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Tourism numbers down in Alberta’s national parks

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Tourism numbers in Banff and Jasper national parks are down between 10-15 per cent, according to Alberta’s provincial government.

The Ministry of Economic Development says hotel occupancy rates in that province’s mountain national parks have been slipping for the past two years.

Problems with currency, airlines, poor weather, gas prices and aggressive marketing by other provinces and countries are being blamed for the lacklustre numbers.

The ministry does, however, note that tourism is faring well in the rest of the province including Calgary and Edmonton, which is currently hosting the world track and field championships.

But the downturn in the mountain national parks is creating growing concern among the hotel, restaurant and retail shop operators.

"If hotel business is down, everyone suffers," Greg McKnight, executive director of the Banff-Lake Louise Tourism Bureau, told the Banff Crag & Canyon newspaper. "It trickles down and affects retail, the restaurants and attractions."

Tour groups to the Columbia Icefields, between Banff and Jasper, and visitors to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola are both down by about nine per cent, according to Brewster Attractions, Banff’s largest tourism operator.

Alberta Tourism spends $19-million per year to promote the province, less than half of B.C.’s $46-million annual budget.

"What happens in Banff happens in Jasper," lamented one Jasper hotel manager.

Lake Louise hoteliers are also experiencing a similar downward trend to Banff and Jasper.

"It’s definitely been a slower summer," said a Lake Louise hotel manager. "Tourist business is down."

Experts consider the Banff-Lake Louise-Jasper region to be the provincial tourism industry’s No. 1 indicator.

The Alberta downturn has come after Tourism Whistler reported that hotel occupancy is up two per cent over this time last year.

Tourism B.C. has also predicted steady growth for this province’s tourism industry, despite recording flat numbers this spring.

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