Labor shortages put strain on Banff as more tourists arrive

Tourists have begun flocking back to popular destinations like Banff since restrictions started being eased in Alberta and other parts of the world, and a labor shortage plaguing the mountain town is making it difficult to keep up with the influx.

The hospitality industry is taking the biggest hit, with many vacant spots in restaurants and hotels.

“At the moment the biggest problem is not having temporary foreign workers,” said Alex Boston, owner and general manager of Nourish Bistro.

“There’s a lot of jobs in town that regular, hard working local people don’t really want to do anymore.”

He points out that the back of house jobs and housekeeping positions are the types of work that temporary foreign workers usually fill.

Fred Cloutier, the head brewer at Banff Ave Brewing Co., says so far they are doing fine, mainly because their dedicated core of staff have stuck around during the pandemic, but she says many businesses are struggling.

“You definitely notice going in to restaurants and you have hard time getting a table because they don’t have the staff, or a lot of restaurants will shut for lunch because they don’t have the staff to run the restaurant,” she said .

In 2020, the provincial government put a limit on the temporary foreign workers program to provide more jobs to unemployed Albertans during the pandemic. The decision put a big strain on towns such as Banff that rely heavily on international workers to make their tourism economies function.

Michel Dufresne, a director with The Job Resource Centre, which operates in Banff and Canmore, says the limit on the temporary foreign workers program has been lifted, but it’s been a struggle to get the workers back to Canada.

He says they are not getting the responses they’re used to seeing for their winter recruitment promotion.

“It usually starts in February. We try to get the students from universities and people who will enter the market in the summer,” he said. “The numbers are down significantly this year.”

He says slow processing time for applications from international workers might be a reason for the shortage.

“We’re told that there’s no backlogs but we’re not seeing people from those places come in and the numbers we’re used to seeing in previous years,” he said.

“Usually we’re very, very busy. I think that the (temporary foreign worker) program might have reopened, but that doesn’t mean people want to apply for the jobs.”

Boston says his restaurant is smaller so they are getting by right now with the staff they’ve been able to attract and retain, but worries about when the summer hits and patios open up. He’ll need twice to staff to keep it operating.

“It falls a lot of myself and my business partner’s shoulders to take the labor wherever we need to and then hopefully we can hire those people for positions,” he said.

“But if we can’t we will just have to roll up the sleeves and do it ourselves.”

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