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ADVOCACY FOR MEMBERS

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April 2 | Tourism HR Canada offering free online training for staff

Tourism HR Canada is offering a variety of frontline, supervisory, and managerial online training modules free of charge. These modules can assist with ongoing training needs and give those whose jobs have been adversely affected by the pandemic the opportunity to upskill or cross-train in preparation for the eventual resurgence of tourism.

Courses are offered in both English and French, and include:

April 1 | BLLHA recommends fee ‘forgiveness’ in event of prolonged social distancing

BLLHA’s Executive Director, Darren Reeder, expressed concern today at a provincial tourism industry discussion that the deferral of fees, taxes, and dues by the government will not be enough to ensure business liquidity if private sector revenue-generating efforts don’t commence again soon. 

If there is a sustained need for social distancing that extends into the summer months, Reeder recommended that the Government of Alberta look to ‘forgive’ all fees, taxes and dues that have been deferred as a function of COVID-19-related business closures. This will better-ensure that as business operations restart, they won’t be burdened with accrued government expenses and they can focus on rebuilding their workforce. 

Travel Alberta, Environment & Parks and Economic Development, and Trade & Tourism participated in the discussion today. 

MARCH 26 | BLLHA ADVOCACY HIGHLIGHTS

BLLHA continues to press the government to do more for the industry in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. A few activities are summarized below. Members are welcome to adopt any messaging for their own purposes.

Industry Meeting with MLA Rosin March 26

While sharing industry concerns with MLA Rosin, BLLHA executive director Darren Reeder reinforced the important role the Bow Valley plays in the province’s economy and the significant economic return that tourism offers to Alberta overall. His key message surmised that cash flow is urgently needed for businesses and this remains largely unaddressed despite calls for liquidity assistance to come from the provincial and federal government. Two ways the Government of Alberta can support this are:

  • To prepare an immediate release of funds that are triaged through trusted local community organizations for accelerated distribution.

  • To support small business contingencies by advocating that Ottawa bear down on banks, so they offer interest relief for private credit cards.

Provincial Tourism Sector Strategy Session

Darren also participated alongside select sector leaders in a discussion early Thursday with Justin Riemer, Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) for Western Economic Diversification (Alberta) and Alberta Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Deputy Minister, Michelle Evans. 

Deputy Minister Evans and ADM Riemer wanted to understand the issues facing tourism and hospitality and how the government could best respond to the unfolding crisis. Darren encouraged a P3 strategy to manage through the crisis – to preserve, protect and promote. Here’s more on that approach:

  1. Preserve – clean up the shortcomings of the current options available through the BDC and arrange targeted support (e.g., $6.9B specifically to assist restaurant, hotel and tourism business interests). The Government of Alberta needs to hasten their pace to meet the needs of local businesses and residents and offer immediate liquidity and health and safety supports through organizations like Chambers of Commerce, economic development bodies and Family & Community Social Support agencies. Timing matters for the industry’s survival and the time is now.

  2. Protect – the government needs to shelter-in the economy by effectively “buying” the labour output of a conventionally functioning economy. This is being done elsewhere globally, and the federal government has hinted at exploring this option. If the government fails to step-up and protect 70 per cent+ of the wages of workers, then many businesses will lose the core intellectual and physical team members needed for service delivery in the future. Act now, or businesses will be gone by the time recovery begins. 

  3. Promote – Alberta will need substantial economic stimulus to enhance consumer confidence to motivate spending beyond their basic needs. Reintroducing people to their local businesses and restaurant, attraction, cultural experiences will be key to restoring community spirit, human connection and local business activity. Travel Alberta will require long-term sustainable funding to help by also attracting travel back to Alberta. This should become a priority pillar in its 10-year growth strategy.

A Request for National Park Payment Forgiveness

BLLHA contacted federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Environment & Climate Change Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson and Parks Canada CEO, Ron Hallman with a request that government immediately forgives or defers rent payments collected by Parks Canada Agency. 

This is key to support business liquidity efforts and safeguard future revenues from the tourism industry, which the agency relies on. BLLHA also requested that the Parks Canada provides free entry to all national parks for a period of two years and welcomes Canadians back by developing a robust advertising campaign.

March 25 | BLLT lays off 50 per cent of team

Like many other businesses in the Bow Valley and across the country, we are making immediate changes to address the financial impacts of COVID-19. On Monday, half of the BLLT team was given notice that they will be put on temporary layoff, with remaining team members agreeing to a temporary wage decrease. Recruitment has also ceased on five open positions.

This decision was made based on the forecasted needs for the next 60 days. However, without clarity on how long we will remain closed to travellers, it is difficult to anticipate how long temporary layoffs will apply. 

This was a very difficult decision, yet it was the right move to stabilize the DMO at this time. BLLT is grateful for the dedication of its team members – those who are staying and leaving -- and the grace they showed this week. Following the notification, all team members refocused to finish priority work and build transition plans despite this challenging situation. The remaining staff of 16 is focused on new priorities, including the development of recovery plans, so they can get a strong start marketing Banff and Lake Louise as soon as the time is right.

If you need to connect with BLLT and are unsure who to connect within this time, please email us at memberservices@banfflakelouise.com

MARCH 25 | BLLHA Advocacy HIGHLIGHTS

We hear mounting concerns about the incredible impact of our industry’s layoffs and the inconceivable loss to business caused by COVID-19.

Our network of advocacy bodies continues to apply pressure to the government, calling for the support of individuals and businesses to be expedited immediately. Cash flow is urgently needed for businesses and this remains largely unaddressed.

 Among the policy files that BLLHA has been championing, priority appeals include:

  • Fast track access to liquidity for tourism businesses (Government of Alberta has announced deferrals on loans, LOCs and mortgages through ATB and credit unions)
  • Tax relief measures (Government of Alberta is offering an option for deferral of the education portion of property tax bills for six months, and WCB premium deferrals)
  • Improving Employment Insurance and WorkShare processes and capacity
  • Enhancing the wage subsidy program to cover at least 70 per cent of remuneration, instead of the current 10 per cent
  • A robust fiscal stimulus package and recovery funding to support our industry’s rebirth.

 Recent news outlines that the federal government will provide affected workers with $2,000 a month for the next four months, but this is still not enough for most people to live on in Banff National Park. We continue to share additional concerns on funding delays.

 In support of our federal advocacy bodies, we’re endorsing the recent joint relief proposal issued by Restaurants Canada, the Hotel Association of Canada, and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada calling for tax relief and a credit facility for the sector as a whole. You can add your voice here.

 The Town of Banff has been responding quickly to our requests and is:

  • Seeking clarity from the Government of Alberta to understand how municipalities can support the education portion of property tax bills, which are being relieved 
  • Offering an option for property owners who are on a monthly payment plan to request suspending their monthly tax payments until June 30. Residents can request a refund on the first three months of payments in 2020. See more here.

March 24 | BLLT survey highlights

Thanks to the 62 members who were able to respond to our short survey before Monday morning at 9 a.m. This is valuable data that is informing our daily communication plan, our recovery planning, and our advocacy efforts in partnership with BLLHA. 

Though we were not surprised to read about the impacts our members are experiencing, seeing the numbers in print underscores the devastating impact of the pandemic.

Highlights included:

  • Close to 60 per cent of respondents have temporarily ceased operations.

  • Approximately 5,000 layoffs are reported.

  • Positive member feedback on daily information updates with requests for this to continue.

  • Members asked us to keep providing details on how to access new government assistance; asking visitors to stay home and communicate what’s open to locals.

  • Members asked for support lobbying for commercial legislation for rent abatement, tourism support, grants instead of loans, wage subsidies, tax deferrals and licensing fee reductions.

  • Members shared input that BLLT will share with the Town of Banff related to security for closed businesses and ideas related to financial supports

  • Members highlighted the need for greater financial tourism support from the province and stronger messaging related to staying home and social distancing.

Note: there were some comments in the survey related to a need for safe visitation, however, there have been many additional announcements since survey feedback was obtained, so we have not highlighted those requests here.

March 24 | Travel Alberta update

Today, CEO Royce Chwin, Travel Alberta shared an update. Here is an excerpt of his letter.

“Internationally, organizations are starting to come together to figure out how to respond to the challenge posed by COVID-19. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has convened a global tourism crisis committee to provide guidance to the international tourism community. They have coined #traveltomorrow, built around the premise that by staying home today, we can travel tomorrow.

“Closer to home, between news stories and government announcements, information is coming in at a “rapid-fire” pace. We are updating the COVID-19 page here on our industry website regularly to provide you with current information and resources in one place.

“Over the last week, we were helping our federal and provincial partners get the message to Albertans abroad to come home and self-isolate. Now, as our borders and businesses adjust to these new realities, Travel Alberta is committed to maintaining our communities, both within Alberta and among our international audiences. 

“Over the next few weeks, we will assess, evaluate, and recalibrate our content strategies, for all our audiences. We know there will be nuances and changes; we are working together to ensure that we have appropriate messaging on all our channels. For now, we are acknowledging that these are difficult times and it’s important to follow the advice of the experts, to stay home and practice physical distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19.” 

March 18 | Roundtable Discussion with Premier Kenney, Minister Toews and Minister Fir 

Darren Reeder, Executive Director, BLLHA, attended a Premier’s Roundtable discussion today to provide the tourism and hospitality sector with a status update on provincial efforts to manage the economic impacts from COVID.  

Premier Kenney reported that Alberta is in the midst of unprecedented economic upheaval not felt since the 1930s. The province is likely facing a 10-week effort to try and contain the spread of COVID-19, but no one really knows with certainty at this moment. The aim of the province’s yet-to-be-announced economic stimulus is to support the needs of Alberta businesses and residents and to close any gaps that might arise from lack of specificity in the federal stimulus package.   

Some of the actions government has taken, or intends to take include: deferral of taxes, fees, permit revenue, including relief of WCB premiums paid; businesses will now be able to make off-sales of alcohol without food; consideration of letting businesses operate at 50 per cent seating capacity to help support liquidity; government communications to banks and commercial landlords to implore them to carry their clients through these difficult times as they could be faced with the prospect of no tenants in the future, and deferral on corporate income taxes to match federal commitment. Many more pieces aimed at easing the conditions for businesses and Albertans are to follow.   

In terms of effecting an economic recovery, Kenney noted that the government views the hospitality, leisure, tourism, oil and gas and aviation sectors not just as those that have been the most impacted, but those that will need to lead in the recovery effort. Reeder noted in his comments that the funding put behind Alberta’s 10-year tourism strategy and economic stimulus to get the tourism industry moving again needs to be a top government priority. This appeared to resonate with the government today more than ever.

The province was also challenged to find quick and efficient ways to move dollars into communities to support the immediate financial needs of businesses and residents/workers. It was suggested that government work with local governments and/or community organizations as one mechanism to push money down to those in need, without further delay. 

Letter to Residential Landlords

BLLHA and BLLT issued a joint letter calling on residential landlords to work with any of their tenants who have lost their job or are at imminent risk of losing their job. How landlords respond to this fast unfolding crisis is critically important to maintaining calm and confidence within our communities. There is no greater security that people will look for in uncertain times than knowing they have a safe place of residence. 

Action by Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC)

In Banff, we are hearing member concerns about the devastating effect of impending layoffs and business impacts caused by COVID-19. 

BLLT, BLLHA and TIAC are advocating on behalf of local businesses. In a letter from TIAC President & CEO, Charlotte Bell, to Minister Morneau she highlighted there is an appreciation for the steps already taken by the federal government to mitigate impacts in a responsible manner and assist Canadian citizens as well as businesses, including the tourism industry, in the face of an unprecedented and quickly-evolving situation. 

Adding, “The travel economy is one of the first and most severely impacted sectors of not only the Canadian economy but also the global economy in the immediate term.”

They are specifically asking the Government to:

  • Fast track access to liquidity for businesses operating in this sector
  • Tax relief measures
  • Employment insurance measures
  • Support for airlines and airports
  • Recovery funding

Read an article in the Globe & Mail to learn more.