BOW VALLEY – While international travel has been mostly banned in Canada and the U.S. following increased concerns surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus and many Canadians across the country are now in isolation, the hospitality sector in the Bow Valley is taking a major hit.
Numerous layoffs across the valley have left hospitality workers in a tough spot, especially those who also live in staff accommodation. Employers like Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff National Park, which made the decision to cease operations Tuesday (March 17), and Basecamp Resorts in Canmore have informed staff they must find new places to live.
An email obtained by the Outlook from Sunshine Village's senior vice-president and chief financial officer Mike Irvine to staff at the ski hill informed its team the company is closing its staff accommodation.
"For those of you in staff lodges, we are working with the HI-Hostel and the Banff Springs Staff Lodges, and more information will be provided tomorrow," wrote Irvine.
“The expectation is that everyone will be out of staff lodges by end of day Friday, March 20th."
Sunshine Village has not responded to requests from the Outlook for comment. However, a post on its Instagram account Wednesday (March 18) said it is closing its staff lodges due to an order from the Alberta government that requires the ski area to close its gondola.
“Yesterday to slow the spread of COVID-19 the government of Alberta ordered all ski areas in the Province to close all passenger ropeways (chairlifts and gondolas),” said the post.
“Because the gondola is our life line at Sunshine Village. The inability to run it prevents us from being able to transport people, food and freight up the mountain. As a result we have to close both the hotel and staff accommodation immediately.
“We are asking all team member to contact team member services. As our team is working on providing transportation to YYC, is finding accommodations in Banff and Canmore, and can help team members access federal aid.
“In this state of global emergency, we all have to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
COVID 19 Update Yesterday to slow the spread of Covid 19 the government of Alberta ordered all ski areas in the Province to close all passager ropeways (chairlifts and gondolas). Because the gondola is our life line at Sunshine Village. The inability to run it prevents us from being able to transport people, food and freight up the mountain. As a result we have to close both the hotel and staff accommodation immediately. We are asking all team member to contact team member services. As our team is working on providing transportation to YYC, is finding accommodations in Banff and Canmore, and can help team members access federal aid. In this state of global emergency, we all have to work together to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Sky McLean, owner and operator at Basecamp Resorts, said some of her staff have been given until the end of April to vacate staff accommodations, unless they’ve been temporarily laid off.
“[They’ve been given until] the end of April, we have to give one month's notice. There are some international staff leaving anyway regardless of this pandemic,” she said.
“And we have staff that we unfortunately have had to lay off. Like lay off lay off – not temporary. And any one who’s under temporary lay off, with the intention of coming back in 60 days, during their lay off are still getting their full benefits from the company. We are doing the most that we can to prevent our revenue from dropping by the minute.”
According to the Alberta Tenancy Act, which those offering staff accommodation are still subject to, unless a rent payment has not been made, serious damage has been done to a property, rental terms have been broken or a person is endangering other people, employers cannot evict staff from their accommodations without appropriate notice. If the tenancy is monthly, the employer, or in this case landlord, is required to give at least a month's notice. If the tenancy is weekly, a week’s notice is required.
In addition to hotels and ski resorts, local bars and restaurants have laid off employees and closed down operations temporarily. Some staff have received temporary lay off notices, while others have been let go permanently.
"We’ve in been in town for about four years, we’re fairly well established, but I know tons of people on our work chat are simply going home," said Jeremy Allard, a bartender in Banff who lost his job as a result of COVID-19.
"We’re [referring to him and his wife] some of the luckier ones. But you know, if we’re going to be having a hard time, then I have no idea how a lot of other people who are living paycheque-to-paycheque are managing this."
Nick Sindel, who said he hasn’t been laid off yet, but has been given a two week hiatus from the Keg in Banff, said while it’s a very difficult time for everyone, he’s hanging onto the hope the strong community in the Bow Valley will help everyone to ride this wave.
“I work at the Keg in town and their closure has been cited as two weeks at this point, but I know it will be longer – so I have not technically lost my job, but even a short closure is enough to leave us all unable to afford our lives here,” he said.
“I live in a house of 12 Aussie/Brit/Kiwi workers, we all work in different places in town or on the hill, and at this point half of them already have flights home in the next week. It’s a very difficult time for all, but I’m hanging on to the hope that I might be able to lean on this amazing area to keep me afloat for a little and allow me to stay as long as I’d originally hoped.”
A poll on Bow Valley Home Finder Facebook group indicated upwards of 100 people have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19. Cindy Heisler, administrator of the group, said it has seen a significant spike in apartment and room listings.
“We've seen a 14 per cent increase in the number of rentals available over the last two days," said Heisler.
"We've seen an unprecedented amount of numbers today. Many mentioned the fact that they've lost roommates who have to leave the country, due to quarantine, or because they've lost their jobs.
"Over all, an incredible number of people are looking for homes because they've been effectively evicted from staff accommodations."
As well, Heisler said she has received messages from non-Canadian valley residents indicating they have lost their accommodation and been told to "go home"