'We've been in survival mode': Alberta hotel industry continues to struggle to recover from COVID-19

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Alberta’s hotel associations are looking for additional support to help hotels recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On Sunday the Alberta NDP and the Calgary Hotel Association called on the Alberta government to continue waiving the hotel tourism levy.

NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said hotels have been devastated by the pandemic and need the continued financial support as they slowly begin to recover.

The government waived the four per cent tourism levy for the accommodation sector starting in April 2020, but that ended in June. Extending the abatement until September of next year would allow Alberta hotels to invest an estimated $50 million back into their businesses, she said.

“If adopted, this plan would allow Alberta hotels and other accommodation providers to have some time to get their legs back underneath them and would also allow them to devote further funding to marketing and promotions as we attempt to draw visitors back,” she said.

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“Our message to the government today is simple, support Alberta tourism. Push back the collection of the tourism levy and do all that you can to encourage families to vacation close to home this summer.”

Calgary Hotel Association executive director Sol Zia said being able to keep the tourism levy for at least the rest of the year would allow hotels to rehire staff and focus on attracting visitors this summer. Even during the first week of the Stampede, occupancy rates at Calgary hotels are only around 50 per cent.

“If our hotels can retain and invest the four per cent tourism levy as guest revenues are now again becoming meaningful, we can ensure more hotels survive and can rehire as many of our lost workforce as possible,” he said.

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Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, on Friday Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association CEO Dave Kaiser said the industry was in a tough place prior to the pandemic and was likely going to need some government support even then.

Now he’s worried about losing federal COVID supports including the wage and rent subsidies when they come to an end later this year.

“So we’re really trying to get that message to government … We’ve been in survival mode and been able to survive because of subsidies and because of lenders who’ve been accommodative and deferring mortgage payments and things like that,” he said.

“But all those things are coming to an end. What we really need is more customers and that’s going to take time.”

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According to the Canadian payment processing company Moneris, Edmonton hotels saw a 48 per cent increase in hotel bookings made from July 1-4 compared to June 24-27. Calgary saw a 32 per cent increase, Medicine Hat a 91 per cent increase and Red Deer a 65 per cent increase.

Kaiser said even with some improvement those numbers are still way off where it would have typically been pre-pandemic.

“Any uptick is off of historic low occupancies that we would have experienced here through the end of June,” he said.

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