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Tourism industry receives financial relief from the province

Last Updated May 19, 2020 at 10:04 pm MST

People packed on to the Calgary Stampede grounds. Saturday, July 13th, 2019. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

The Alberta government is providing financial support for the province’s tourism industry.

This support will allow hotels and other providers to keep tourism levy amounts collected from March 1 until the end of the year.

Any amounts collected before March, which the province deferred under the previously announced program, can continue until August 31.

The move freed $16-27 million in additional cash flow for the hospitality sector that employs 30,000 people in Alberta.

Co-chair of the Tourism and Hospitality Sub Committee for the Recovery Task Force, Paul Jones said the announcement is welcome news.

“Six months ago, we wouldn’t have thought that a restaurant server would need a face shield, but those are all supplies that are required in the hotel industry. This funding allows the industry to say ‘I have to purchase this; let’s use that funding that we weren’t expecting’.”

The Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation organized the larger task force.

RWMB Council tasked the group with formulating a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the flood.

Jones’ sub-committee pools information from operators of hotels and other lodgings

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the hospitality industry on local and international levels.

Jones confirmed response plans led to the temporary closure of four hotels in Fort McMurray.

He said members of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association also felt the pinch.

“[Across the province], 60 per cent of the rooms were closed and 80 per cent of the staff was laid off, so we thought our numbers were a little higher than that because of the four hotels being closed.”

Jones added those numbers cover operators from small ‘Mom and Pop’ bed and breakfasts to world-class resorts.

A March 30 report from the hospitality workers union, Unite Here, estimated the closure of up to 90 per cent of Canada’s hotels amid the COVID-19 crisis.

READ MORE: Hospitality workers hit ‘first and hit hardest,’ says union seeking more support

Travel Alberta is also working on measures to support organizations across the province.

It will announce their plan at a later date.

Flood response

Jones said the region’s hospitality industry played a significant role in responding to the 2020 River Break Up Flood.

The region’s hotels, including the four previously mentioned, provided lodging for displaced residents during the flood and in the recovery stage.

Jones said hotels also factor in the region’s economic growth and marketability.

“The longer they stay close, the harder it is then for us as a community to attract the groups that we need, for example, at Shell Place. They need to have so many rooms available holding specific events in our community, so we don’t want that number to drop.”

Tanya Fir, Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, said they want the hospitality industry to recover and grow.

“Alberta’s tourism industry is a key contributor to our economy and it creates jobs and revenue that so many communities across our province depend on.”

Jones added residents in Wood Buffalo can contribute to the health of the local hospitality industry.

“It’s nice to see as restaurants re-open that everybody’s following the protocols that are put in place. Nobody’s angry that they can’t sit in groups; they’re just happy to be out.”

He said couples can support local hotels and take mini-breaks when many are reluctant to make non-essential, long-distance travel plans.

The new measures are part of Alberta’s plan to help the industry recover, relaunch, and re-position for growth.

This is part of the province’s 10-year tourism strategy.

This article includes excerpts from 660 News.