On a sunny and warm Thursday morning, before the gates to Fort Edmonton Park opened, hundreds of children lined up waiting to get inside. A flurry of excursions at the end of the school year means the park is in high demand, creating busy days for its staff right from the start.
“Everything was in full view,” senior vice president of customer experience Renee Williams tells Global News.
“Our full-time team, our year-round team, tends to step in when we don’t always have all the staff to help get the job done.”
Each summer, this permanent team is supported by a large group of seasonal staff, mostly students and retirees, who don period-specific costumes to act as interpreters, operate the train, and perform other support functions. This year they were hard to find.
“Cashiers, admissions, in some of these areas, we have definitely noticed a slight backlog in the hiring process,” Williams said.
Fort Edmonton Park is not alone in this problem. The tourism sector says these staffing issues are being felt across the country and it will take time to recover.
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“It could take up to ten years to get back to where we were before the pandemic,” said Darren Reeder of the Alberta Travel Industry Association.
The tourism industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with lengthy closures and other restrictions leading to layoffs. Many of these workers have moved on to other sectors, and Rieder warns that this will affect the ability of tour operators to fully reopen.
“It’s a people-driven business model, so not having people at the heart of what we have to sell means we can’t have the economic impact that we had before the pandemic,” Rieder said.
The federal government is currently consulting on a new tourism growth strategy, and industry officials say workforce recovery should be a central theme in the final report.
“Let’s say through immigration, for example,” said Philip Mondor, President and CEO of Tourism HR Canada.
Travel restrictions have played a role in the shortage, with many workers from Europe and Australia simply not coming to Canada to work in places like mountain parks. Mondor says there are options at home too.
“More investment in programs to help groups that are not as well represented in the labor market, such as indigenous peoples …