Photo: Evan Buhlmer, Rocky Mountain Outlook
Alberta’s Bow Valley hospitality industry, a major economic muscle in Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise, is sorely understaffed and is forcing businesses to make tough financial decisions.
“This is the worst I have ever seen,” said Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Center in Banff and Canmore, of his 30 years living and working in the Bow Valley about the lack of of workers.
“Everyone has increased their wages, but it doesn’t matter what you pay; there is no one to take the job. “
Dufresne added that statistics from five years ago showed that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 foreign workers in the Bow Valley, who made up between 20 and 30 percent of the workforce. the hotel industry.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and companies started laying off workers, there was a massive exodus of international workers from the Bow Valley returning to countries like the Czech Republic, the UK and the United Kingdom. ‘Australia.
“We have a very low inventory of job seekers at this point,” Dufresne said. “High volume of job offers for everything related to the hotel industry. This year is worse because we don’t have the foreigners, we don’t have the eastern Canadians, we don’t have the out-of-zone traffic that we used to have.
“One of the main groups is the Australians. They are not allowed to leave. They can only leave for essential travel. The work visa program, which is closed now and we do not anticipate it will open before the new year. “
Nationally, the food service and accommodation workforce increased by 35,000 in July – the highest number of any industry, according to the latest Statistics Canada data. Alberta was not among the notable provinces where the increase occurred, which were in Ontario and Manitoba.
Tourists have flocked to the Bow Valley before and after the vaccination, and the High Country Inn in Banff is taking precautions to ensure that guests – and employees – are looked after despite being understaffed.
The hotel, which offers an average overnight stay ranging from $ 235 to $ 300, has sometimes turned guests down by blocking online reservations.
“There is certainly a [financial] loss there, ”said Jordan Irwin, general manager of the High Country Inn. “But I am happy with the revenue and the quality of the product that we were able to deliver to customers without putting our staff to work for crazy hours. “
In order to attract new employees and retain current members, Irwin said the hotel has increased salaries and a bonus structure is being offered.
Before COVID-19, Irwin regularly saw job seekers with a stack of paper resumes moving from property to property on Banff Avenue in search of employment. He said it had been a “great success” without the international market, which Banff relies on for staff.
“I think in simple terms for us, you take away the working holiday visas, and you take away the need for a lot of Canadian personnel new to CERB and there’s not much left,” Irwin said. “I would say that this is the environment that the government created with the program with CERB [Canadian Emergency Response Benefit].
“I am very grateful for the grants they have given to companies, but on the other hand I think it has been too generous with CERB and there is always a lag period when something like this ends. before seeing the workforce come back and intact again.
The ECP, which provided financial assistance to millions of Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic, ends September 25.