indigenous relations and human-wildlife interactions,” Ludwig said.