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Visitation to Jasper drops by at least half

A hot spot burns on Mount Greenock as part of the Chetamon wildfire in Jasper National Park on Sept. 9. | Parks Canada photo

Peter Shokeir | editor@fitzhugh.ca

Editor’s note: The article was written before Jasper fully moved back to transmission power. The town is now welcoming back tourists.

Jasper has seen its visitation drop by 50 per cent if not more as the townsite begins to move from the generator system back to transmission power.

James Jackson, president and CEO of Tourism Jasper, said the decrease in visitation might even be 10-15 per cent bigger than the estimated 50 per cent since many of the current occupants were first responders and ATCO staff.

That means visitation could be at 40 per cent what it was prior to the wildfire.

“Tracking occupancy isn’t entirely indicative of how many visitors are still here,” Jackson said.

Parks Canada and the Municipality of Jasper are warning tourists not to visit Jasper until the town is put back on transmission power.

“Tourism Jasper is not actively promoting visitation at this time,” Jackson said.

“However, we’ve shifted our communications strategy from one of promotion to education, so we’re really trying to educate the visitors who are still coming as well as locals and stakeholders around what sort of the realities of the situation are to help manage expectations.”

Many visitors have already changed their plans, but some are unable to rebook their trips or change their itineraries, or they were unaware of the situation.

“We’re really just focused on educating them about the situation on a day-to-day perspective, so what the fire is doing, what the power situation is, what the town’s services and amenities are, stuff like that,” Jackson said.

“The message we’ve been saying is if your travel to Jasper is critical, please understand the severity of the situation and be prepared to adjust your expectations accordingly, but those who can change their travel plans, we’re really encouraging them to just rebook at a future date.”

While businesses are still getting a handle on the fluid situation, a majority of visitor-oriented businesses are nonetheless preparing to open.

Jackson highlighted the efforts of businesses to serve visitors, keep staff on payroll and generate their own power.

“Businesses have gone to incredible lengths to take themselves off the grid and generate their own power so they can continue to generate a little revenue to keep their staff employed,” he said.

“If there’s one big takeaway from this situation, it’s that businesses have really stepped up. They’re in large part in survival mode and have shown incredible courage and resilience.”

Unlike the COVID-19 lockdowns, there are at this time no government programs to ease the economic impact for Jasper businesses.

“The frontline service industry in Jasper cannot handle another mass round of layoffs, and so because there is no safety net, businesses have been really stepping up and incurring very high costs just to operate at a loss to keep their staff employed,” Jackson said.

The economic effects of the wildfire have yet to be fully determined, but Jackson noted how many businesses had been still struggling to dig themselves out of the debt incurred during COVID over the last two years.

“Hopefully, we can get back on the grid as soon as possible and safely invite visitors back to Jasper when it’s appropriate to do so,” Jackson said.

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