It looks a lot like winter in Banff National Park in Alberta, but officials say summer tourism numbers are pointing to an industry rebounding from a recent economic downturn, the Calgary Herald reported.
From April to September, Parks Canada statistics show a 2.3% increase in the number of visitors through the park gates over the same time last year.
“We’re feeling really good,” said Kara Sherrard, visitor experience manager for Banff National Park.
More than 3.2 million visitors went through the gates in 2011 and Sherrard said this year’s statistics already suggest it could meet or exceed those numbers — particularly with the earliest ski and snowboard season in recent history.
“Every year since 2008-09, we’ve seen an increase,” Sherrard said of years since the economic downturn, which sent the tourism industry into a tailspin.
All signs are pointing to another improvement this year.
In the national park, every month is showing an uptick in visitors — except for July, when visitation was down 6.1%.
“What we’ve all agreed on was that the weather was horrible,” said Sherrard, noting a recent survey showed 30% of visitors to Banff come from Alberta. “Your vacation time is so weather dependent.
“They are probably planning later.”
Still, a total of 516,157 people visited the park in July.
The numbers show August made up for it, marking a 12% increase over the previous year’s numbers, with 563,638 visitors.
Businesses in Banff say they also had a strong season.
“We’ve had our best summer ever,” said Megan Davies, daytime supervisor at Wild Flour Cafe. “August to early September was amazing. We had really good foot traffic. Some days we were up a third more than we were last year.
“We’ve had a couple of the biggest sale days we’ve ever had.”
Davies said it was a good mix of tourists and locals visiting the restaurant this summer.
Officials with Banff Lake Louise Tourism said the same can be said for most of its members, which include restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related businesses.
“It certainly rebounded to levels in previous years,” said Stuart Hart, director of sales and marketing for the organization. “We still have a lot of work to do.
“Like every other industry, tourism is highly competitive.”
Hart said the 2007-08 season was considered a bumper year, but tourism dropped off during the economic slump the following year.
Since then, however, it’s been a steady increase.
“It’s not just the numbers,” he said. “It’s the revenue as well. It’s slightly up as well, which is encouraging.
“It takes a long time to recover.”
Both he and parks officials were also optimistic about the coming winter.
“We’re in for a good snow season,” Sherrard said.
Last week, two of the ski resorts in the area — Mount Norquay and Nakiska — opened for the season, making it one of the earliest ski seasons ever in the Canadian Rockies. Others are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.