The Canadian government has lifted travel restrictions effective Oct. 1, bringing international tourists back to Alberta.
“I felt relief that we can come to travel,” said Leticia Arista, a tourist from Mexico. “As soon as I knew that the government won’t ask about a COVID-19 test and all that, I decided to come to Calgary.”
In the first seven months of 2022, more than a million international passengers touched down in Alberta. According to the Alberta Tourism Market Monitor, the number of air passengers arriving and departing from the Calgary and Edmonton international airports also increased by 64.4 per cent from the same period in 2021.
The tourism resurgence is helping the local job market. The Alberta Tourism Market Monitor outlines solid year-to-date job growth with 134,000 jobs added to the accommodation and food services sectors as of August — an increase of approximately 26.3 per cent.
“Everything came back so quickly,” said Chelsea Moriarity, market director of human resources for the Calgary Marriott Downtown and Delta Calgary Downtown. “The summer was a lot busier than we had anticipated it being, so we were recruiting really quickly.
“For Q4, we’ll be looking to ramp up in the next couple of weeks for our Christmas season hiring. It could be anywhere between 30 and 40 people for the Christmas season for both banquets and kitchen together.”
Although a boom might be in the works for the Alberta travel industry, business travel, a mainstay for the accommodation sector, may require years of recovery.
“The meetings and convention sector are about a three-year planning cycle,”said Danielle Vlemmiks, vice-president of strategy, research, and communications for Travel Alberta. “When they stopped planning for two years, we’re still recovering from that.
“We’re trying to get people to either rebook or to plan convention conferences here.”
Before the pandemic, the workforce was relatively stable, partly due to seasonal and temporary foreign workers filling the gap in the industry. As tourism rises once again, small-scale shortages still exist.
Moriarity pointed out that the new rules allowing international students to temporarily work over 20 hours starting Nov. 15, is bound to relieve labour shortages. Additionally, a huge rise in Ukrainian newcomers can help fill the gap.
Travel Alberta’s Tourism Investment Program is investing $15 million annually from 2021 to 2023, with $3.25 million set aside for indigenous tourism.
“We’re working with businesses to really increase not only the ability to do more things in tourism jobs, but the perception of tourism as a long-term career opportunity,” said Vlemmiks.
Tourism is alive and well after the pandemic, Moriarity said, but the changes to the way business operates are here to stay.
“We went through a lot of workforce planning, and that means you can do a multitude of roles,” said Moriarity. “We’re kind of bringing people together and utilizing all of their skills, and that’s really helped with workforce planning.”