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Not the right time for Tour of Alberta

Parks Canada/M. Darrah photo

Jasper National Park hosted the Tour of Alberta in 2015. Parks Canada/M. Darrah photo

There’s a time and a place for everything and given the surge of visitors Jasper National Park is expecting in 2017–when admission to the park is free–hosting the Tour of Alberta next summer is simply bad timing.

In recent weeks it was revealed that Jasper was interested in hosting a stage of the international bike race on Sept. 1 2017, the Friday before the September long weekend.

In 2015 Jasper National Park hosted two stages of the race over the September long weekend on Sept. 4 and 5. It was championed as a historic moment for the race and an opportunity to raise the profile of Jasper National Park, but locally it hurt many businesses’ bottom line.

At the time business owners blamed their drop in sales on the extensive road closures along Patricia Street and Connaught Drive and questioned why it was held on a long weekend when town is traditionally already at capacity.

This time around, the municipality has promised to limit road closures and race organizers with the tour picked a day that falls just before the long weekend. Both parties claim it will extend the long weekend and bring visitors to Jasper a day earlier.

The problem is Jasper doesn’t need more visitors during the summer; we’re already at capacity.

In fact, last summer Jasper had a banner tourism season.

According to Tourism Jasper, the majority of hotels reported a nightly capacity of 85-100 per cent throughout the summer.

By all accounts 2017 is expected to top those numbers when admission to Canada’s national parks and historic sites is free.

Supporters of the race claim it’s about raising the park’s profile through television and online viewership.

According to data provided by the tour, in 2015 the race reached 47 million viewers in 161 countries. It also generated 23 million Facebook impressions and 1.4 million website views.

While these numbers are impressive, the reality is it’s nearly impossible to say whether more people actually visit Jasper after watching the race.

On top of this it costs a lot to host a stage of the race–$250,000 to be exact.

If council approves supporting the race, the municipality has promised to pitch in $50,000, while the Tour of Alberta has promised to absorb another $50,000.

That leaves Tourism Jasper and private sponsors to come up with the rest. Parks Canada has signaled it will not financially contribute to the race, as it did in 2015, beyond offering gifts-in-kind.

Knowing how much of a flop the event was for local businesses in 2015, why would a business owner want to financially support the race this time around?

Sure the park gets some airtime, but is it really the catalyst that drives people to visit the park?

Add to the fact the park is likely to be bursting at the seams next summer, hosting the race just doesn’t make sense.

Let’s hope the players carefully consider these factors and opt out of the event next summer.

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